Right. January. The month after everyone had switched off their TVs and Internet and headed to the beach. Not quite everyone, because the sausage factory kept churning. The holidays were somewhat quiet on the political front, but not so quiet as to completely bore watchful political scribes. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
The lull during the holidays has been known in some countries to be the time when politicians try to surreptitiously pass contentious bills. Take, for instance, the National Defence Authorization Act, passed by US President Barack Obama on 31 January 2011 which allows for indefinite detention without trial of US citizens suspected of committing “a belligerent act” against the US.
The right to due process has been precariously endangered, though one wonders where the irate leftists were when such provisions were not extended to foreigners.
Our presidents prefer the tried-and-tested bludgeon to ram unpopular bills through Parliament and then scheduling in a few Constitutional Court appearances. However, this particular holiday period did give President Jacob Zuma cause for embarrassment.
Presidency opts not to challenge Simelane judgment at the Constitutional Court
After Zuma appointed the former justice department director general Menzi Simelane as national director of public prosecutions, the Democratic Alliance applied to the High Court to have the appointment set aside. At the end of last year, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the president hadn’t discharged his Constitutional duties properly when appointing Simelane, and ordered the decision set aside.
At the time when piña colada cocktails on the beach were uppermost in our minds, the presidency and justice department merely said they would “examine” the judgment before deciding what to do.
On 23 December the presidency’s lawyers filed papers with the Constitutional Court, formally withdrawing an earlier application to have the judgment reviewed. Zuma is effectively left with the option of sacking Simelane.
Not one to leave a stone unturned, the DA now wants Simelane to fund the appeal to the Constitutional Court (despite the fact that there isn’t one) out of his own pocket. DA federal chairman James Selfe said in a statement, “Simelane is obviously entitled, as anyone else living in a constitutional state, to appeal this judgment. But if he no longer holds a position as an official of the government, he is not entitled to fund his appeal at state expense.”
There’s also the small matter of the Constitutional Court being obliged to review any constitutional pronouncements made by the Supreme Court of Appeals, so the question of whether or not this goes t Braamfontein is out of the president’s hands anyway.
But that’s a small quibble really. The real story here is Zuma’s continued embarrassment when it comes to legal matters. When is he going to sack his legal team?
Minority Front leader Amichand Rajbansi passes away
Meanwhile, the Bengal Tiger, and butt of many a toupee joke, finally moved on for good on 29 December, after failing to beat a respiratory infection. The leader of the Minority Front Amichand Rajbansi was 69 years old, with a five-decade history in politics. He was perhaps most notorious for his time spent in the tricameral parliamentary system in the late 1980s. Former president PW Botha appointed him to head the House of Delegates in 1984. Four years later, he was on the receiving end of a probe by Judge Neville James, which found Rajbansi to be “arrogant”, “unscrupulous”, “ruthless” and a “mean-minded bully”. The Bengal Tiger was booted out of Parliament after the James Commission found him to be corrupt.
During the Codesa negotiations, Rajbansi re-emerged to take on the role by which we would come to know him – the eccentric leader of the MF.
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who will have known Rajbansi for a very long time, said in a statement when he learnt of his passing: Like many politicians, he was both revered and reviled.
“Rajbansi was one of South Africa’s political giants. His deep commitment to deepening and consolidating our democracy cannot be questioned,” Buthelezi’s hagiographic eulogy said. “He was a man with firm beliefs, who was never afraid to take a stand. His passion for politics and the people of South Africa (were) commendable. South Africa has indeed lost a true South African patriot.”
Phillip Dexter rejoins the ANC
He may have thought nobody would be looking, but we were as former Cope spin doctor Phillip Dexter rejoined the ANC. This one had us scratching our heads, not in the least because Dexter spent nearly all his time at Cope bashing the ANC.
In May 2011, Dexter tut-tutted about how the ANC “had been reduced to being, at least partially, if not substantially, vehicles for patronage, primitive accumulation, corruption and excess”.
He drew links between Zuma’s administration and the apartheid government. Commenting on the so-called “spook wars” (the apparent fight between the intelligence service, the national prosecuting authority and the Hawks), he wrote, “Prior to 1994 a similar pattern was evident in the apartheid regime’s intelligence services. What is it that has reduced the combined ‘intelligence’ of the ANC and the former NP to warring fractions(sic) in the NIA, SASS, SAPS CI and elsewhere? Given the struggle over resources in and around the state, it would be surprising if this were not the case. But the intensity of these battles is alarming. Criminal charges, death threats, possible assassinations and other dodgy things seem to be the order of the day.”
