South Africa

Gupta-mania: Ground shifts in NEC, Mantashe takes the wheel

By Ranjeni Munusamy 21 March 2016

If anyone had expected the word “recall” to feature in the ANC’s statement on its national executive committee (NEC) meeting this weekend, they would have been deeply disappointed. A recall of President Jacob Zuma was, of course, never going to happen. But Zuma and his friends, the Gupta family, did not walk away unscathed either. The NEC thumped the Guptas and their propaganda arms, ANN7 and The New Age, and mandated those at the highest level of the ANC to conduct an investigation into their actions. The person in the driving seat on this issue is now ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. There is no way Zuma can be happy with that. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

On the face of it, it looks as if the ANC NEC yielded to the pressure from Zuma and his supporters and threw its weight behind the president. Some people concluded that Zuma emerged strengthened from the NEC and that the Guptas were given the green light to continue stomping over legal and constitutional precepts in their commandeering of the state. There was no condemnation of the president’s improper relationship with the Guptas in the NEC statement, read by Mantashe at a media briefing at the close of the meeting.

The big takeaway line appeared to be: “the ANC confirms its full confidence in our president”. This certainly lit social media and news reports immediately.

But this was not the complete sentence. As Mantashe cantered through the statement, it was difficult to perceive the context and phrasing. This is actually what he said:

“The appointment of ministers and deputy ministers is the sole prerogative of the President of the Republic, in line with the Constitution. To this end, the ANC continues to confirm its full confidence in our President.”

The declaration of support from the NEC therefore relates specifically to the “sole prerogative” of the president to appoint ministers and deputy ministers. The preceding “to this end” puts a proviso on the declaration of support. In other words, the president must continue to make appointments as he is directed to do by the Constitution – not anybody else.

The very next lines of the statement are: “The ANC NEC mandated the Officials and the NWC (national working committee) to gather all pertinent information about the allegations to enable the ANC to take appropriate action on this matter. The ANC calls on all members who have information to approach the Secretary General’s Office”.

The hype around the NEC meeting built expectation of the president being recalled from office, suspended or a judicial commission on “state capture” being appointed, as requested by the South African Communist Party. But as reported in Daily Maverick last week, one of the options suggested by ANC members fed up with Guptas’ meddling in government and state owned companies was to let Luthuli House investigate the matter and allow people to come forward with complaints to the office of the secretary general. This is exactly what the NEC resolved to do.

While the top six officials and the NWC are to “gather all pertinent information about the allegations to enable the ANC to take appropriate action on this matter”, Mantashe’s office will be the channel for complaints. There is now an open invitation to all members who have information to take this to the ANC.

If Zuma, the “premier league” faction and the Guptas had really won this round, there would be no investigation. A compromise would have been: the ANC integrity commission will “look into” the issue. That would probably have been the end of it as the integrity commission of elders has no constitutional powers to take the matter further. It would have been a PR exercise to give the impression that the matter is being taken seriously.

Now the people at the top of the food chain in the ANC are seized with the issue. Mantashe, who is already aware of numerous cases of abuse and bullying by the Guptas, is in charge of processing the evidence. While the NEC media briefing was in progress, former government spokesperson Themba Maseko, tweeted that he will be “among the first to go and give my submission to the SG office”.

Maseko revealed to the Sunday Times how Zuma personally told him to help the Guptas and how one of the Gupta brothers then attempted to bully him into directing government advertising to The New Age. He joins a growing number of people in government and the ANC speaking out about how the Guptas tried to improperly influence or promote them. Mantashe encouraged Maseko to come forward saying: “We are keen for Mr Maseko to confirm that this was done at that time in keeping with the legal responsibilities he had.” People who came forward with information would be politically protected, Mantashe said.

The current furore was provoked by the revelation by Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas that the Guptas offered him the post of finance minister before Nhlanhla Nene was fired in December.

