There are possibly a dozen different ways the ANC could have handled the Nkandla upgrades scandal such that it didn’t leave the entire party tainted by its stink. It chose instead the worst possible route of obfuscation followed by a badly disguised cover-up. The parliamentary ad hoc committee was the last chance for the ANC to treat the matter with the requisite seriousness and separate the party from the shame of Nkandla. Instead it opted to let the rot of Nkandla seep into the next government and allow it to continue to desecrate the ANC’s image. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
There is a wonderful feeling after a national election. The reset button has been hit. Everything seems brand new, with a new national government taking shape and nine provincial governments arranging themselves. Or maybe it just seems that way because the noise of campaigning ceases; the politicians stop trying to be nice to us and return to their ivory towers.
Each new government introduces new people to head up ministries, flushes away others who didn’t play nicely in the last term and some ministers get moved around. In Parliament, there is a rush of new blood mingling with the old timers to learn the ropes, find out where the dining hall is and who to speak to about the free flights. Each new government holds the promise – perhaps misguided optimism – that things will turn out better and that the elected representatives will take their mandates and what they pledged during their campaigns seriously.
After the 7 May elections, there might be some excitement about reshuffles in Cabinet and the presence of notable newbies like Julius Malema and Mamphela Ramphele in Parliament. However, with the 20 years of democracy celebrations winding down and not much expected to change in the configuration of the new government, there is likely to be less enthusiasm about the actual next term.
The fifth South African government also inherits the unresolved scandal of Nkandla and the new Parliament will have in its inbox the deferred matter of the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on the upgrades at President Jacob Zuma’s residence. Instead of being able to turn over a new leaf, the new administration will be strung with the burden of the scandal – all because of the elaborate cover-up orchestrated by the ANC since the release of the report.
On Monday, a multi-party Parliamentary ad hoc committee, set up to consider the president’s response to Madonsela’s report on the R246 million upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla home, was forced by the ANC to shut down and defer the matter to the next Parliament. The ANC argued that there was insufficient time for the committee to complete its work and there shouldn’t even bother starting it.
The great fear the ANC had about this committee was the president being subjected to a number of uncomfortable questions, which he has steadfastly refused to answer about the Nkandla development up to now. They also did not want Madonsela, who indicated her availability to appear before the committee, to elaborate on her findings regarding the undue benefit the president received from the state-funded upgrades and his refusal to answer some of her questions.
So, like the mirrors and smokescreens erected by the ANC leadership, their delegation in the ad hoc committee adopted a modus operandi of obfuscation to stall the committee’ work. The ANC, like Zuma, is trying to use the report of the inter-ministerial task team and the investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to counter the Public Protector’s investigation, which, unlike the others, is constitutionally mandated. Madonsela’s report was also more in-depth and dealt with issues not covered by the other two investigations, such as Zuma and his ministers’ conduct.
The ANC’s dodge and deflect approach to the Nkandla scandal has resulted in the issue hanging over the party during the election campaign and its leaders having to constantly answer uncomfortable questions about the unfolding saga. On Tuesday, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa was asked at an editors’ breakfast about why the party’s delegation in the ad hoc committee had acted to squash the probe. The briefing with editors was to discuss “social cohesion and nation building”. Obviously how the ANC’s number two wriggled out of the Nkandla conundrum turned out to be more newsworthy.
Ramaphosa said it was a “practical decision” to stop the committee’s work as it would have been “impossible to meet the deadline”. He said Madonsela had a “huge report” and there was “other further things that need to be done”.
Definitely not Cyril Ramaphosa’s finest moment.
But that is the thing with pretence – it makes everyone look foolish. The ANC’s big problem is that it cannot bully everyone into shutting up about Nkandla and therefore has to find innovative explanations for why it remains on the national agenda: the opposition is has no policies to talk about, the media has an agenda, foreign elements are using Madonsela to destabilise the ANC government and, the all time favourite, Nkandla stories are “white people’s lies”.
The ANC seems oblivious to the fact that taxpayers are genuinely aggrieved that their money has been misspent on the president’s private home and that poor people are angry that they are deprived of basic services while state resources are abused.
It is not as if speedy and decisive action by the ANC has not worked to protect the party before. When the Gupta family landed their jet carrying wedding guests at Waterkloof Air Force Base last year, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe issued a statement immediately.
It read: “The African National Congress has learnt that guests of a family hosting some wedding at Sun City landed at the Waterkloof Airforce Base today (note the same day)… The African National Congress waited patiently for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), the body delegated with authority over the Waterkloof Airforce Base, to explain to the nation how these private individuals managed to land aircraft at Waterkloof. Up until now, no explanation has been forthcoming (this is less than 24 hours after the plane landed).
“We demand that those who are responsible for granting access to land aircraft in our country also explain the basis upon which such permission was granted, particularly to land at Waterkloof Airforce Base. Those who cannot account must be brought to book. The African National Congress will never rest where there is any indication that all and sundry may be permitted to undermine the Republic, its citizens and its borders.”
It was no surprise that after the ANC pronounced firmly on the matter and demanded accountability and action, government ministers were jumping around the next day to get an investigation going. The Gupta’s jet was impounded and the wedding guests had to fly out of OR Tambo International.
The big difference this time is that it is impossible for the ANC to take a principled stand without it having direct implications for its president. It is his home, he accrued the benefit and it is he who refuses to answer questions about the upgrades.
Trying to get officials and contractors to carry the blame only goes so far, as the biggest beneficiary of the corruption and abuse at Nkandla is President Zuma. No amount of whitewashing will allow the ANC to escape this fact and therefore its only escape is to postpone the matter until after the election and vest hope that the some action by the SIU against contractors and officials would pacify the public.
What the ANC has effectively done, though, is to sabotage its incoming government by allowing it to inherit the scandal and postponed the parliamentary probe to allow Julius Malema to climb in on the action. He is already quite enthusiastic about the prospect, telling his supporters at a march to the SABC headquarters on Tuesday that the Nkandla matter would not be swept under the carpet or allowed to die down until Zuma was behind bars for his involvement.
“I will be there deciding Zuma’s fate,” Malema told the crowd.
Also on Tuesday, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi should provide the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, Amabhungane, with a full set of the Nkandla documents within 30 days. Public Works director general Mziwonke Dlabantu was ordered to comply with section 23(1) of the Promotion of Access to Information Act to account for all those documents the department claimed could not be traced or did not exist.
While many of these sub-plots play out, the question remains as to how the presumed returning president Jacob Zuma will answer the findings and recommendations of the Public Protector’s report, including that he pay back a percentage of the amount he benefitted unduly. He and his legal team would know that once the SIU hands in its report, it would become obvious that it does not address most of the matters Madonsela has raised.
The ANC will no doubt leap to his defence and continue to shield him. But at some point, the president will run out of places to hide and will have to respond to the report. The longer he stalls, the more it diminishes him, his second term and his party.
Nkandla 2.0 promises to be a blockbuster. DM
Photo by Sapa.
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine