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Graft shakes South Africa's vaunted ANC party

Several high-profile corruption scandals within the ruling party are weakening South Africans' confidence in the postapartheid government.

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If money is the grease that makes democracies function, then South Africa should be one of the most well-oiled democracies in the world.

In the past few months, South African newspapers have reported manifold scandals that reach deep inside the ranks of the country's ruling party. This perception of lavish corruption – including bribery over arms purchases, misuse of government travel money, pension-fund embezzlement, contract kickbacks, and even insider trading – is straining many South Africans' faith that their government is still acting in the interest of the common man.

The trend worries many South Africans that their country is following the flawed examples of other African nations, where postcolonial leaders let personal wealth trump the ideals that first led to independence from colonial powers.

"The impact of corruption on a society as poor as ours is devastating, because what is stolen could be better used to help the poor," says Patricia De Lille, leader of the Independent Democrats, an opposition party in Parliament. "People are no longer prepared to accept excuses that we don't have money, not when we see the extravagance of their leaders. We created a lot of expectations after liberation [from minority white rule in 1994], and now people want these things to be delivered."

South Africa remains a country where the vast majority is unspeakably poor. But by most measures, it is still the exception on the African continent. Its schools, hospitals, roads, electricity, and water still function, and second-class citizens can have first-world expectations. But a growing white-collar corruption trend may be costing South Africa some 50 billion rand (about $7 billion) a year, according to some estimates.

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