South Africa

South Africa

Analysis: A Trillion Rand man, David Mahlobo

While much of the political intrigue of the last few days after President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle has focused on the removal of the SACP’s Blade Nzimande, the focus now moves to David Mahlobo’s new job. He is the new Minister of Energy, a portfolio that appears tasked with pushing through a deal that would see us spending around a trillion rand we don't have (that is R1,000,000,000,000) on nuclear power stations we don’t need. If ever there was an appointment that suggests the ANC is about to fall over through the sheer weight of corruption, this is it. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

When writing about politicians it is important to be fair, to include both the perceived positives and negatives about a person. Someone like Manto Tshabalala-Msimang allowed hundreds of thousands of people to die through her attitude to ARVs, yet devoted her life to helping liberate her fellow South Africans.

With Mahlobo, it is hard to think of positives.

Consider just a selection of his recent actions. In Parliament he oversaw the jamming of cellphones in 2015. A month later he claimed that then Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela might be a spy for the CIA. He then claimed that a leader of the student #FeesMustFall protests, Mcebo Dlamini, had been to his house several times. Then he said he hadn’t. He has claimed government knew for a year in advance that there would be violent protests in Vuwani but appeared to do nothing to prevent them. And then, Al Jazeera aired footage showing that he had visited a brothel. The brothel was owned by someone who happens to smuggle rhino horn for a living.

Considering that Mahlobo himself accepted, during an interview on 702 on Wednesday morning, that a person’s track record matters, what are we to make of this man?

He was highly indignant when this writer put to him, during the interview, that it all boiled down to trust, and mentioned both the brothel and the cellphone jamming incidents (time is limited on the radio). I then asked, “What in your track record says that we can trust you in a nuclear deal that will cost a trillion rand?”. His answer was fairly lengthy, and the interchange itself will give you a clearer picture.

You see Stephen, you should never try to actually insult people, never do that. We have never been to Nelspruit (the location of the brothel) and said I’ve gone to a brothel. I have gone to a spa and many citizens have gone there, we should never treat people on the media, without actually placing them in the court of public opinion. If you want to have a discussion about who is David Mahlobo, I’m a member of the ANC…. I’ve worked in this government both as an administrator and as a politician… where there are mistakes I’ve taken responsibility, we address them… if there is a problem are checks and balances….”

The conversation then moved on to mention both Kenny Kunene and Gayton McKenzie, who reportedly joined Mahlobo on a recent trip to Russia. He was having none of it, saying that there are “no factual accuracies” in the question.

Well, dear reader, if you want to judge a person by the company they keep, one should look no further than these two. They are convicts, gangsters, people who get involved in attempts to smear President Jacob Zuma’s political opponents. And they are hanging out with the person in charge of One Trillion Rand.

At the same time, one must consider what is really at stake here. Despite Mahlobo’s denials, the only people (apart from the obvious corruption it would involve) who stand to benefit from the nuclear deal are the Russians. Their leader, Vladimir Putin, is prepared to play dirty to get what he wants. The US has seen claim after substantiated claim that Putin was meddling in the elections that brought Donald Trump to the White House. Alexander Litvinenko was murdered through radioactive poisoning in London. Why would we be surprised that he is not prepared to interfere in South Africa’s political processes?

The fact that Mahlobo is still in the government is in itself an indication of how low the ANC appears to have sunk. And the fact that Luthuli House was not even consulted about his appointment, and appears powerless to do anything about it, reveals the power relationship at the moment. In short, it could be argued that Zuma has essentially left the ANC, and is now operating on his own.

This is an important point. There is many a speculation about the possibility of authoritarianism in our future, and that Zuma may try to follow the examples of Putin, or Turkey’s Recep Erdo?an. However, both of those leaders are far more popular than their respective parties. They have populations in thrall to them, and their individual statures almost overshadow the parties themselves. Here, surely the opposite is true. The ANC is much more popular than Zuma. This means that should the party turn on him, he has nowhere to turn. And thus it all becomes, once again, about what will happen in December.

Unfortunately for the ANC, Mahlobo is not an isolated case.

On Wednesday the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) snubbed not one but two parliamentary committees. Which is surely a new record. This has to be Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini simply following Number One’s example, and extending her middle finger in the direction of the ANC, which is unable to contain her.

However, this is not just about Zuma and the people aligned to him.

In Gauteng, the mediation hearings into the Life Esidimeni tragedy, which saw around 144 mentally ill people dying after being moved to NGOs, present heartbreaking testimony after heartbreaking testimony. What happened in this case is awful. And yet the person who must bear responsibility, the person who didn’t just let it happen, but actually made it happen, is evading responsibility. Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is not due to testify. So far the Gauteng ANC has made no move to force her to come, or to convince or cajole her in any way.

There is also a public perception that no one connected to the ANC ever goes to jail for corruption. After Tony Yengeni was swept to Pollsmoor by parliamentary officials including Baleka Mbete, what examples are there? The party publicly says that its members accused of corruption should resign from their office, and yet simply does not carry through. The way things are going now, is seems unlikely Qedani Mahlangu will go to jail. And yet she is responsible for people dying.

It is too early to say what will happen to the ANC in 2019. But when people die because of corruption, when someone like David Mahlobo attains the position he has, and has the keys to a R1,000,000,000,000 deal, you have to ask if the party can survive. Or if it is just about to literally fall over through the sheer weight of the corruption it appears to be carrying. DM

Photo: Minister of State Secuty, David Mahlobo chairing the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster about the implementation of the cluster programme of action for the year, following the 2017 State of the Nation Address at a briefing held at Tshedimosetso House in Pretoria. 05/03/2017. By Ntswe Mokoena (GCIS).