Opinionista Lebo Keswa 5 January 2015

Gumede: A victim of factional ANC politics?

A recent “unveiling” of an allegedly corrupt tender has exposed a bigger problem – what happens to funders and corporates when they fall out of favour with the powers that be in the ANC.

So we see, again, how the cookie of South African politics crumbles. A massive headline late last year in Sunday Independent told us that GijimaAST, an IT company, was now the bad guy in the narrative of government tenders.

On the face of it, the story read no differently to any other on the subject. We now know how the tender system works. Those in the pockets of the current powers that be are favoured. Why the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was asked to go after Gijima is anyone’s guess. Or maybe not.

For those who are not prepared to be fooled, it is only prudent to look at the timelines. It’s relevant when billionaire Robert Gumede started funding the ANC and when this started to fade. It’s relevant to look at when he fell out of favour and how, in relation to the factional politics of the ANC, he is now viewed. If we are honest, these are the last vestiges of those seen as the beneficiaries of the Mbeki era.

If one does one’s homework, it’s easy to understand why Gumede is suddenly the subject of SIU scrutiny, and no longer enjoys the blind protection that many other ANC funders seem to enjoy. I do not comment here about the correctness, or otherwise, of the practice – I merely observe that the public should not be fooled. We should not be fed internal conflict propaganda of the ANC at the expense of the credibility of state apparatus – not so?

We run the risk of collapsed companies and lost jobs. Gijima, which employs thousands of people, can easily become a victim if such propaganda continues to be perpetrated. Thousands of workers could be put to pasture.

The ruling party’s tendency to use funders and then dump them when it is convenient is legendary. This is sadly linked to its horrible habit of consuming services and then not paying suppliers, making many businesses go into liquidation or else forcing them into ugly or expensive legal spats. A number of the companies that have tried to sue the ANC initially had pleasant relationships with the party, starting off as ‘part sponsors’ or funders, with the hope of accessing state tenders in return. In many of these cases, once-sweet relationships turned sour when new leadership or alternative factions took over. In such cases, previous arrangements are conveniently forgotten or blatantly ignored.

Recently, we saw a public spat between a senior Cabinet minister, Lindiwe Zulu – busy of late as a rogue element – and the former Treasurer, Mathews Phosa, where Zulu sought to blame the financial woes of the ANC on Phosa. She accused him of concealing the true state of the party’s financial affairs – an extraordinary and very serious accusation, as it questions the auditing of the ANC books prior to the Mangaung congress and raises the question of how financial matters could be hidden in the books of such an organisation. This conflict, however, is one more example of my theory that once a person is out of favour with the powers that be, he or she is ripe for hanging out to dry. Phosa, like Gumede, could soon see himself being the subject of an SIU investigation. Falsifying the books of the ANC constitutes fraud, of course, and such an accusation would merit nothing less, so I advise you to watch this space as we prepare for the sequel to the Mangaung congress. But I ask one question. Why did Zulu never raise her concerns at Mangaung, when she had access to the reports as a member of the NEC?

Back to the Gumede story, however. I am reliably told that the Gumedes did nothing out of the ordinary in this deal, including in its execution – contrary to aspersions being cast in that regard. Apart from some questionable outsourcing of part of the work to the white-owned Anderson Group to the tune of more than R100 million – a decision that may raise eyebrows in relation to the BEE weight – there is nothing fraudulent in the way in which they were awarded the deal.

I know that those who want to smell a rat even where none has perished would not like to hear this, but what business of Gumede is it if the panel was incompetent in selecting the best bidder? Surely it can be argued that this has nothing to do with the bidders, and those who must face the music in case of impropriety are the panelists? Surely it is more than vindictive towards a company that absorbed millions of Rands in losses on a project to suggest that money awarded to them must be recovered? The question is: should that company have been in the good books of the powers that be today within the ANC, would such a report even have seen the light of day? And what of the silence of those who enjoyed the party’s largesse during the good old days? Their silence is telling, and I am sure platitudes will follow from the spin doctors about how the law should take its course. With the mess that is happening at the Revenue Service and the horror that is meted out to citizens at the National Prosecution Authority, it is cold comfort to anyone who is left with the baby to hear that the law should take its course.

What is happening to Gumede is sadly all too familiar. As a business person, I am highly disillusioned regarding doing business with the ANC. The companies that have been knocking on the doors of courts asking the ANC to pay them their money are becoming ridiculous. How can the ANC conduct itself in this disloyal manner, especially to those that support its course? Mind you, while this is happening, one can also discover a lot of back-hand deals, where the same politicians are involved in massive kickbacks. The trouble is that if the wrong faction gets into power, even that does not guarantee that anyone is not going to be given the runaround.

When all is said and done, you can be sure that the ANC will resist eternally any legislation that would force it to declare transparently who its funders are. When that happens, it will be a lot easier to connect the dots of corruption and backstabbing. These will make the corporate wars that we have come to expect from the private sector seem like a picnic in comparison.

If there is wrongdoing indeed, let’s have investigations. However, the rot has sunk in so far that we have to take everything with a pinch of salt. I have a hunch that this case, that seems so straightforward, will unravel soon and expose the worst form of abuse of state apparatus – a simple attempt to embarrass those who have fallen out of favour. I am confident that time will bear me out. DM

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