Africa

From Nkandla to the grave, Comrades at War

By Ranjeni Munusamy 2 February 2015

Is there anyone out there who believes Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko’s claim that he is fighting tooth and nail to get rid of Hawks boss Anwa Dramat over allegations that he was involved in the illegal rendition of four Zimbabwean nationals? We have been on this ride before, time and time again. High-profile deployees in the state – particularly in the law enforcement agencies – get caught up in factional political battles or refuse to toe their political masters' line and the axe gets wielded. The ANC watches its members do battle and does nothing to intervene, to protect the integrity of the state or to prevent the loss of high-calibre, skilled officials. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi was lucky in death to have his organisation, the ANC, foot the bill for his memorial service and funeral, and lead the plethora of tributes about his good deeds. His coffin was draped in the ANC flag and a host of national and provincial party leaders took turns to pay homage to him.

He was not so lucky in life.

When Selebi was in the dock, was convicted for corruption and went to prison hospital, his organisation was not as forthcoming in its support. And rightly so, considering he was a high-profile member who was found guilty of using his position to commit a serious crime. The problem, though, is that this is not a consistent position of the ANC. When ANC national executive committee member and the ANC Parliamentary Chief Whip Tony Yengeni was convicted of corruption, he was escorted to Pollsmoor Prison by high-profile ANC leaders and quickly accepted back into the fold.

Selebi was hung out to dry and left to wither away in solitude. But after his death, the ANC has been effusive in its praises and rushed to the family’s rescue. Then there are the heady claims at his funeral. ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte said the National Prosecuting Authority should investigate the “real truth” around his conviction.

“The notion that Jackie was a corrupt cop cannot stand,” Duarte was quoted as saying by the Sunday Times. One would think a conviction confirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal went far beyond the realm of notion.

But there was an even more staggering claim from Duarte: that there was rivalry that led to “fellow comrades investigating each other and letting real criminals roam free”. When did the ANC realise this? If “fellow comrades” were investigating each other for sinister reasons, why has the ANC not spoken about it until now?

Over the past few years, there has been a deluge of senior officials, particularly from the security services, who left the state over what have ostensibly been factional political battles. During the change from the Mbeki administration to the Zuma administration, there has been a systematic purge of people perceived to have been loyal to former president Thabo Mbeki, irrespective of whether they were proficient at their jobs. Most of the people purged from the security services – the former National Intelligence Agency, Secret Service, crime intelligence and the military – are former ANC securocrats and Umkhonto we Sizwe combatants.

They were hounded out of their jobs in much the same way that Hawks boss Anwa Dramat and former Gauteng police commissioner Mzwandile Petros have been, and many went away quietly. The difference with Dramat is that in stepping on way too many big toes, particularly in trying to investigate criminality in the Nkandla security upgrades, the political hit against him became public. And because Dramat, as head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations, can only be removed by a committee of the National Assembly, repeated attempts to suspend him have not succeeded.

As a result, Dramat’s political loyalty has been questioned by the ANC, even though his struggle credentials are formidable and uncontested. But it would seem that a person’s role in the ANC during the liberation struggle means little if they cannot prove their unquestioning loyalty to the current political order.

Ask Ivan Pillay, the Deputy Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (SARS). Pillay too is in the fight of his life to keep his job, with proper procedure being flouted in the haste to get rid of him. The means of getting rid of Pillay is similar to the tactics used on Dramat – damaging allegations leak to the media and then a political onslaught ensues, irrespective of what investigations into the allegations find.

Pillay has something else in common with Dramat – other than his role in the ANC underground. He too breached the Nkandla no-go zone. According to sources in his inner circle, Pillay tried to caution President Jacob Zuma that the benefits he received through the Nkandla upgrades had tax implications and advised that these should be dealt with before they stirred more controversy. But this apparently did not go down well with the president, who perceived the warning from Pillay as another Thuli Madonsela-type irritation. And thus Pillay fell out of favour.

If the desperation to get rid of him was really about an alleged covert and illegal intelligence unit at SARS, why is it Pillay and another top executive Peter Richer who are in the firing line, and not Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Pravin Gordhan? The unit was allegedly established while Gordhan was SARS commissioner, and was aware of its raison d’être. Perhaps Gordhan, as the local government Mr Fix It, is not expendable – yet. Or perhaps Gordhan knows better than to yank on the Nkandla chain.

While Pillay is twisting in the wind, the drive to get rid of Dramat has taken a new turn with Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko apparently being willing to offer him a R20 million payout to take early retirement. City Press reported that one of Nhleko’s advisors said they were willing to pay out the remainder of Dramat’s salary and benefits he would have earned if he remained in the police service until the age of 60. Dramat is 46, and while his contract at the Hawks is nearing its end, he could have remained a police employee until normal retirement age, the paper reported.

So just what is the price of slaughtering a comrade?  

It can range from a retirement package to being tarred and feathered in public to cutting short a presidency. It depends on how powerful the enemy is and how big the mob is.

Mbeki is all too aware of how deadly a political onslaught can be, having been recalled as president. The multitude of factional fights in the party and state fought on his behalf and on his watch have receded from the public mind. It is perhaps the reason he sees it now fit to unearth the murky Selebi prosecution and his role in trying to prevent it. In a message read on his behalf at Selebi’s funeral, Mbeki called on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to conduct an “honest and thorough investigation” into the former police chief’s prosecution.

“Neither his family nor the rest of us remember Jackie as the villain that some have claimed he was but as a hero. Jackie has died, but the question that lingers on will not die: who was right and who was wrong? Perhaps the NPA will help us all to answer this question,” Mbeki said.

He, like Duarte, suggested there was another agenda behind Selebi being hunted down. Well, of course there was. There was a monumental battle playing out between the NPA on one side and the police and intelligence services on the other. Mbeki and those around him in the ANC leadership watched it happen, just like their successors are doing now. The question remains, even if Selebi was unfairly targeted by the NPA, and an inappropriate deal struck with drug dealer Glen Agliotti, did Selebi take money and gifts from Agliotti and did he given him classified information in exchange?

Because irrespective of the ANC’s propensity to torment its own and then celebrate them in death, it should always be able to tell right from wrong. But it seems in every single matter that has dragged the organisation and the country to the brink, that distinction was lacking.

It is not that what is right is indistinctive; it is that the need to protect the politically powerful overrides all else. If the ANC, at whatever level and for whatever reason, is aware that its members are engaged in battles that compromise the integrity of the state, they need to be stopped. The dearth of capacity and skill in the state machinery should not be exacerbated by people being driven out for political reasons, being disguised as noble causes. And revising people’s legacies in death does not change the facts.

The battles between people who call each other comrades need to be taken out of the state. It is only then that we will all be able to tell the heroes from the villains. DM

Photo: African National Congress supporters carry a flag during their celebration in Johannesburg, April 23, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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