Zuma’s supporters, including ANC Youth League president Collen Maine and chairperson of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association Kebby Maphatsoe had lashed out at Jonas for revealing the information publicly and called for him to be disciplined or removed from his post. But Mantashe’s response to this was quite the contrary, saying: “You don’t discipline people when they do the honourable thing.” He went on to add: “You don’t discipline people for saying there is a problem here.”

The president of the ANC Women’s League Bathabile Dlamini also stirred controversy when she said the Gupta matter should not be discussed as all NEC members had “skeletons”. Mantashe called Maine and Dlamini “ill-disciplined” for their comments.

In response to numerous questions from journalists about the Gupta investigation, Mantashe said the ANC needed to gather all the information, process it and then take concrete decisions. He also said the ANC would again be meeting with the Guptas to discuss the allegations against them. “If we must confront the Gupta’s we will confront them. We have met them before and there is a follow up meeting with them in the coming week. Because if they are in the space with us and their name keeps popping up around the ANC, then the ANC will have to engage that reality,” Mantashe said.

This meeting will be fascinating considering the pounding the Guptas and their newspaper and television station received from the NEC. “The ANC NEC had frank and robust discussions on the serious allegations surrounding the Gupta family and its purported influence in the appointment of ministers, their deputies and other positions in key state owned entities in their interests.”

“We reject the notion of any business or family group seeking such influence over the ANC with the contempt it deserves while also recognising the need to act to protect the integrity of our government and our organisation,” Mantashe said.

Regarding the propaganda war being waged through Gupta-owned media, Mantashe said: “the NEC expressed its utmost disgust at the arrogance, disrespect and reckless journalism displayed by the New Age Newspaper, ANN7 News Channel and representatives of the Gupta-family”.

In time, details of the NEC meeting might emerge, and we might also learn why it ran four hours after it was scheduled to finish on Sunday. What is clear is that this was no walkover for any side and fact the senior-most leaders in the ANC have been assigned the task of dealing with the Gupta capture of the state and the ANC means it is being taken seriously.

If a judicial commission had to be appointed, it would be the president in charge of the process and the president who has to act on the outcomes. From the numerous commissions appointed as well as the Public Protector investigations, it is apparent that implementing the recommendations is not exactly the president’s priority.

The process mandated from the NEC vests control of the investigation with the top brass of the ANC, particularly the secretary general. Mantashe has by far delivered the most scathing criticism of the Guptas. He is unlikely to bow to any pressure he might come under to squash the matter.

The ANC has been bombarded by messages from all quarters regarding “state capture” and the Guptas’ improper involvement in the state. This includes a joint letter from the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation to “reflect deeply” and “take urgent corrective actions in the best interest of South Africa and its peoples”. The ANC has also been sent a memorandum from former Umkhonto weSizwe commanders and combatants to remove Zuma from office.

The ANC has the power to act against the president, including recalling him from office. It can only do so if enough people in the NEC believe Zuma should go, on the basis of information available to them. By the time the investigation is complete, it might be that the ANC has some additional information on the president courtesy of the Constitutional Court when it rules on the Nkandla matter.

The NEC has not clarified what actions the ANC might take against anyone should they be found to have compromised the organisation or the state in any way. But a process has now been opened despite concerted efforts by Zuma’s supporters to shut it down.

It was impossible for any severe sanction to emerge from this weekend’s meeting, particularly against the leader of the party who was sitting at the meeting. But in time, once the local government election period has passed, who knows what might happen?

A year ago, it would not have been possible for an NEC meeting to lash out at the president’s friends or institute an investigation that might or might not implicate Zuma and his son Duduzane in compromising the integrity and sovereignty of the state.

It might not seem like much but the ground has shifted. And that means it can keep shifting. DM

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma (R) greets ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe (L) as he arrives for the the opening session of the ruling African National Congress (ANC)’s national general council in Durban, South Africa, 20 September 2010. EPA/JON HRUSA


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