One of the most interesting resolutions to come out of the ANC’s Mangaung conference in December was the idea of an integrity commission that will have the power to sanction members – no matter how senior – involved in dodgy dealings.
Gauteng ANC secretary David Makhura described this as "our principal weapon to deal with corruption,” adding that the body would be instituted to ensure all members abide by the ANC’s core values and “laws of the land”.
The idea worked well for Gauteng this year: that province’s integrity commission found local government and housing MEC Humphrey Mmemezi guilty of contravening the ministerial code of conduct for using his government-issued credit card for personal use. He resigned as MEC shortly before the probe findings were announced.
But in an astonishing twist at Mangaung, Mmemezi was voted onto the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC), which will be responsible for establishing the ANC integrity commission and drawing up its guidelines.
Other disgraced ANC members to be voted onto this elite body include ex top cop Bheki Cele, convicted fraudster and former chief whip Tony Yengeni, as well as former Limpopo health MEC Miriam Segabutla, who was investigated by the Public Protector following complaints of tender rigging.
So while the ANC is sending out one message that transgressors will be brought to book, it’s also implying that no matter how dodgy members’ dealings have been in the past, if they sit in the right camp, they will be rewarded. This ostensibly makes a farce of the whole notion of integrity.
President Jacob Zuma spoke out at Mangaung on how the tender system in government is “often open to abuse,” adding that the “conference may wish to deliberate on tendering.”
Urging South Africans to cooperate with graft-focussed authorities like the Special Investigating Unit and the police, he continued, “Our country is one of the most transparent societies when it comes to the fight against corruption, it is talked about often in the public domain."
While such utterances from the top are encouraging, a recent report in the Mail & Guardian points to yet another case of dangerous mixed messaging.
“Zuma will remain the face of the ANC's election campaign even if he is charged again with fraud, racketeering and corruption,” the publication reported early this month.
“ANC national executive committee member, Billy Masetlha, KwaZulu-Natal ANC secretary, Sihle Zikalala, and Free State Premier, Ace Magashule, all said in separate interviews that Zuma will lead the party to victory in the 2014 general elections,” the report continued. It added that ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa wouldn’t be called in as a replacement as campaign leader – even if the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) reinstates charges against Zuma.
“Masetlha challenged the NPA to release the tapes to the Democratic Alliance to avoid creating an impression that Zuma has something to hide,” reads the report.
"It would be the most important thing for the NPA to give the tapes to the DA. I would say hallelujah. But I would still go 100% behind Zuma. It is wrong of the NPA to ignore the court order. It creates the impression that we do not respect the independence of the judiciary.”
Masetlha conceded in the report, though, that the ANC could be more open about the R240-million upgrade to the president’s Nkandla homestead – a move which would ease Zuma’s 'baggage'.
The next anti-corruption message to come out of the ANC was made early last week by secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who was speaking in Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal, ahead of the party’s 101st birthday gathering on Saturday.
"The ANC members must avoid temptation. Corruption is tempting. When you see resources within your reach, people take a hundred thousand. Nobody notices. You take R250 000. Nobody notices. Only when you take R1 million do people notice that there’s a million missing," the publication quoted Mantashe as saying.
With such a rousing build-up, one would expect the president to have continued on this note at the gala dinner hosted in his stronghold of Durban on Saturday night, but instead he sent out a rather chilling message which, on the surface, reads as a sort of 'free for all' invitation.
Zuma said at the dinner that businessmen who supported the ANC, “would see their fortunes multiply,” according to a front-page report in the Sunday Times.
“We’re not forcing people ... you can support and be a supporter, but if you go beyond that and become a member, [and] if you’re a businessman, your business will multiply,” the Sunday Times quoted the president as saying.
“Everything you touch will multiply. I’ve always said that a wise businessperson will support the ANC ... because supporting the ANC means you’re investing very well in your business.”
DA parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, was one of the first to go public with her distaste for these comments, issuing a statement on Monday that the president’s remarks “have the potential to severely compromise the principle of good governance, which our constitutional democracy fundamentally depends on.
“I will be submitting parliamentary questions to President Jacob Zuma to seek clarification as to whether his remarks that businesses which support the ANC will see their fortunes 'multiply' is, in fact, government policy and if not, whether he will issue a formal retraction,” Mazibuko said.
The remarks imply that by backing the ANC, businesses will be provided with financial reward, which can only be leveraged through state resources. With high levels of corruption already costing the economy billions of rands, hurting the poor and vulnerable the hardest, such a comment is deeply irresponsible, Mazibuko continued.
“This is further evidence of how President Zuma fundamentally confuses the role of the state and party, and how the government continues to misuse public money, which should be spent on the poor.”
“With corruption continuing to eat away at South Africans confidence in the ability of government to deliver, President Zuma should spend more time implementing measures to fight corruption, instead of making dangerous and irresponsible comments that have the potential to undermine our constitutional democracy,” Mazibuko concluded.