For its part, the Western Cape ANC seemed more than happy to welcome the prodigal son home. Western Cape ANC chairman Marius Fransman said, “We started this year mindful of the fact that it is our 100-year celebration. A birthday usually comes with a nice gift and we, as the Western Cape(sic), are happy to be coming with a gift that is Phillip.”
He didn’t say whether or not they’d be returning the gift to Cope if it turned out to be worthless. Dexter was sitting rather awkwardly next to Fransman at the press conference. And the laughs were a tad too strained.
Department of basic education “takes over” top Model C schools
Long before the usual brouhaha over matric results kicked in, the department of basic education was embroiled in controversy.
Top public schools are in a bit of a fizz after two amendments to the South African Schools Act were approved, which the Governing Body Foundation says will wrest control away from the schools and parents, and grant it to the DBE.
The GBF said the Act had originally intended to balance power between parents and the department. The changes, which came into effect on 15 December, mean schools can no longer remunerate teachers as they see fit. They need to motivate financial and other perks, as well as overtime payments above a certain amount, to the department before awarding them to teachers. A court ruling in December also limited the number of administrative criteria a school governing body can set.
School governing body associations said these changes would result in schools that were more corrupt and less academically efficient.
Tim Gordon, CEO of the GBF, said, “These changes are worrying indications that the government has embarked on a concerted drive to curtail the rights and influence of government bodies.”
The DBE itself said it was only doing this to ensure that parents weren’t getting ripped off.
“The new regulations by government will only serve one purpose: it (sic) will further weaken the already struggling public education system and boost the private education system,” said Alfred Mpontshane, the IFP’s spokesman on education.
Former councillors will share R250-million
The department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs announced that former municipal councillors, who were not re-elected in last year’s local government elections, would get bonuses.
Said the department’s spokesman Mbulelo Musi, “The payments are in recognition of the great contribution to service delivery made by former councillors to improve people’s lives.”
Some 5,000 councillors from all political parties are expected to qualify.
It isn’t clear what the criteria are for choosing who qualifies – only that those who made the decision didn’t specify whether performance was a factor.
The decision was jointly taken by the department, the Seriti commission for the remuneration of public office-bearers, the SA Local Government Association and the national treasury, which set aside R256-million.
The South African Municipal Workers Union said, “It is a waste of money that could be spent on service delivery. It would be better at least to link it to councillors’ performance. If they had performed well, there would not have been any protests about service delivery, would there?”
Indeed. Why are these councillors being paid the equivalent of three months’ pensionable salary, over and above their usual remuneration? We’ll chalk this one down to the poisonous influence of the “silly season”.
Zweli Mkhize denies – again – being part of an anti-Zuma faction
Not to be outdone, KwaZulu-Natal Premier and ANC national working committee member Zweli Mkhize was forced once again to deny being part of an alleged anti-Zuma faction within the ANC. This story keeps popping up. We’re told that Tokyo Sexwale, Bheki Cele, Fikile Mbalula, Zweli Mkhize and other members of the party want to push Zuma out in favour of Kgalema Motlanthe at Mangaung in December. They’ve all hotly denied the rumours, as one does.
After being bumped off the top cop pedestal, Cele was going to be on his way to either Japan or Canada as an ambassador, the rumour mill informed us. This time, Mkhize is said to have been marked for a posting to New Zealand. (Japan? New Zealand? As far away from South Africa as is physically possible?)
Malema “stole” land from a comrade
This one may not exactly count as holiday news, but you may miss it amid the hilarity in Bloemfontein.
Suspended ANCYL leader Julius Malema “transferred” a property in Polokwane that had been earmarked for Matane Mphahlele, a former friend of the young leader, to his own name and sold it on for a cool 300% profit. It’s quite a twisted, sordid tale, but Mphahlele alleges that corrupt municipal officers and Juju’s lawyer grabbed the land on the very day it was transferred to him by the municipality. He only noticed the grab last year and has now taken action.
The police confirmed the commercial crimes unit was investigating. It doesn’t help that Mphahlele himself is a bit dodgy. He reportedly hijacked a Gautrain-linked company in 2010 and is suing the minister of trade and industry for defamation. The department made the allegations against Mphahlele.
Welcome to 2012. We’ve missed you. DM
Photo: Menzi Simelane (Mail & Guardian)
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