South Africa

Unforgiven: The extraordinary tale of Carl Niehaus

By Carien Du Plessis 25 October 2017

(Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee)

Carl Niehaus has recently resurfaced on the ANC’s pre-conference circuit as spokesperson for the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association and one of the key members of presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s campaign team. He’s even been called her campaign manager – but that isn’t quite the way things are. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

Carl Niehaus has been a constant presence at the side of ANC presidential contender Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma since becoming spokesperson of Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans four months ago. Dlamini Zuma has pretty much been on the campaign trail full-time in these weeks leading up to the ANC’s elective conference in December, but Carl Niehaus claims his work is voluntary.

It’s not entirely clear how he pays his bills. He says he is a consultant, but refuses to give details about it. There is talk from the side of ANN7, a television channel friendly to President Jacob Zuma and his preferred successor, Dlamini Zuma, that he gets paid well for his regular appearances. (He did not immediately respond to a message asking for his comment about this.)

Niehaus, who resigned from the ANC in a flood of tears eight years ago after confessing to lies and fraud, has returned with a confident bang. Ten years, he reckons, should have given people enough time to get over his sins.

Of late, Niehaus has been preaching radical economic transformation and a Dlamini Zuma presidency. Speaking as part of a support act, which included the ANC’s youth and women’s leagues, at one of her recent rallies in Limpopo, Niehaus told the cheering crowd that the ANC’s former military wing “has always been the spear of the nation” and “will lead radical economic transformation in this country”.

But also, he added, MKMVA will “make sure that Comrade Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is protected and that her integrity is protected. We must make sure that anyone who wants to insult her be dealt with. We cannot allow our leader to be mistreated,” he said.

When called for clarity on this, Niehaus said he meant this in a “political” and “ideological” way “because there is police and protection” already. Dlamini Zuma has been, exceptionally, enjoying Presidential Protection Unit grade protection since her return as African Union Commission chairperson for reasons the police have refused to disclose.

Niehaus, speaking in Afrikaans, told me on the phone the MKMVA took an official resolution to fully support Dlamini Zuma:

That is why you see me at her meetings all the time. I’ve been seconded by MKMVA to support her campaign,” he said.

Journalists have variously described him as her spokesperson or campaign manager, but Niehaus said her team has neither.

Sometimes people write that because I speak on a specific matter concerning her, but I’m not the official spokesperson.”

KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Sihle Zikalala told Stephen Grootes on Radio 702 the same thing a few days ago, so this much is true.

Niehaus also said he is in a position to help set up interviews with Dlamini Zuma – except he really isn’t.

After Niehaus promised to set up an interview for a colleague but failed to produce, another member of Dlamini Zuma’s team said he wasn’t authorised to do so.

Dlamini Zuma has been pretty averse to mainstream English-medium print and broadcast media. Local radio stations, like UkhoziFM and Lesedi FM, with wide audiences, have been getting more love (she spoke to Lesedi FM on Tuesday, for example) – even during her time at the AU when staffers sent sound bites of speeches to them.

Mail & Guardian journalist Paddy Harper has given an extensive account of his efforts to organise an interview with Dlamini Zuma through Niehaus, who was said to have been the go-to guy.

Earlier attempts made through Comrade Carl haven’t ended well. They’ve included a seven-hour round trip to Umzimkhulu and a five-hour wait at an undertakers’ conference at Durban’s International Convention Centre for interviews that didn’t materialise,” he wrote.

At that gathering in Limpopo 10 days ago, when a promised interview afterwards with Dlamini Zuma didn’t happen, Niehaus was happily seen giving sound bites to some cameras. Some of the ANC organisers in the province expressed unhappiness under their breath about Niehaus taking charge while they were supposed to have been responsible.

There have been exceptions, such as a day after ANC councillor Sindiso Magaqa’s death a few weeks ago, when Dlamini Zuma paid a visit to his home. Her MKMVA shadow wasn’t by her side, and she patiently answered journalists’ questions there.

A long-time constant and one of the co-ordinators of Dlamini Zuma’s campaign appears to be Vukani Lumumba Mthintso, who also worked with her at the African Union. Another former colleague and right-hand woman, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, recently appointed deputy chairperson of the SABC board, is also strategising behind the scenes. She also features among the top six on Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s slate wish list, although it’s not yet clear if she intends to stand for an ANC leadership position at all.

Other campaign helpers include a PR professional, student volunteers and ANC leaders in supportive provinces like KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, as well as the leagues.

Niehaus’ “rehabilitation” has caught some by surprise. Political commentator, Dumisani Hlophe, tweeted three weeks ago:

Okay, I didn’t see this coming – Carl Niehaus is @DlaminiZuma Campaign Manager. This might work more for him than NDZ.”

Time has somewhat blurred the sins that saw Niehaus and his ANC spokesperson job part ways in February 2009, after just six months, but it’s useful to recount that he tearfully admitted to the Mail&Guardian at the time that he forged signatures while chief executive of the Gauteng Economic Development Agency (he resigned in 2005), borrowed money from his comrades without repaying, asked to be connected to Brett Kebble because he was “desperate for financial help”, left a job at Deloitte and Touche in 2003 because his financial woes became embarrassing, owed the Rhema Church more than R700,000 when he was asked to resign from his post as chief executive and spokesperson in 2007, and had to repay R24,000 to then director-general in the presidency, Frank Chikane, when he left his job there under a cloud in 2004.

This is on top of lying about having cancer, about being raped in prison and about his father having died. There’s also been some dodgy entries on his CV.

Within an hour of our phone call, which Niehaus said he took while at a car wash, he called back from home to say, in clear and slow English:

I would like to put it on record that you will not write a fair article about me. Your articles show that you’re biased and that you have a vendetta against me.”

When asked for proof of this, Niehaus said he wasn’t near a computer.

Pretty intimidating tactics. Admittedly, if his credibility and reputation weren’t so ruined, Niehaus would have been a pretty good wingman for any politician in need. DM

Article update: In a brief statement on Wednesday morning, Dlamini Zuma’s media campaign PR team said that Niehaus was neither her spokesperson nor her campaign manager.

Photo: Carl Niehaus (Ihsaan Haffejee)

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