This week, the current Mayor of Joburg Geoff Makhubo testified at the Zondo Commission about payments he received from a company that was doing business with the City of Joburg while he was in his previous position as Member of the Mayoral Committee for Finance. Now the Joburg ANC has escalated it to the Gauteng party leadership to deal with the issue.
This could well put pressure on the tension between the ANC’s Nasrec and national executive committee (NEC) resolutions on the step aside issue.
At the same time, it may be Makhubo who takes the testimony heard at the Zondo Commission over the last two years out of the realm of national politics, and into local politics, and thus makes it an issue in the local elections.
In short, Makhubo could become a defining issue in the local elections, and possibly within the ANC itself.
On Monday, Makhubo testified at the Zondo Commission for a second time.
He was asked about a R570,000 payment that was made to a company he controlled, Molelwane Consulting. Of that money, R405,000 went to his own account, and from there to various credit cards and some of his family members.
Two days later the City gave EOH a R404-million contract to install SAP software.
The evidence leader, Matthew Chaskalson SC said, “We will submit that these were ultimately corrupt payments”.
Then, on Tuesday, the ANC in Joburg said that it was now going to ask the provincial executive committee of Gauteng to decide what should happen. And it said that Makhubo had now referred himself to the Provincial Integrity Committee of the party.
The party says it welcomes this and also welcomes a decision that it will investigate payments allegedly made to the ANC from EOH, which may have been arranged by Makhubo.
However, the Joburg statement makes no mention of the fact that Makhubo lied when he told the Amabhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism (who first reported on claims against him) that he played no role in Molelwane Consulting when it received money from decisions he made while being in charge of Joburg’s finances.
While the ANC says it is taking this action, it is clear that this is a gift for opposition parties, in particular the DA and Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA.
Both of these parties are likely to make the ANC’s still alleged corruption the main plank of their campaigns. They would hope that the testimony heard at the Zondo Commission over the last two years, which appears to implicate almost solely ANC leaders and members, will gain them votes in the October elections.
While ANC leaders may claim that the Zondo Commission does not relate to local politics, Makhubo may allow opposition leaders to draw a direct link between the commission, and corruption in a major metro, making it a major local election issue.
This might mean that the Joburg Region of the ANC comes under pressure to remove him as mayor, or for the Gauteng ANC leadership to order him to step down, or step aside. They could believe that if Joburg indeed hangs in the balance in the election, it is vital that they put forward another candidate for mayor.
Makhubo himself has not answered questions about whether he would run for the position again but says he will wait to see how the listing process unfolds in the ANC.
At the same time, Makhubo has been implicated in wrongdoing but has not been formally charged by any police or entity in the criminal justice system. This difference may fuel more pressure on the internal argument within the ANC on this issue.
As suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has argued (both in his attempt to suspend President Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the ANC and in his legal papers, the ANC should follow the Nasrec resolution, which says people implicated in wrongdoing must step aside.
However, the NEC resolution, which has been used to suspend Magashule and others, says people must be criminally charged before being forced to step aside.
If the Gauteng ANC now removes Makhubo because it is worried about losing Joburg in the elections, it may be accused of relying on the Nasrec resolution. Those who back Magashule may say this is correct, and proof that the NEC resolution is wrong.
But removing Makhubo could raise other problems. He is currently the Chair of the Joburg Region of the ANC, and there is a standing resolution that where possible the chair of a regional or provincial body, or the leader of the party, should be the Mayor, or Premier or President of the city, province or country.
If he were removed, someone else would have to take over from him as Mayor. And that person would be automatically seen as the frontrunner to be the mayor after the election.
And while a caretaker could be appointed, that may run the risk of someone having to deal with a hostile regional party. In North West, for example, the ANC appointed Job Mokgoro to be the Premier while the provincial party is still deeply divided. This has led to a situation where the Interim Provincial Committee claims to have suspended his membership of the party, while he remains Premier.
Even worse than that, in Tshwane, in 2016, an attempt to bring in an outsider as the mayoral candidate led to violence and clashes between two groups in the city’s ANC. These disputes possibly cost the party the city in the election.
While the Gauteng ANC may want to avoid that prospect in Joburg, it may in fact be unavoidable.
While the Integrity Committee will come to its own findings, the case against Makhubo is damning. He received money from a company into his personal account, that company received contracts from the City that he could influence and there is an email trail.
And to make it all worse, he lied about it (though he still denies wrongdoing).
This means both for the legalistic question of whether he is guilty of breaking the ANC’s internal resolutions, and for the political question of whether the ANC can win Joburg with him as its candidate or figurehead (or even just a lame-duck mayor it refused to remove), the case against him may be a strong one.
Makhubo himself has refused so far to step aside. And he was elected into the position of mayor after these strong and credible allegations against him had been made public (but before they were aired at the Zondo Commission for everyone to see). This means he may well oppose any attempt to remove him, which could make the entire issue even more difficult.
For the ANC, the stakes in the Makhubo affair are incredibly high. If it loses Joburg again, it may never regain it properly, which would be an embarrassment and terrible inconvenience for a ruling party in any country. And for its critics, proof that it cannot manage its own internal problems and keep people accused of wrongdoing away from controlling resources. DM