Not entirely omniscient
16 December 2017 01:27 (South Africa)
South Africa

Reporter's Parliamentary Notebook: ANC's ‘Group of 10’ puts spokes in the wheels of State Capture inquiries

  • Marianne Merten
    Marianne-Merten.jpg
    Marianne Merten
  • South Africa
Photo: Newly elected ruling party African National Congress (ANC) Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu listens in parliament Cape Town, South Africa, 05 April 2016. EPA/NIC BOTHMA

Parliament’s public enterprises committee inquiry into State Capture at Eskom continues next week, MPs decided on Wednesday in behind-closed-doors discussions, which included various threats made against it. But Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane’s sick note scuppered that parliamentary committee’s second State Capture date, now postponed to late January. In the last days of the 2017 parliamentary calendar, various efforts to come to grips with State Capture at the national legislature have highlighted ANC parliamentary caucus divisions in the run-up to the governing party’s December elective national conference – not only in committees, but also in the DA-sponsored State Capture discussion in the House. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

There is a grouping in the ANC parliamentary caucus dubbed the Group of 10, a core of MPs spearheading a larger, fluid number of parliamentarians closely associated with President Jacob Zuma’s interests in the factional alignments in the governing party. Much of its recent focus has been on stopping various parliamentary efforts to get to grips with State Capture, be it the Eskom inquiry that kicked off last month, or Tuesday evening’s DA motion for discussion: “The scourge of State Capture – Parliament’s duty to investigate and hold the executive to account”.

In October there were heated exchanges in an ANC parliamentary caucus, but the push to scupper the Eskom inquiry was defeated. This came after then ANC MP Bongani Bongo, now State Security minister, according to the Sunday Times, led a delegation to the ANC Luthuli House head office to lobby for the cancellation of the Eskom inquiry. Bongo, while still an ANC MP, has been fingered as having offered a blank cheque “bribe” to Eskom inquiry evidence leader Ntuthuzelo Vanara not to do his job, according to the Sunday Times.

That the Eskom State Capture inquiry is proceeding is a win for those in the ANC who want to clean up while, of course, maintaining the ANC’s role as leader of society. And it is a crucial opportunity for Parliament amid frequent sharp criticism that this sphere of the state had long ago acceded to playing second fiddle to the executive, to assert its constitutional oversight mandate. Parliament has moved to provide not only resources for the inquiry, but also support for MPs and staff who are facing threats.

“It is completely unacceptable to attack a member (MP) or an official of Parliament for carrying out the legitimate work of a committee of the legislature,” said Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli in a statement on Wednesday, adding that Parliament is setting in motion “certain processes to, amongst others, address the concerns and safety of those conducting the inquiry and the inviolability of the inquiry itself”.

This week those associated with this Group of 10 turned to ANN7, with ANC MP Loyiso Mpumlwana the point man in invoking white monopoly capital rhetoric to question not only the Eskom inquiry, but also sharply criticising ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu for allowing the “racist” DA-sponsored discussion to go ahead.

Nonceba Mhlauli, spokesperson for the Office of the ANC Chief Whip, said these public statements were “unfortunate” as parliamentary convention rotates such motions for discussion through the 13 parties represented at Parliament:

“The insinuation that the majority party in Parliament can direct the opposition what their motions for debate ought to be, and vice versa, is not only malicious, but also very dangerous to the functioning of a healthy multiparty democratic Parliament.”

On Wednesday Mthembu lodged a complaint about this broadcast material with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA), saying “ANN7 colluded with some Members of Parliament to broadcast defamatory remarks against the ANC Chief Whip, Jackson Mthembu”.

It followed a Twitter apology by ANN7 boss Mzwanele Manyi:

“Dear Cde @JacksonMthembu The word embarrassment does not even begin to describe how I feel about what @ANN7tv did to you. ANN7 WILL play an apology throughout the day. AND your right of reply when you are ready. Internal disciplinary proceedings will be unleashed”.

Daily Maverick understands ANN7 on Wednesday also called the ANC chief whip.

The case of those ANC MPs and their public statements has been escalated to ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe. It’s the second time ANC MP Mervyn Dirks has fallen foul of ANC discipline; he’s facing proceedings over his role in the boycott of then public service and administration committee chairperson Makhosi Khoza – the outspoken ANC MP who has since resigned under pressure.

There was another vocal, but ultimately unsuccessful, bid to can Tuesday evening’s DA-sponsored discussion, but ANC MPs’ objections were ruled outside the rules. It didn’t stop ANC MP Bhekizizwe Radebe from raising frequent points of order. Nor did it stop Dirks from threatening to stop DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen from speaking after he referred to the group of ANC MPs’ public statements against the debate (and their chief whip) as “nothing more than a poorly executed dance of subservience to the Gupta masters who are no doubt carefully choreographing this charade from the confines of their Saxonwold shebeen”.

That’s the sexy verbal veneer of State Capture in Parliament. Beneath this unfold deep divisions in the ANC parliamentary caucus, and the difficulties faced by those within the governing party – and not just the usual identified parliamentarians like Pravin Gordhan and Derek Hanekom – in treading the choppy currents of party-factional politicking and redressing the widespread public view of the ANC as supporting corruption and State Capture, while not being seen as moving too close to the opposition.

