Opinionista Judith February 16 November 2016

Metrosexual Mahlobo and the spa mani and pedi. Really?

From the producers of a very familiar B-grade movie comes this week’s news. The crowd who brought us “This is not a Swimming Pool, it’s a Fire-Pool” and “My Visits were to a Shebeen in Saxonwold” now brings us “Spa Visits”.

Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, who has been fingered in an Al-Jazeera documentary for his friendship with Guan Jiang Guang, who is allegedly linked to rhino poaching, has said he actually visited the spa owned by Guan regularly in Mbombela – for manicures and pedicures.

Funny, of all the ministers likely to be labelled as a metro-male, Mahlobo does not immediately spring to mind. But, we live in a post-fact world and an age of unreason so what better explanation? In any event, there are plenty of pictures doing the rounds showing Mahlobo posing with his beauty therapist, bright pink tie and all.

Of course, the rather more serious question is whether we can collectively believe what the minister has to say? He has strenuously denied all allegations and said that they are bringing the Zuma Cabinet into disrepute.

Mahlobo said that without a hint of irony. He is a man after Zuma’s heart, it must be said. It was Mahlobo who has presided over the greater securitisation of the state and signal jamming at the 2015 State of the Nation Address. On Mahlobo’s watch, the opening of Parliament has become something akin to a military operation making every attempt to keep the people out including razor wire and snipers on rooftops. He has also displayed single-minded paranoia about Zuma’s safety and the real or perceived threats against the President’s person.

It has long been suggested that the illegal rhino poaching in South Africa is happening on such a large and sophisticated scale that there may well be people of influence and power either benefiting from it or turning a blind eye to it. It is for this reason that the allegations against Mahlobo must be investigated urgently. Allegedly, it’s Mahlobo’s wife who has dealings with Guan but it would be rather curious (to say the least) for the Minister of State Security to have no knowledge of his wife’s business dealings. But then former Minister of State Security, Siyabonga Cwele, had no knowledge of his wife’s dealings with drug lords, so perhaps it is perfectly possible.

What are the chances that the compromised Hawks will investigate Mahlobo? With Mahlobo’s deep ties to Mpumalanga, it is no surprise that the minister could boldly ask the Mpumalanga police to investigate him. Let’s not hold our breath. It may be so that Mahlobo is being truthful, but the public has the right to full transparency regarding this investigation.

The illegal trade in rhino horn represents such a scourge that the President himself should treat this as a matter of urgency. Parliament seems to be entering the fray by calling for a full investigation. It is crucial that the environment committee exercise oversight over any investigation. Leaving it only to the police, who have never been known for speed and efficiency, would be unwise.

If the allegations are true, it would mean that those at the highest level of government are undermining our nature conservation agencies, stripping our game parks and denying future generations the unbridled joy of seeing majestic animals in the wild – all for personal enrichment.

Who will guard the guardians, we might ask?

But massages, fire-pools and shebeens are simply signs of the times. Zuma’s world is a place in which any flimsy explanation goes. There is little place for accountability or transparency as the President himself skulks away from charges of fraud and corruption against him and uses every legal avenue to avoid accountability. If Cabinet ministers follow the President’s lead with absurd reasoning and recalcitrance, we should not be surprised.

And then, as if the week could not get any stranger, Zuma has now asked head of the NPA Shaun Abrahams to indicate why he should not be suspended. Abrahams may well wish to swop notes with Riah Phiyega at this point. Phiyega herself was thrown under the Zuma bus after the Marikana massacre and has long been embroiled in legal battles regarding her fitness to hold office. Abrahams seems to have got himself into a twisted mess in his fight with Hawks head Mthandazo Ntlemeza in relation to the charges against FinMin Pravin Gordhan. From evidence being led in the FUL-Helen Suzman Foundation matter attempting to get Zuma to suspend Abrahams it seems clear that the Hawks were unhappy that Abrahams caved in to pressure regarding Gordhan.

Abrahams, in an attempt to salvage what little remains of his reputation, may now become inconvenient for Zuma as he tries to assert his independence from Ntlemeza and authority as head of the NPA. Zuma needs a loyalist in the NPA position, possibly someone who will not blink first under pressure.

The real question now is how this will play out and who will replace Abrahams? It is hard to think that an independent-minded individual would be poised to take the job. And so it’s the same playbook on repeat as our institutions weaken and remain at the centre of the President’s own political and legal battles.

Since the Public Protector’s State of Capture report there has been much speculation about Zuma and when he will go, given the explosive nature of the revelations. Brian Molefe, Eskom CEO, has been the first casualty. As the pressure mounted regarding the telephone records that placed Molefe at the Guptas, he finally cracked. Zuma though is made of sterner stuff. But the edifice is breaking and the cracks are starting to show – all over.

Leonard Cohen was right after all, ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’. DM

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