Nkandla statement: It is Cosatu, Jim, but not as we know it
- Stephen Grootes
- South Africa
- 27 Mar 2014 11:50 (South Africa)
The word "Nkandla" is THE middle-class issue of the Elections 2014. However, it is clearly a "worker" issue as well, in that it cuts to the very heart of our dynamics around spending on the rich and the poor. But, if you hadn't noticed, workers in our country are divided at the moment, as Cosatu appears to be preparing to split down the middle. Its reaction to the Public Protector’s findings on President Jacob Zuma's behaviour around Nkandla is perhaps the best demonstration, so far, of how emasculated this once proud movement has become. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
For years, Cosatu has been the one member of the alliance you could rely on for a quick, strong comment on an issue. Any issue, really. It always had an opinion, and it wasn't scared, or even reluctant, to share it. That partly stemmed from the example of its currently suspended general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. His press conferences in themselves were legendary: you never had to wait to ask questions to get your story; it was already in the statement he and the rest of the Central Executive Committee had prepared. Choice quotes used to fly out: "political hyenas", "corruption eating the movement" and "the social distance between political leaders and the led" were just a few.
To read Cosatu's official reaction to Thuli Madonsela's report is to be reminded of SACP statements. A longish recitation of the facts. And an even longer defence of Zuma. A strange suggestion at the end. Oh, and a week late. Let's go backwards. Cosatu's redoubtable spokesperson Patrick Craven says the delay in the response was because they wanted to take their time and do this properly. They point out Madonsela has produced a long report. He's right there; the executive summary is seventy pages. And Cosatu's official statement does point out that this is just a provisional response; there'll be more to come later. But you have to ask what the real reason for the delay is. Surely, on a burning issue like this, you want your voice heard, and heard urgently? Except that Cosatu at the moment doesn't really have a voice. That's not a comment at all on Craven (who is one of the hardest people to argue against - he is professional and incredibly well briefed). It's that it's impossible to have a voice when you are divided.
In this case, those currently in charge of Cosatu, i.e. its president S'dumo Dlamini and the other National Office Bearers presumably wanted to defend Zuma. That has been their modus operandi up until now. But they also know that the real fight going on at the moment is for the vast majority of Cosatu's members. The workers who pay their subscription fees every month. And those workers are well aware of Nkandla issue, and thus their Federation has to be seen to say something, hence this rather strange official response to the report, and the delay. One of the main points of the response is that Madonsela's report, and the other investigation reports (by the Interministerial Task Force, etc.) should be given "equal attention and credibility".
That line of reasoning has already been followed a few times by the ANC's structures, but is just simply wrong. Firstly, they don't appear to have the same weight in law. One is the Chapter Nine institution that is constitutionally mandated, while the Inter-ministerial Task Force was established by the executive.
And even if they were of the same legal weight, the most important aspect of all of these investigations is that all the ones led by people in government or Parliament are all somehow connected to Luthuli House. They are all "deployees". Which means that in the end, they serve at the president's pleasure. Not in law so much, but de facto, under our system, that is how it is. The Public Protector is different. Her office is independent, she is appointed for a specific term, and it takes a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to remove her. So she by default must have far more leeway than the leaders of any other investigations. This would appear to explain why the ANC and its allies are spending so much time and vitriol attempting to claims she has an agenda. Because if they can drag her into the mud with the rest of them, if they push their line of needing to reconcile two reports that are 'substantially identical', then they've won. It could also explain why some of these other investigations were started in the first place. The results of those now give Zuma and the ANC some cover, while they go on the offensive against Madonsela herself.
There is yet another problem for Cosatu House. It's that the minister in charge of all of this is Thulas Nxesi, the Minister of Public Works. He is one of them, a former General Secretary of SADTU, who got elevated/deployed/rewarded with a Cabinet post. And so for Cosatu to really spank him in public would simply be not on. No one will put it like that, of course, but it's tough to imagine Cosatu strongly criticising an investigation put in place by a former union leader it deployed to Parliament through the ANC.
In the statement, the defence of Zuma starts with a wonderful red herring. It goes straight to the DA's motion to impeach the President. This is really the problem with the DA's stance. On the one side, it's great politics for them; it reminds everyone of what Zuma's done, and gets them loads of airtime. On the other side, people who support Zuma can simply go off on a tangent about how the DA is wrong to bring this motion and will lose it anyway. This gets them off the more direct question of why they are still supporting a man who clearly has ethical lapses. In short, it makes the argument legalistic, when it should be about ethics and morality and a higher standard we should expect from our leaders.
The statement also appears to complain that the Public Protector "offers no apology" for the leaks from her office to the media of her provisional report. So what? Those leaks were not hugely wrong, it would appear, and who has been damaged? Zuma's reputation? Really? Most people already made up their minds about the President a long time ago, and it's going to take more that one edition of the Mail & Guardian to change that.
However, further down in the document, Cosatu appears to be joining Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence when it quotes one of its complaints that there are too many government entities investigating just this one issue. And then it suggests, in an attempt at rather false camaraderie, that they could rather pool resources. That completely misses the point about our democracy. All successful democracies have one thing in common. Checks and balances. It's not rocket science, S'dumo: you have different agencies to watch each other. And the Public Protector is one of them, and constitutionally independent anyway, so it's just not going to happen.
Then there is the completely irrelevant point. Cosatu believes that the decision by the two DA members of this committee to withdraw from the investigation was the result of "political interference" because they clearly did this under the instruction of their party leaders, which is utter nonsense, of course. We all know where the political interference came in, and it wasn't there. By the end of the statement, one is left with one simple feeling: disappointment. It indeed still is Cosatu, Jim. But not as we know it. DM
Grootes is a trekkie. And the host of the Midday Report and senior political reporter for Eyewitness News. His book SA Politics Unspun has a great review in this month's GQ. Which is as close as he's ever got to being stylish.
Photo: Those were the days - Zwelenzima Vavi (then COSATU Secretary General), Jacob Zuma (still South Africa's President) and Sidumo Dlamini (still COSATU President) during the first day of COSATU's 11th National Congress, held at the Gallagher Estate in Midrand in 2012. (Jordi Matas)