Opinionista Alex Eliseev 11 February 2013

Humphrey Mmemezi: An embodiment of all that Mamphela Ramphele loathes

Word on the street is this could be a big week for Mamphela Ramphele. Sharing a stage with her a few days ago, I saw her as a mirror being held up to the ANC. A magnifying mirror, which shows all the festering pimples and cracking make-up. Whether she enters politics or not, her words – and the reflection she casts – compel us to take a long, hard look at those who govern right now.

The BBC describes Dr Mamphela Ramphele as a “ferocious critic of the ruling ANC, who delivers each blow with a gracious smile.” Last week, she was on fine form, delivering a keynote address at a fundraising breakfast in Kempton Park.

She spoke of party bosses who’ve crossed all ethical boundaries and of a ruling party which, according to her friends “inside the beast”, is now “belly-up”.

Ramphele described the ANC as “authoritarian, intolerant of criticism and unaccountable” and expressed her doubt that deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa would be able to put out a fire which is raging in almost every room and every floor.

She spoke of an appalling education system: “We inherited a poor education system from Apartheid and we made it worse. It’s difficult to imagine. But it’s true.”

Ramphele slammed the ANC’s talk of meeting violent protests with an “iron fist”, saying good governance and respect for those living in poverty is what’s needed.

She criticised what has become of the police, with untrained officers asserting their power through violence and “militarisation a la Apartheid”.

The woman who comes from the era of Steve Biko and has devoted her life to the struggle, took a swipe at Nkandlagate, asking how leaders could take R206 million from the people and build a “palace second to none in some Godforsaken village”.

Ramphele fumed about the controversial youth wage subsidy, saying hundreds of thousands of jobs were waiting to be filled but the “destruction of the education system” meant the skills needed to fill them were absent. She bashed party deployment, communication between business and government and called for a war against corruption. She said it was time to re-imagine and re-ignite a “fading dream”.

She stopped short of saying “vote for me” and was evasive about her political future, telling me that “we don’t need an additional player, we need something that transcends what is happening.” Ramphele also asked whether South Africa was ready “to redefine the nature of politics in this country”.

One could argue that campaign talk is cheap and that’s absolutely true. But these are not words from a hollow politician, these are missiles from a woman who spent her life setting up rural health centres and fighting Apartheid despite being detained and banished. This is a person who talks truth to power and pulls us out of the quicksand of “moral anguish” (to borrow Professor Njabulo Ndebele’s term) lies, half-truths and obfuscation which the ANC and the state have created. Hers is a voice you can’t dismiss as an angry Apartheid apologist or a counter-revolutionary. She may be turning up the volume, but the message is what matters.

Ramphele’s words made me think about Humphrey Mmemze.

Remember him? “Am I such a bad MEC that I must not have a painting in the office?” and “Is it a crime to buy an artistic work?”

Well, it turned out it was – at least if you buy it from a McDonald’s and then lie to cover it up. As was spending taxpayer money on shoes, clothes and hotels. We won’t even talk about crashing the state BMW X5 and then lying about the damage and the insurance claim.

We can’t even start counting the horrors of what his blue-light car did to Thomas Ferreira on 09 November 2011. It pretty much destroyed a teenager’s life, and left the parents to try to pick up the shattered pieces.

Long story short, Mmemezi resigned (he was clearly pushed) from his position as Gauteng housing and local government MEC in July last year.

It was a disgraceful exit, especially after all his huffing and puffing, playing of the race card and claiming the allegations against him were “a joke” and nothing but “petty issues”. At the time, I wrote a column about this titled “Humphrey Mmemezi: Have you any shame sir?”

You would think that after such a shameful fall from grace, Mmemezi would vanish into the shadows and spend his days shopping for artworks at Mr Price Home. But this was not to be. In December, he was elected onto the ANC’s powerful national executive committee (NEC), the heart of the party’s decision making.

According to research by reporter and writer Adriaan Basson (which featured in newspapers and in his book Zuma Exposed) roughly a third of the post-Polokwane NEC was made up of criminals or members who were being investigated for crimes or fending off scandals, the likes of Tony Yengeni, Siphiwe Nyanda, David Mabuza, etc. Not to mention the scandals and court cases around the party’s president, Jacob Zuma.

Many of these characters made a comeback in Mangaung five years later. Bheki Cele, for example, managed to retain his position on the NEC despite being axed by the police for massive tender irregularities.

There are, of course, many respectable names on the NEC. These are people with rock-solid reputations who are doing great work in government. Aaron Motsoaledi springs to mind. But bringing in someone like Humphrey Mmemezi sends one message and one message only: political connections trump ethical behaviour.

Mmemezi should have been shunned, not embraced and cosseted deep in the bosom of the ANC. He has no place on this committee and having him there makes one wonder how low the party is willing to go? In other words, is there anything an individual can do that would make the party say “this far, and no further”. Fraud? Corruption? Deceit? Drunk driving? It seems nothing can turn a loyal cadre into a leper. Simply put: Mmemezi makes the needle of the party’s moral compass point south.

This is the problem Ramphele was talking about: the naked and disgraceful lack of accountability from those in power. She called on people to govern and not to helplessly wait for a messiah.

Will South Africa listen?

Will its citizens turn to the ANC and ask why it allows the likes of Mmemezi back into the cockpit?

Will they ask the ANC: Have you any shame? DM


While we have your attention...

An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money - though not nearly as much as its absence.

Every article, every day, is our contribution to Defending Truth in South Africa. If you would like to join us on this mission, you could do much worse than support Daily Maverick's quest by becoming a Maverick Insider.

Click here to become a Maverick Insider and get a closer look at the Truth.

Break seal in case of emergency

Fire Moyane NOW, Judge Nugent urges Ramaphosa, and begin recovery process with a new, competent leadership in place

By Pauli Van Wyk

Dave Grohl once tried to quit Nirvana after overhearing Kurt Cobain call him a "shitty drummer". Their manager convinced him to stay.