After all, the age-old ANC attitude that it will fix itself and does not allow anyone to tell it what to do – and how – is deeply entrenched. And this means the stakes are high just before the ANC December national elective conference that in more ways than one will determine the future of the governing party, and South Africa.

Amid all the political noise it’s easy to miss the pushback from those in the ANC who want things to change. It was in a tiny little sentence in a long speech listing Parliament’s constitutional oversight mandate and platitudes to ANC elected public representatives’ role as “the people’s voice” by Lusizo Makhubela-Mashele:

“We admit we have not done this (oversight) to our fullest ability,” she said in Tuesday’s State Capture discussion.

ANC MP Mondli Gungubele was more forthright in many ways, even if ANC-speak may require a dictionary at times. Talking of OR Tambo’s words on the threat of being caught up in “moments of incidentals”, or those happenings that are minor accompaniments to something else, he cautioned that “a defocused ANC will stay unclear, ambiguous and dubious is an opposition party (dream)”.

This lack of focus is what opposition parties were looking for in their drive to the 2019 elections. And opposition parties thought they would be the only ones seen by the public to be tough on State Capture and corruption. Not so, said Gungubele, describing the Eskom inquiry as “a credible process of Parliament” and one which, like the parliamentary SABC inquiry, would not have happened without the ANC, given its centrality in the body politic and South African life:

“The ANC will never hand over the state to the Guptas. The ANC will never hand over the state to the dark forces of capture.”

But, of course, Gungubele’s words come amid the factional machinations that saw fellow ANC MPs head off into another direction with that ANN7 interview on Monday. And it comes against the passive-aggressive tendencies playing themselves out in various committees. Those associated with the Group of 10 are intent on playing kick for touch over Parliament’s institutional directive of late June 2017 to probe the #GuptaLeaks and report back to the House.

And so on Wednesday the mineral resources committee chaired by former Cosatu KwaZulu-Natal boss Zet Luzipo accepted Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane’s sick note. Perhaps the committee was not aware of Zwane’s attendance at the Free State ANC provincial general council where the branch nominations for the ANC leadership contest in December were announced. News24 reported seeing a “jovial and joking” Zwane “joking with ANC comrades” at the ANC gathering in his home province.

The mineral resources committee requested Zwane to appear before it again on 24 January after the year-end recess, to discuss State Capture for a second time after his initial appearance last month.

Meanwhile, the home affairs committee chaired by ANC MP Lemias Mashile accepted a briefing by Director-General Mkuseli Apleni on how former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, now Finance Minister, used his executive discretion to grant speeded up citizen naturalisation to several members of the Gupta family.

It’s unclear what the transport committee would be doing beyond “prioritising” in early 2018 the Passenger Rail Authority of South Africa (Prasa), whose messed-up finances meant it did not table its annual report and financial statements by the statutory end-September deadline.

“The committee will deal with the issue of State Capture as directed by Parliament later,” said transport committee chairperson Dikeledi Magadzi in a statement on Friday. Instead it is the trade and industry committee that has scheduled an inquiry into localisation in the Transnet Chinese locomotive tender won by China South Rail, involving a Gupta-linked company that received millions in the transaction. Parliament’s watchdog on public spending, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), is also set to get involved in Transnet State Capture.

The argument by those associated with the Group of 10 has stayed consistent and broadly runs like this: as Zuma has undertaken to establish a State Capture commission of inquiry, there was really no need for any other probe. It’s an argument similar to the one raised by Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown in letters to the Eskom inquiry on how it would relate to others like the Public Protector State of Capture and a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe to which the minister repeatedly publicly refers, although the presidential proclamation required to kick-start investigations has not yet been signed by President Jacob Zuma.

There’s no date yet for any commission of inquiry into State Capture as the president took the Public Protector’s remedial action to court, arguing that his statutory powers would be undermined if the Chief Justice were to appoint the presiding judge. Until the court process is done, the commission could not be appointed, acknowledged Zuma in his last Q&A session in the House at the start of the month.

There appeared to be an off-hand attitude in the presidential views on parliamentary State Capture efforts:

“The fact that Parliament takes a process, I don’t know what it means,” said Zuma then, adding with reference to the commission he would establish: “I don’t know which one would be more legitimate.” If Parliament thought it was the best thing to do to establish an inquiry, that was up to Parliament. “If you (Parliament) want to establish another, that’s nothing with me,” said the president during that question slot.

And in a recent interview with ANN7, Zuma said he did not believe State Capture was “factual”; it was political, he said.

Privately, many ANC MPs acknowledge that State Capture has been a subject of public debate for a long time and has damaged the party’s standing, given also the series of scandals linked to its president. That much also publicly emerged in the diagnostics report, including focus group research, submitted to the ANC policy conference in July.

The problem has been much dissected, repeatedly analysed. The question is what to do about it – and for those not satisfied with deflection and technicist legalese, how to act positively amid the threats, intimidation and party-political factional machinations that are tailgating Parliament’s State Capture constitutionally-mandated oversight efforts.

In this context the ANC December national elective conference is key – for Zuma, the factionalised ANC, and South Africa. It’s all eyes on those five days in December. DM

Photo: Newly elected ruling party African National Congress (ANC) Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu listens in parliament Cape Town, South Africa, 05 April 2016. EPA/NIC BOTHMA

  • Marianne Merten
    Marianne-Merten.jpg
    Marianne Merten
  • South Africa

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