Five years ago at the policy conference at Gallagher Convention Centre, and when it actually mattered that the ANC had real plans to beat corruption, there was much excitement about the establishment of an integrity commission, however, it's only now that the party has just given the integrity commission more teeth. But will it actually bite? By CARIEN DU PLESSIS
When State Security Minister David Mahlobo told a room full of gatvol hacks on Tuesday night that intelligence services had known about the vicious and destructive protests in the small Limpopo town of Vuwani a year in advance, they laughed at him in his face. In the front rows, one fell off his seat.
If he’d known about it, why didn’t government do anything, journalists asked under their breath as soon as they regained composure.
Mahlobo stared back with the bewildered look of a bully who had just been punched back.
He might as well have been talking about corruption, or the rot in the ANC – the party knows all about it because the smallanyana skeletons are in the exposed in the media regularly and in leaked emails. At the recent conference an entire diagnostic report was tabled about it.
Despite President Jacob Zuma urging the party to be solutions-orientated, those solutions have proven to be as complex as walking in a straight line after winning a drinking game during his State of the Nation Address.
Five years ago at the policy conference at Gallagher Convention Centre there was much excitement about the establishment of an integrity commission.
It was to be chaired by veterans who have seen it all in the movement and are too old to have any more political ambition. The idea was that they would be in a good position to make recommendations about what to do with those who harm the party’s image by being corrupt, or even unethical, even if they didn’t have their day in court (remember how Zuma insisted on his, and then did everything in his power to evade it?).
Part of the same resolution was that ANC leaders should step aside from their positions in the party and in government once they are charged with a crime.
It was assumed that leaders would have a conscience and willingly step aside when asked to.
This idea apparently upped and left for Dubai for good.
Five years later, however, many unethical ANC leaders are laughing harder at the powerlessness of this commission than a president in Parliament.
There was a time long ago when the ANC and government at least made an effort to appear serious about corruption. The announcement in presidential speeches or at party conferences of new laws and institutions to fight the scourge made headlines. South Africa has all the guns. It just doesn’t seem to have the fire.
Of course there was a political element to it, with even supporters of former president Thabo Mbeki many moons ago confessing even they felt then deputy president Zuma’s prosecution was aimed at removing him from the picture.
He was fired from his position as deputy president in 2005 having been charged on 783 counts related to corruption and fraud.
Others, like police chief Jackie Selebi, who was eventually found guilty of corruption, were apparently protected by the same Mbeki.
Just this week the ANC has decided that the integrity commission should be included in the party’s constitution, which means the idea is to give it more independence to act. Up to now it depended on the approval of the party’s national executive committee for its every move.
This has proved to be problematic. Most recently, in April, the commission set up a meeting with Zuma at the historical Liliesleaf farm, to ask him to step aside.
This came shortly after the Cabinet reshuffle which saw the country’s economy take a plunge. Commission chairperson Andrew Mlangeni at the time confessed the commission had asked Zuma to resign in December 2016 already, in the interests of the ANC and the country, but he gave them the political middle finger.
Just over four months later, Mlangeni repeated the request amidst suspicion that he reshuffled the cabinet at the behest of the business-minded Gupta brothers, with whom he is close.
“The IC (integrity commission) will ask Zuma, among other pressing questions, who the president consulted with regard to his reshuffle and who it was that compiled the list of new ministers and their deputies,” Mlangeni said.
Zuma told them he had felt misunderstood and had “certain reasons for doing what he was doing”.
In the days that followed, the integrity commission was vilified – not least by the Zuma-leaning national executive committee – into disappearing the fact that they ever wanted Zuma to resign in the first place.
ANC veteran and author Sindiso Mfenyana, who is part of the commission and apparently feeling bold, on Tuesday, however, confirmed to eNCA that the commission had asked Zuma to resign.
He said members of the commission were at the conference “to push for their findings to be cemented into the ANC constitution, so that their findings, such as the recommendations on President Zuma’s fitness to hold office, would be enforceable”.
Of course the recommendation on Zuma’s resignation wasn’t the first time veterans locked horns with the corrupt and stubborn.
There were cases like that of MP Pule Mabe, who faced a serious string of corruption charges, yet snubbed the integrity commission to such an extent that he ran for ANC Youth League leader in 2015. (Long story, but he didn’t make it.)
While delegates have been fighting tooth and nail about almost everything else, there was consensus about the integrity commission, or more recently about the proposal to give it more teeth.
Even Zuma’s supporters thought it was a good idea.
For one, the resolution will only come into effect at the party’s conference in December, at the same time as Zuma’s term as ANC president ends. Unless his camp loses, it will still not be easy to act against him.
More importantly, though, the commission might have teeth, but there are enough reasons to suspect they won’t have any bite.
Zuma, for one, has already dealt with the people in charge of it – they had front-row seats in the Nasrec Expo Centre – really viciously during the policy conference opening on Friday. He questioned their credentials and turned the “riff-raff” in the branches against them.
So serious was he that he didn’t even manage a giggle. DM
Photo: South African president Jacob Zuma reacts during a question and answer session in parliament, Cape Town, South Africa, 22 June 2017. Photo: EPA/NIC BOTHMA