Bandile Masuku and Zweli Mkhize: Two sides of the same coin?
One of the most disturbing aspects of the pandemic, as experienced in our country, has been the corruption associated with it. People made money during the pandemic and because of the pandemic. Yet there is also evidence that people will fight to retain their political position and sometimes lie about it.
Just this week, more reporting by Scorpio showed how Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize’s close associates benefited to the tune of millions from departmental contracts during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the former Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku is trying very hard to claim his name has been cleared after ANC processes said he could return to the Gauteng provincial executive committee.
In both cases, the key question may well hinge on what the responsibilities of a political head of a department are, when it comes to preventing corruption. Both with Masuku and Mkhize, there is no proof, yet, that they themselves benefited from the corruption. But people close to them have benefited, or were due to benefit, which may mean there is a strong case for them to answer.
The question now may be how this issue should be dealt with to prevent corruption like this from happening again. The situation around Masuku may be a guide to how the tussle over Mkhize may turn out.
Over the weekend the ANC’s national disciplinary committee overturned the findings of the Gauteng disciplinary committee on both Masuku and the presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko (who is still on special leave). The question that was put was whether they could both return to their positions on the Gauteng Provincial Executive Committee of the ANC.
The ANC’s national disciplinary committee said they could. But this does not automatically have any bearing on whether they can return to their jobs in government, and there is no certainty on that at this stage. While there may be no legal bar to prevent Gauteng Premier David Makhura from reappointing Masuku, there is a bigger political puzzle he’d need to solve first.
All of this involves a court judgment handed down in Tshwane in April this year, in an application brought by Masuku against a report by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). That report made findings against Masuku and that led to the Gauteng Premier David Makhura deciding, after a long period of prevarication, to remove him.
In public, the claim against him could be over-simplified to this: Masuku was the Health MEC during the start of a pandemic, a very lucrative contract was given to a company called Royal Bhaca and that company was controlled by Nkosi Thandisizwe Madzikane II Diko. Diko was the husband of presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko and the two were family friends of the Masukus.
That led to Masuku leaving his position. His wife Loyiso Masuku also had to step aside from her position as a Member of the Mayoral Committee for the ANC in Joburg, and Khusela Diko was put on special leave.
Then Nkosi Diko died.
For Bandile Masuku, the court ruling is important because it appears to clarify the roles and responsibilities of a person who holds a political office and is responsible for oversight. And thus for him, the judgment makes important findings.
He and his lawyers have said consistently that the ruling “vindicates” him because it shows that he was not responsible for any corruption; he himself did not benefit from any corruption.
At the same time, the ANC in Gauteng had conducted its own disciplinary process, finding that he had brought the ANC into disrepute. It was this decision that has now struck down by the ANC’s national disciplinary committee.
Masuku now says that this finding again vindicates him.
But the SIU still disagrees. It says that the findings in no way vindicate Masuku — he was the person who brought the application and he lost it.
It also says that it never said Masuku was guilty of corruption, but that his lack of oversight led to corruption occurring.
There is plenty at stake here, for Masuku personally, but also for the ANC in Gauteng. And possibly now for Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
Before the pandemic, both Mkhize and Masuku were seen as people to watch, who may one day achieve even higher office. Mkhize had attempted to become leader of the ANC during 2017. Masuku may have had the potential to be a Gauteng premier.
One paragraph in the high court ruling against Masuku perhaps explains it succinctly. Masuku has admitted to not reading emails sent to him which included the information that Royal Bhaca (the company controlled by his friend, Nkosi Diko) had won a contract to provide PPE. The ruling says this:
“The first aspect is that Dr Masuku was neglectful in his duties, as illustrated by his failure to attend to his emails, despite being in a critical leadership position. This conduct justifies an adverse inference about his lack of professionalism and lack of care in discharging his functions. His conduct shows a lack of judgment and of diligence. His version as given to the SIU was faithfully reproduced. What he is criticised for is not for lying; his ignorance was taken at face value, despite the scepticism it fully deserves, but for neglect. The version given that he did not read an email sent to him which he had requested is a foundation for the opinion of neglect in his role. Indeed, what professional person could excuse not attending to his emails. Prima facie, Dr Masuku’s own version is a confession of unprofessionalism and dereliction of his duties. Axiomatically, had he bothered to attend to his emails, and done so on 1 or 2 April, he would have been shocked at Royal Bhaca getting a contract then and not only in mid-May some 6 weeks later. He could have stopped the debacle there and then.”
In other words, if Masuku had read his emails he would have known that a company controlled by someone he knew personally had won a contract and he could have stopped the “debacle there and then”.
But he didn’t, through his own neglect.
So why, then, is Masuku pushing so hard, why is he maintaining the line that this ruling “vindicates” him?
It cannot be ignored how difficult the past 12 months must have been for him. He has seen his political life virtually ruined, years of work gone in a matter of days, one of his best friends has died, another has been put on special leave from a high-profile position and his own wife was, for a time, removed from her position in the Joburg Council.
At the same time, his fate may not just have implications for him.
The Gauteng ANC appears to be divided between factions, to the point where its leader, Makhura, has said that the infighting could destroy the provincial party. Masuku’s reinstatement might well change the balance of power in an important way, or in a way that is important to other people within his faction.
The similarities between Masuku’s case and Mkhize’s case may be important.
Mkhize has said that he has no direct role in the granting of contracts and that he would not have been involved.
However, in his case, the people who benefited are very close to him. One, Tahera Mather, was by his side for many years. In the case of Masuku, it was Nkosi Diko who he knew well.
So the question then may well be, could Diko and Mather’s companies have received these contracts if they had not been close to the political office bearers in these cases?
Legally, one may have to prove a direct link — that the fact that one person was in office led to another person getting a contract.
But politically, the question is different. Rather, it points to a question in the eyes of voters, of whether it appears to them that people are getting contracts only because of their political connections.
This is where both Mkhize and Masuku could find themselves in a difficult position. There is a local election coming up during which the ANC’s track record during the pandemic may be put on trial by opposition parties.
At the same time, the contestation over the “step-aside” resolution in the party may have a bearing on what happens.
Mkhize does not face criminal charges, which means that he has only been implicated in corruption (which he denies).
This might mean that should President Cyril Ramaphosa move against him, he will be accused of suddenly following the Nasrec resolution on corruption (which refers to people implicated in corruption) rather than the NEC resolution (which refers to people who are criminally charged). Worse, Ramaphosa will be accused of implementing this selectively as Ace Magashule was not allowed to suspend him as ANC leader based on the fact that he himself believes Ramaphosa has been implicated in corruption.
However, that does not mean Masuku returns to the provincial government in Gauteng. Rather, it may be that the allegations against him are too strong for him to be appointed during an election season.
Before the pandemic, both Mkhize and Masuku were seen as people to watch, who may one day achieve even higher office. Mkhize had attempted to become the leader of the ANC during 2017. Masuku may have had the potential to be a Gauteng premier.
Now, the pandemic may have derailed their ambitions.
But it will not have derailed corruption within their party, and within the government they run. DM
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