The alliance summit called by President Jacob Zuma ends on Wednesday after a marathon meeting. Zuma called the summit to ensure a better working relationship between the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu, and help resolve the conflict in the trade union federation. There appears to have been a lot of hot air and political posturing but also a few surprises. The Nkandla and e-tolls issues were raised in the context of the strain they are causing to the alliance. One rather controversial position was that perhaps the ANC should pay back the money for Nkandla to close the matter down. It is significant that it was raised, but it is unlikely to fly. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The hole that the ANC and government are digging themselves into keeps getting bigger. Surely Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko would know that his announcement that more taxpayers’ money might need to be spent on further upgrades at Nkandla will only cause more public rage and antagonism towards the ANC. In the same way, surely the ANC knows that another ad hoc committee process to legitimise Nhleko’s report is going to cause another period of tumult in Parliament and drag the issue out even more.
At a media briefing in Pretoria on Tuesday, Nhleko said security at Nkandla would be re-evaluated to determine whether the exposure of sensitive security installations through government’s efforts to explain the upgrades had compromised Zuma’s security. By government efforts, Nhleko obviously included his own report, which showed never-before-seen video footage of the homestead.
City Press reported that Nhleko said he wanted to know who authorised the construction of 21 houses for police officers and South African National Defence Force personnel at a cost of R135 million. The houses remain unoccupied as they are apparently too far from Zuma’s residence. As if taxpayers’ money being wasted on a “fire pool” and chicken run were not enough, the fact that the Police Minister does not know who authorised the construction of 21 houses for the police at a cost of R135 million in an inappropriate location is even more disturbing.
It is almost as if the ANC believes that all the public anger will eventually dissipate and they can resume the “good story to tell”. We have written repeatedly on these pages that surely some in the ANC leadership will be brave enough, speak out and find a way of bringing the matter to a rational conclusion. The one person who does have the power to shut down the matter immediately is President Jacob Zuma. But he has shown no willingness to do so, even though it would release the ANC from the ongoing scandal.
The new e-tolls dispensation announced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa begins on Wednesday, and all indications are that mass defiance of the system will continue. While government and the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) have tried to sell the new dispensation as a major cut-price bargain for motorists, the flaws are evident to most people. Therefore, the issue will also continue to be a major source of grief for the ANC, particularly in Gauteng.
At Daily Maverick’s annual event The Gathering last month, ANC Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile made a major political leap by speaking frankly on both e-tolls and Nkandla. On Nkandla he said that Nhleko’s report was not ANC policy and that the organisation had not approved further spending for security at the president’s home. On e-tolls, Mashatile said there should be consideration given to the debt motorists incured at the previous costs, therefore opening the door to further negotiations on the matter that Ramaphosa had effectively closed.
It was obvious that Mashatile would face a backlash for this. It was just a matter of when. Indications are that the public approval Mashatile received after his statements at The Gathering were not echoed at the alliance summit. There appears to be no universal position in the alliance as to who should carry the blame for the Nkandla mess.
Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini, Daily Maverick understands, expressed a view that the government did not handle the issue correctly and therefore Zuma now had to bear the brunt of the scandal. That Zuma is the homeowner, and should have questioned the upgrades, as well as the chief custodian of state resources, and should have questioned the costs involved, did not feature in his argument.
Many people at the meeting apparently agreed with Dlamini that Zuma was unfairly being blamed and hung out to dry on the Nkandla matter, when a whole range of government officials authorised the upgrades and the spending. Not many people agreed with Mashatile that Nhleko’s report and further spending on security were not approved by the ANC. Mashatile was apparently taken to task for expressing such views outside the organisation and also misrepresenting ANC national executive committee decisions on the Nkandla. It is not clear what exactly these were.
But this is not the first time the Gauteng ANC has spoken up about the damage that Nkandla and e-tolls caused to the organisation. Daily Maverick understands that prior to the 2014 elections, the Gauteng provincial working committee met with the national counterparts and expressed their concerns about the two issues. The national leadership took no action then to address these concerns, and therefore suffered a massive loss in support at the polls. They are unlikely to act now either.
Also likely to be dead in the water is a proposal that the ANC pay back the money for the non-security upgrades at Nkandla. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela recommended that Zuma should pay back a “reasonable percentage” of the costs for upgrades that do not relate to security. Zuma has repeatedly refused to acknowledge that he and his family benefitted from the upgrades and assigned Nhleko the task of deciding whether he should pay. Nhleko’s report concluded that he should not.
The proposal from the Gauteng ANC that the ruling party should pay the money instead is another earnest attempt to help the organisation break from the Nkandla scandal and close down the debate. But the proposal did not receive support at the alliance summit and is unlikely to be considered seriously by the ANC national executive committee. The reason for this is that such a payment would legitimise Madonsela’s report, which the ANC and government do not want. It will also be an acknowledgment that some of the upgrades were not in fact security related, contrary to Nhleko’s desperate attempts to convince the country that they are, and that the president did benefit from them unduly.
The dialogue may push the Gauteng ANC further into the dog box but it has revealed that there are some in the ruling party who refuse to be part of the mob and are willing to speak out, even if there are consequences for their political careers. The real test of sentiment in the ANC will be the midterm national general council scheduled for later this year, when branch delegates get to evaluate the performance of the organisation. That conference will show whether Mashatile is an isolated voice willing to speak out or whether the ANC’s mass membership can save the organisation from itself. DM
Photo:President Zuma addresses the ANC Youth League at its 2014 consultative conference in Soweto. (Greg Nicolson)
"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