Zuma praised as Ngcobo tipped to investigate arms deal

By Carien Du Plessis 19 September 2011

This week is likely to bring more clarity on what President Jacob Zuma’s arms deal inquiry will look like, but while we’re waiting for the fine print, some within the ANC are questioning the move. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.

If the speculation is correct, retired Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo is set to be announced this week as the leader of an arms deal inquiry, announced last week by President Jacob Zuma.

In a somewhat suspicious development, the DA has heaped praise on Zuma for this appointment, which he is yet to make but on which he can still change his mind seeing that the DA is now on his side. After all, ANC spokesman Keith Khoza made it clear that pressure from the opposition had nothing to do with Zuma’s decision last Thursday to announce this commission.

“Justice Sandile Ngcobo would be an ideal person to carry out this task of national importance. He is a highly respected jurist and his integrity is beyond question. During his time as Chief Justice, he showed he has the steady, decisive, intellectual and practical leadership that such a responsibility requires,” the DA’s David Maynier gushed in a statement on Sunday.

Perhaps he’d forgotten the question marks cast over Justice Ngcobo’s ready acceptance just two months ago of Zuma’s call on him to serve for a second term (some say Justice Ngcobo should have pointed out to the President that the move could possibly elicit a Constitutional Court challenge – as it did).

Whatever the case may be, if Zuma returns from his UN meeting in New York later this week to confirm Justice Ngcobo as the person heading the enquiry, and if the terms of reference set for the commission are suitably rigorous, it would mean that the newly-appointed Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng would not have to preside over a court case – potentially embarrassing to the government if it’s forced to lay bare all its arms deal secrets – brought by retired banker and arms-deal campaigner, Terry Crawford-Browne.

Crawford-Browne has for at least two years now been asking the courts to order Zuma to establish an independent commission of inquiry into South Africa’s controversial multi-billion rand arms deal, and the case was set down for 17 November in the Constitutional Court. Zuma announced the commission on the day he was supposed to have filed answering papers. Crawford-Browne has said he would only drop the case if the terms and conditions indicated that the commission wouldn’t be a whitewash.

ANC leaders were, however, caught by surprise by Zuma’s announcement, which came a day before the party’s national executive committee (NEC) was due to meet in Pretoria.

The same leaders had taken a decision about two years ago, around the time that the National Prosecuting Authority decided to withdraw corruption charges against Zuma related to the arms deal, that it would sweep the matter under the carpet and move on for the sake of party unity.

But a member of the party’s NEC said there was no real debate at the meeting on the matter. He said Zuma over the weekend explained his decision to the party’s top leaders, saying a proper investigation into the matter was “in the public interest” and, seeing that it arose from time to time, the party needed closure.

This follows new information coming to light in Europe about the arms deal, including a revelation by Swedish arms company Saab in June this year that a subsidiary was allegedly used by BAE to channel funds to former Defence Minister Joe Modise’s adviser, businessman Fana Hlongwane.

Another skeleton threatened to fall out of the ANC’s cupboard on Sunday as the Sunday Times claimed to be in possession of a letter written by Sandi Majali, an ANC-aligned businessman who was found dead in his Sandton hotel room a day after Christmas in 2010. The exact cause of his death is still a mystery.

In the letter to the party, supposedly written by Majali weeks before his death, he expressed his frustration at being left out in the cold by the party, despite giving it millions of rands in donations. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has denied receiving such a letter, while ANC insiders said nothing in its audited books indicated that Majali had funded the party.

Of course the leaders in charge now differ from the ones that were in charge when Majali allegedly made the payments, so if there were any dealings under the table, they can claim ignorance.

This has prompted the DA to ask the Public Protector to re-open the Oilgate investigation – an issue the ANC has so far pursued with more or less the same lack of zeal as the arms deal investigation.  DM

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