South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) is facing headwinds in its cash-strapped campaign ahead of key local government elections as more senior officials face murder and corruption charges.
A regional agriculture minister has been arrested and appeared in court on Tuesday on double murder charges, while a regional premier is alleged to have personally benefited from state funds meant to mark the passing of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in 2018.
Mandla Msibi, considered a rising star in the ANC and elected as the Mpumalanga provincial minister for agriculture in February, appeared in court on two charges of murder and one of attempted murder from what is alleged to be political infighting between ruling party factions.
In events related to hotly contested 'candidates lists' required for the November 1 national local government elections, wherein the hard-pressed ruling party is on track to lose further support in key towns and cities across SA, two regional ANC officials were killed and another wounded on August 22, according to the charges.
Mpumalanga province, which borders the Zulu homeland of KwaZulu-Natal, is well known for political violence similar to that seen in its Zulu-dominated southern neighbouring region.
The province was once run by elements within the ANC loyal to former president Jacob Zuma but most of them have been purged by the dominant faction of the party headed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The chaotically run province has many local councils and municipalities that are failing in providing water, electricity, sewage, waste removal and other municipal services to citizens.
Msibi is held as a "forward thinker" whose views clashed with other factional elements in the province, according to a self-proclaimed friend of the accused politician speaking outside the courthouse where he was appearing.
Arrest politically motivated
Having been formally charged, the popular Msibi will have to "step aside" from his post and cease campaigning for the ANC, according to the ruling party's rules.
But his lawyer claims he was set up and that his arrest was politically motivated.
Even more damaging to the ANC's election drive are accusations that the premier of the Eastern Cape province – an ANC 'heartland' region and home to some of its greatest luminaries including Nelson Mandela – received money allocated to public observances of the passing of Mandela's former wife and icon of the anti-apartheid struggle, Madikizela-Mandela.
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, whose constitutionally mandated job is to protect the public from official abuses, has made damning findings against Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane for irregularly benefiting from a $73,000 tender meant for Madikizela-Mandela's memorial.
Mabuyane has angrily denied the allegation and is taking the finding of the controversial Public Protector for judicial review.
The premier, who is alleged to have used $30,000 of the earmarked funds to renovate his home, also faces a corruption charge laid by Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters.
Mkhwebane found that another ANC regional minister in the same province had also benefited from $23,000 in misappropriated public funds and the ANC itself, as an organisation, irregularly received $19,000 in illicitly obtained state funds.
The Public Protector found that SA's tough anti-corruption laws had been violated and directed the top investigative policing unit to look into the charges formally.
The ANC has so far backed its embattled Eastern Cape leader, but the scandal has dogged its election campaign in that region and deflected focus away from issues the ruling party wants voters to consider.
The official opposition Democratic Alliance leader in the Eastern Cape, Andrew Whitfield, called on the premier to resign, though there is no sign of that happening short of his facing charges in court.
"The premier and his executive walk around and preach about tackling corruption, good governance and consequence management, when he himself has had his hand in the cookie jar the entire time," Whitfield said.
A recent independent pre-election survey of likely voters found that the ANC, for the first time since coming to power in SA's democratic era in 1994, may obtain less than half of ballots cast, with a projection of around 49 percent.
But that poll was undertaken before the latest revelations of ruling party misconduct in high public places.
Consequently, election watchers expect that widely expressed voter discontent has been stoked, undermining further the ANC's electoral performance prospects.