South Africa, Politics

Follow My Leader: Nhleko, Motsoeneng and SABC ‘board’ disrespect Parliament, Zuma-style

By Marianne Thamm 8 December 2016

President Jacob Zuma’s ethos of delaying, undermining and subverting the work of Parliament – and for which the Constitutional Court found him wanting this year – has emboldened those who have gone rogue while serving him and who now seek to avoid accountability. The mass exodus from an ad hoc parliamentary committee by SABC lone ranger board chair Mbulaheni Maguvhe, his entire legal team, acting SABC CEO James Aguma and self-appointed SABC messiah Hlaudi Motsoeneng, as well as Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko’s vague presentation with regard to his fallout with IPID head Robert McBride, has attracted bipartisan anger by ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu and the DA’s Zakhele Mbhele. By MARIANNE THAMM.

There are too many examples to hold in mind. From years of clogging up the justice system with regard to the “spy tapes”, to undermining the Public Protector’s report on Nkandla as well as his attempts at slipping out of answering questions with regard to the State of Capture report, President Jacob Zuma has paved the way for underlings who find themselves having to, however reluctantly, account to Parliament, the people of South Africa and Chapter 9 institutions.

So it was no surprise that the arrival of crunch time on Wednesday when Parliament’s ad hoc committee set up to investigate the dysfunction at the SABC was all set to go, the culprits called to account attempted to delay and shut down the inquiry.

Lone SABC board member Mbulaheni Maguvhe and an SABC entourage, including CEO James Aguma, group executive of corporate affairs Hlaudi “I am Jesus” Motsoeneng and their legal team staged a walkout within minutes of the committee embarking on its work.

Maguvhe, who failed in his court bid to stop the inquiry last week, had attempted to halt Wednesday’s proceedings, claiming documents had not been converted into braille. Committee members as well as chair Vincent Smith responded that Maguvhe and officials had had ample time to convert the documents, which is when SABC rogue officials staged the walkout.

Afterwards a livid ANC Chief Whip, Jackson Mtembu, released a blistering statement saying that the “utter disrespect that the SABC chairman and his lackeys continue to demonstrate against Parliament, including the very institution they lead, represents a serious attack against these public institutions and the people of South Africa. We will strongly urge Parliament to act decisively and nip this abhorrent conduct in the bud.”

Mtembu said that he was “gravely dismayed and shocked by the disrespectful and contemptuous conduct of SABC representatives” and that the walkout had been one of several “stalling tricks aimed at frustrating the work of the ad hoc committee”.

“Today’s walkout, including refusal to provide Parliament with documents, was designed to disrupt the work of Parliament and show contempt for Parliament’s constitutional powers,” said Mthembu, warning that in terms of section 7 of the Powers, Privileges, Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act, creating disturbances and disruptions could lead to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months.

Meanwhile over in committee room 314, Minister of Police, Nathi “Firepool” Nhleko, who had been summoned to account for the breakdown in his relationship with Director of the Independent Police Directorate (IPID) Robert McBride, giggled and shimmied his way through it all.

Nhleko wriggled out of questions, offering long-winded and often irrational replies – one of them involving the accusation that someone might be a drunk – prompting the DA’s Shadow Minister of Police, Zakhele Mbhele, to release a statement saying that Nhleko, one of Zuma’s Praetorian guards, was in contempt of Parliament and that his conduct during the committee meeting had breached the Powers and Privileges Act.

“The Minister completely avoided directly answering questions related to McBride and IPID, and claimed that it would be ‘improper’, ‘prejudicial’ and an ‘unfair legal practice’ to discuss this and related matters,” said Mbhele

Yet this is exactly why Nhleko had been called before the committee and by “not directly and properly answering for his actions, he has evaded accountability and frustrated the work of the Portfolio Committee”.

The DA, said Mbhele, would be writing to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, to request that she establish a Standing Committee to inquire into this charge, as specified in line with Section 12(2) of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (the Act).

“By giving the Committee the run-around and failing to answer questions on IPID, McBride and his own conduct, despite being specifically invited and requested to do so, this is exactly what Nhleko was doing,” said Mbhele.

Meanwhile, Nhleko’s appointment of another of President Zuma’s acolytes, Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, continued to be challenged in the Pretoria High Court on Wednesday. The court heard that a committee that had consisted of the minister of justice, state security and the deputy minister of police had been “ill equipped” to recommend the controversial Ntlemeza to head the Hawks.

Advocate David Unterhalter, representing the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law, who have challenged Nhleko’s appointment of Ntlemeza as “irrational”, told the court the committee did not take into account a ruling by Judge Elias Matojane in the Shadrack Sibiya matter that Ntlemeza had lied and been dishonest.

Ntlemeza’s legal representative, Advocate William Mokhari, echoed an earlier sentiment by Nhleko that judge Matojane’s ruling had merely been “an opinion” and not “a finding”.

This type of argument is in line with President Zuma’s and the ANC’s attacks on the  country’s judiciary. In 2015 Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng requested a meeting with Zuma after ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe’s remarks that the courts were “biased” against the ruling party.

The two events on Wednesday, involving the SABC and Minister Nhleko – as well as the recent refusal by Minster of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini (another staunch Zuma disciple) to reveal, probably non-existent, contingency plans for the April 1 2017 payout of grants by SASSA – are symptomatic of a leadership and a party that has already been found to have undermined two pillars of the state: the executive, through Zuma’s breach of his oath of office, and Parliament, in failing to fulfil constitutional obligations with regard to the Public Protector’s Nkandla report.

This ethos under President Zuma has not only undermined the Constitution but also the credibility of the ANC under his leadership. Those who are currently emboldened by President Zuma’s recalcitrant attitude to the rule of law will soon come to feel its grip.

The ANC’s former Northern Cape chairman, John Block, who has been one such ruling party survivor, is currently fighting tooth and nail to avoid a 15-year jail sentence on charges of fraud and money laundering. The wheels of justice in a constitutional democracy grind slowly, but they do grind, as the once untouchable Block has discovered to his shock. DM

Photo: Jacob Zuma, Hlaudi Motoeneng, Nathi Nhleko, Berning Ntlemeza.

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