Is it really just Cosatu and the SACP between us and the deep blue sea? Sometimes it seems like it, but SACP secretary general Blade Nzimande is still going to put up a fight. On Monday, he stood up, out of the trenches and went over the top. Gingerly, though.
Nzimande spoke for about 40 minutes on Monday at the Communist Party’s anticorruption seminar in Johannesburg. He must surely be the SACP’s driving force on this latest of initiatives. So when the party holds an anticorruption seminar, to actually start an organisation of “NGOs, civil society, political organisations, community organisations, traditional leaders” (presumably the YMCA & YWCA too) to fight corruption, we should take notice.
The communists are often called “the clever boys of SA politics” and Nzimande showed a bit of that old shine on Monday. Because he didn’t get anyone who was likely to ask difficult questions. Zwelinzima Vavi was on the guest list, but disappointingly didn’t pitch.
The most interesting of the other invitees was ex-head of the Special Investigations Unit, Willem Heath. A former judge, who testified for the prosecution in the Shaik trial, then publicly helped Zuma, who was angry in the mid-1990s about interference in probes into the arms deal. He was a canny choice, because he can talk intelligently about corruption, but, um, won’t mention any odd facts about Zuma. He had plenty to say about how corruption has changed. How it used to be a politician on the lookout for cash. Now he says, it’s about politicians actually setting up the networks themselves and watching the cash roll in. In other words, they approach businessmen and they set up projects through which to funnel the money. It’s what Kgalema Motlanthe said in mid-2007, but with a legal veneer.
In an aside, Heath also mentioned the Shaik trial, claiming the conviction may be unsafe, because Zuma was not charged alongside Shaik. That’s right. A former judge criticising 16 other judges, 10 of whom sat on the Constitutional Court bench. A cheap shot we thought, but perhaps more proof that Nzimande picked his speakers wisely.
Heath, who now runs his own company investigating corruption allegations, also gave us a lesson on how sophisticated criminals are nowadays. He reckons before they come to South Africa, international syndicates appoint their own advocates, their own IT experts and even their own auditors to make sure they get away with whatever they plan. There is a thriller in there somewhere. But without a happy ending.
Not to be outdone, Nzimande made sure he put real juice in his speech. Lots of soundbites, including a good five minutes on why the press gets it wrong on lifestyle audits and the personalisation of politics. But that was just so that he could say publicly that any spying on journalists was also corruption, was also wrong, was simply not allowed and, if tolerated, would lead us all down the long road to hell. In other words, he’s with the journalists against the ANC Youth League (conflict alert – this reporter is one of the people who lodged a complaint against the league for its alleged spying). And that was the closest we came to any mention of Julius Malema.
Nzimande and company had plenty to say about the academia of corruption. About what it does to the poor, to societies and even to businesses. It’s quite something to see a communist worried about the state of business. There was the high-brow debate about corruption’s causes, and they even managed a discussion about postcolonial states into it all.
But, of course, no one mentioned the elephant in the room. It was represented only in very small letters on the speakers’ order. Between Nzimande and Vavi were the words “anc speaker”.
He or she didn’t rock up. Mondays are usually quite busy days at Luthuli House and there was probably an urgent discussion to attend about struggle songs. But to just not rock up at their alliance partner’s anticorruption gathering, well, that really sends out the wrong message. Also, couldn’t they at least have nominated a speaker who couldn’t make it at the last minute? That would have looked better. At least, with Vavi you get the feeling he wanted to be there, but just couldn’t make it – at the last minute.
In the end, a colleague asked about the problems of any corruption issues having “political solutions”. Nzimande responded with a soundbite, “Any thieves must not come and hide in the organisations of the alliance”. That’s wonderful. Hurrah. Except we all know that’s exactly what happens, and we all know it works. So it’s all somewhat hollow, isn’t it?
Overall, the main feeling in the room was despondency. People are losing hope. Fast. The real issue is political will. We have the laws, we have procedures and yet we also have Menzi Simelane running the National Prosecuting Authority. That’s really the issue. Zuma can talk about corruption all he wants, but if the Malemas of the world run around in massive Range Rovers and the latest fashions, no one’s going to take him seriously. It’s becoming one of those famous tragic jokes Chinua Achebe would make. The fat man in the wonderful suit with the cavalcade telling the poor that he’ll do anything to fight corruption. That’s what’s happening. And we don’t know what to do about it.
Nzimande and Co. are honest communists. We’re not known for our support of communism, but we really like their honesty. Not for them the tendepreneur lifestyle. Sure, the odd glass of red wine and a few ministerial cars from time to time. But they’re the only ones with any influence actually trying to do something about corruption. They’re at the coal face. They’re prepared to take on powerful leaders on this.
We wish them luck. They’re gonna need it.
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)