“Those who failed in the conduct of their duties should face the appropriate consequences,” said the ANC in reaction to Public Protector’s report on the Nkandla upgrades. What these consequences are and how they should be faced is really difficult to determine from the ANC officials. (At least the ANC has now accepted that the fire pool is in fact a swimming pool.) And it seems National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega may be one person hung out to dry for the fire pool fiasco. But whether the ANC will hold the president and face of its election campaign to account is as clear as mud. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
It was always going to be difficult for the ANC to contend with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on Nkandla. They could not order her not to investigate the security upgrades at President Jacob Zuma’s residence, even though they were not happy about it. If anyone was going to find were the bodies are buried, it was Madonsela and that would always be a nightmare for the ANC to navigate. So instead, the ANC hammered her on the leaks of her provisional reports and recently, took to accusing her of having a political agenda and deliberately delaying the release of the Nkandla report to sabotage their election campaign
The ANC also made it quite clear that they accepted in its totality the findings of the inter-ministerial government task team report on Nkandla. They therefore seemed to be saying it was rather unnecessary to have another investigation into the upgrades as they were satisfied with the outcome of the government process.
Madonsela, however, ploughed on and produced a report that seems to have knocked the barons of the Luthuli House sideways. She found that Zuma violated the Executive Ethics Code and that his conduct was inconsistent with the Constitution by not trying to limit the R246 million state expenditure on upgrades at his estate. She also found that Zuma and his family benefitted improperly from the renovations through features that had nothing to do with security. Madonsela also made findings of improper conduct and maladministration against ministers, former ministers and deputy ministers and a number of officials in various government departments involved in the upgrades.
Gone is the gung-ho attitude towards Madonsela – at least for now – and the focus is just to move things along. At a media conference on Thursday at the Luthuli House to react to the Public Protector’s Nkandla report, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said while they are still concerned about the timing of the report’s release but they are asking everyone to subject it “to objective assessment and make informed judgment about it”. He said the state should pursue everybody who fraudulently used state funds. “All those people must be brought to book, they must be pursued. And that excludes nobody.”
The ANC dismissed calls for the impeachment of the president, but said those who failed in the conduct of their duties should face the appropriate consequences. Asked whether the ANC would hold Zuma to account, Mantashe gave this puzzling response: “I don’t know who told you the president has not been called to account … or won’t be called to account. You are making a particular assumption.”
He went on to say: “If there are issues that the president will have to answer, the ANC will be able to call the president to answer questions on any matter.” Mantashe would also not be pinned down on whether the ANC would ensure that Zuma pay back the money for the benefits he derived that did not relate to security. These were the swimming pool, visitor’s centre, amphitheatre, cattle kraal and chicken run. Mantashe said Madonsela had recommended that Zuma work out a percentage of the costs with the National Treasury, and it had nothing to do with the ANC.
Mantashe’s answer on possible action against ministers, who are also members of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), who were found to have failed in their duties, was equally vague. He said the Public Protector’s report should be used as a “guide” instead of conducting a witch-hunt. He said it would not be used to fire ministers. “Firing is a short-cut that smacks of miscarriage of justice,” Mantashe said.
In 2008, the ANC NEC recalled President Thabo Mbeki following a judgment by Judge Chris Nicholson which found that state institutions were abused to further his political agenda. Asked whether the ANC NEC would at least be meeting to consider the Public Protector’s findings against Zuma and the implications for the ANC, Mantashe said it would not. He said the Public Protector’s report was “reviewable” and there was a danger in equating her office to a court of law. The NEC would however be holding a scheduled meeting on “the state of the organisation” next week, and the Nkandla issue might arise there.
Mantashe conceded that the ANC was concerned about the negative publicity the Nkandla issue was having on its election campaign. But that did not mean the ANC would drop below 60% in the poll. Mantashe also said the ANC would not apologise for the findings in the report. “The ANC does not have a house called Nkandla. It has a house called Chief Albert Luthuli… If there is a need for an apology, it can’t be the ANC. If need be, it can be from the president or it may be by the relevant ministers.”
The one major concession the ANC has made from the Public Protector’s report is that what they had been defending as a “fire pool” is actually a swimming pool. ANC leaders has been trumpeting for several months that the pool was a fire fighting facility and not for recreational use. Madonsela found this not to be true.
Mantashe said officials who had misled them with “inaccurate information” must be censored. He said the description of the swimming pool as a fire pool by among others National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega constituted a “misrepresentation of facts”.
“The Minister of Police is expected to take action in this regard,” Mantashe said. The word “expected” in Mantashe parlance means “instructed”, which means Phiyega is finally to face some comeuppance – but only because she caused embarrassment for the ANC.
The president’s architect Minenhle Makhanya also has some heat coming his way. “The role of the architect or principle agent needs further scrutiny and if his actions led to undue enrichment, and wrongfully accessing the state funds, such funds will have to be recovered,” Mantashe said.
The ANC, it would seem, has amazing clarity when those implicated are not their own. There seems to be no dilemma in prescribing what should happen to such people.
While the ANC has pedalled softly on Madonsela, the ANC Youth League and South African Communist Party (SACP) have blasted her for her handling of the Nkandla report. ANCYL national convenor Mzwandile Masina called for Madonsela to step down. He said Madonsela had no authority to speak on security matters and was trying to “poison” the public against the ANC.
The SACP also questioned the timing of the release of Madonsela’s report and said abuses of power and the leaks from her office must be investigated.
“The SACP is extremely concerned at the manner in which the Public Protector has handled this (Nkandla) investigation which, we believe, has compromised certain fundamental principles of justice, fairness and therefore the credibility of the investigation. The use of the media in particular to leak the earlier report and the habit of making comments on an incomplete process have all negatively affected and unnecessarily cast aspersions on the person of President Jacob Zuma.”
It is almost like fish flapping about on the shore after a huge tidal wave hits. But no amount of blustery, obfuscation and good old sophistry can get away from the fact that a damning report has fallen on the ANC on the eve of the elections and they have to deal with the consequences. Perhaps their greatest challenge will be to assess the cost of Nkandla Report and the least expensive corrective action that would be necessary to counter. But for the first time in the 20 years of democracy, the ruling party has almost ran out of any good options. DM
Photo: Number one? Mantashe raises a finger while Jessie Duarte looks on. (Greg Nicolson/Daily Maverick)
"The soul is known by its acts" ~ Thomas Aquinas