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Corruption Gutted South Africa’s Tax Agency. Now the Nation Is Paying the Price.

Then, the president and his supporters went even further. They used the upheaval at the tax agency to seize greater control over the National Treasury, further enriching themselves at enormous cost to the country, according to government officials now trying to repair the damage.

The national tax agency, as prosaic as it may sound, had once been an extraordinary triumph, even for the party that helped defeat apartheid. Just a few years after it helped usher in democracy, the A.N.C. switched from liberation to the mundane workings of government and persuaded millions of South Africans to do the unimaginable: pay their taxes.

In a barometer of support for the fledgling new government, tax collections rose year after year, eventually surpassing some benchmarks in much richer, more established democracies, including the United States. The scrappy agency, the South African Revenue Service, won plaudits from the World Bank, Princeton University and other rarefied corners of the world.

“It was the jewel in the state crown,” said Dennis Davis, a High Court judge who led a recent review of the tax system and sat on a panel in the mid-1990s to help Nelson Mandela establish the tax agency.

“What has happened subsequently,” he added, “is a very, very, very seriously sad story.”

South Africa’s version of the Internal Revenue Service is perhaps an unlikely setting for a national saga involving spies, spurned lovers, secret brothels, double agents and one of the biggest journalistic scandals of the post-apartheid era.

But the story shows how an increasingly corrupt A.N.C. has undermined its own successes by betraying the very people who brought it to power.

And the drama is far from over. In today’s South Africa — dangling precariously between dueling factions inside the A.N.C. — the nation’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is struggling to assert his authority and fulfill his pledge to root out corruption. He now stands knee-deep in a very messy fight to wrest the tax agency from the legacy of his predecessor, Mr. Zuma, and win back the confidence of an angry nation.

Source: NYT > World

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