South Africa

Analysis: Something is wrong with the State of SA

By Ranjeni Munusamy 6 December 2013

If there was any doubt about who really runs South Africa, it became patently obvious this week. On Tuesday, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe made a public call for the full report of the inter-ministerial task team investigation on Nkandla to be released. On Wednesday Cabinet decided to do exactly that. So the top-secret classification and supposed security concerns evaporated once Mantashe spoke. Then on Thursday, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela announced damning findings against three government departments and one serving and one former Cabinet minister. What does this say about the state of political leadership in South Africa? Lies, deceit, unethical conduct, nepotism, unlawfulness and maladministration are infested at the highest levels of government. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

[As South Africa wakes up to a first dawn without the Father of the Nation, the very people who inherited the leadership of this country are finding themselves accused of doing everything Nelson Mandela abhorred. We thought maybe we should not publish such a harsh story, not a few short hours after the great man died. But life continues and, perhaps now more than ever, we need to continue demanding that this, and future governments, live up to Mandela’s spirit. – Editors]

All the focus on the unconscionable expenditure of state funds on President Jacob Zuma’s private residence at Nkandla has perhaps distracted from the rot in other government departments. Ironically, the person who South Africa is counting on to reveal the truth about how much of government money was spent, on what and by whom at Nkandla is the very person who lifted the lid on the failures and decay elsewhere in the state. If there is one thing Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s media conference on Thursday showed, it is the abysmal quality of political leadership in the country.

Madonsela has been under tremendous pressure over the past few weeks. First it was the ministerial security cluster in government taking her to court to demand more time to study her provisional report on the upgrade of the president’s estate at Nkandla and then raising security concerns about it. Then a number of her reports leaked, most explosive of which was the alleged provisional report on Nkandla. She then faced attacks from the South African Communist Party and the ANC Youth League national task team, condemning her conduct and the premature leaks of her reports.

On Tuesday, the ruling party came at her with guns blazing. Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary general, was speaking on behalf of the top six officials in the ANC when he strongly suggested that the leaks of her reports were politically motivated.

“We are concerned with the regularity with which provisional reports from the Office of the Public Protector are leaked following a pattern of public engagements and public utterances by the Public Protector on investigations by her office before they are finalised,” Mantashe said.

His deputy Jessie Duarte went further to say that the fact that Madonsela announced that she was tightening up controls over her report and did not go “ballistic” over the leak of her provisional report on Nkandla were indicators that the leaks came from the Public Protector’s office.

Mantashe said the ANC “demands” that Madonsela’s final report into the security upgrades at Nkandla be released to the public “as a matter of extreme urgency”, and not in March next year as part of a political “ploy” to adversely affect the party’s election campaign. He also called for the release of the full report of the inter-ministerial task team into the upgrades and “instructed” government to make available to the public “all the experts who decided and designed all elements of the security features at Nkandla”.

Mantashe, however, did not condemn all those in the state who frustrated Madonsela’s Nkandla investigation and caused it to be delayed for over a year. He did not question why the full government task team report was declared top secret by a member of the ANC national executive committee, the Public woks Minister Thulas Nxesi, but simply instructed that it should now be released.

To him and his colleagues in the top six of the ANC, it would seem their only concerns were the conduct of the Public Protector and the “casting of aspersions” on President Jacob Zuma. The fact that over R200 million of state money was spent on a private residence of their leader was not at all a matter of concern, neither was the conduct of their deployees in the state who, up to now, impeded the public from finding out how taxpayers’ money was spent on the project.

It now suits the ANC for the government report to be released to counter whatever findings will be in Madonsela’s report, which she intends to release in the second week of January.

So the tail simply wagged the dog and the dog complied. Cabinet announced on Thursday, following their last meeting of the year the day before, that they had directed that the report of the inter-ministerial task team be released to the public on Tuesday, 10 December. The people who initially fought to block the report, Nxesi and the security cluster ministers, will now make it public at a media briefing next week. It will be interesting to see how they explain the change of heart and the obvious kowtowing to the party now.

Madonsela was clearly rattled by the political attacks coming at her, particularly from Mantashe, and at a press conference on Wednesday, she fought to defend her office and any suggestion that she was driven by a political agenda to influence voters against the ANC. On Thursday however, Madonsela was back on top, exposing multiple failings of the state.

She released three investigation reports – none of which painted government in a favourable light. On school workbook shortages in the Eastern Cape, Madonsela found the Basic Education director-general Bobby Soobrayan and the province’s education head of department Mthunywa Lawrence Ngonzo accountable for the system failure, which constituted “improper conduct and maladministration”. She recommended that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga should hold Soobrayan “accountable for actions and omissions that resulted in the failure to prevent, contain, and solve the national school books crisis”.

On her investigation into the conduct of former communications minister Dina Pule, Madonsela’s findings were so damning that she recommended that the honourable thing would be for Pule to resign from Parliament. “Honourable Pule’s conduct was unlawful. I also consider it grossly improper and unethical that she tried to pass the buck to her staff,” Madonsela said.

She found that Pule’s married lover Phosana Mngqibisa improperly benefitted from the ICT Indaba held last year in Cape Town. Mngqibisa also improperly derived spousal benefits paid for by the state through a number of overseas trips with Pule. Pule has since paid back more than R89,000 of the cost of Mngqibisa’s travel, Madonsela said.

But this hardly exonerates Pule. Madonsela recommended that Pule must apologise to Parliament, the communications department, and the Sunday Times for “persistently lying and unethical conduct”.

Madonsela also recommended that Zuma should institute disciplinary measures against Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson in relation to a R800 million tender for fisheries patrol services to the Sekunjalo Marine Service Consortium. She found the awarding of the tender to SMSC was not in compliance with supply chain management requirements and that the process was improper.

“The president is to consider taking disciplinary action against the minister for her reckless dealing with state money and services which resulted in fruitless and wasteful expenditure,” Madonsela said.

Madonsela’s recommendations are not automatically implemented but will now be up to the political powers to act on. But Madonsela is seen as a thorn in the side of government and the ruling party rather than the person heading the office working to preserve the integrity of the state.

It is clear that many people who hold high political office do not have the same commitment to good governance as she does. How her latest reports are dealt with will be indicator of how the big investigation into the Nkandla matter is handled. DM

Photo: Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson (left) and former Communications Minister Dina Pule (Sapa/Daily Maverick)

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