Mzansi Afrika

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Friday, July 15, 2005

Is Mbeki serious on corruption?

It gets murkier and murkier. Some major new developments concerning the oilgate controversy in South Africa are beginning to emerge. Just to go back in history briefly, here’s my little summary of the story so far just to put my readers who haven’t followed the scandal in the picture.

In May 2005 the Mail and Guardian newspaper broke the so called "oilgate" controversy. The paper alleged that the South African oil parastal, PetroSA, had given Imvume, a black empowerment company with close ties to the ANC, R15 million. Imvume then secretly forwarded about R11 million of the payment to the cash-strapped ANC a few months before the April 2004 elections. Further allegations emerged later on that Imvume, from the same PetroSA payment, had also paid money to relatives or companies connected to two cabinet ministers - then Minerals & Energy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who has subsequently become South Africa’s deputy president, and Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya. A multimillion-rand hole remains in the parastatal’s books. PetroSA has gone through the motions to recover the debt by suing Imvume — but most of it remains outstanding.

The Mail & Guardian reports today that they have evidence that the ANC has misled South Africans about the Oilgate scandal.The M&G says it has documents that prove Imvume was effectively a front for the ruling party. The documents allegedly show how close the ANC and Imvume really were. They show that as early as 2001 ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe and, to an extent, ANC treasurer Mendi Msimang were intimately entangled with Imvume boss Sandi Majali. The evidence suggests that together they hatched an ambitious project to raise millions of rands for the ANC by obtaining lucrative oil allocations from Saddam Hussein’s regime under the United Nations Oil for Food (OFF) programme. OFF was an exception to UN sanctions that allowed Iraq to export oil to pay for humanitarian needs. In turn Motlanthe and Majali, on behalf of the ANC, would extend political solidarity to the Iraqi dictator and campaign for the lifting of sanctions. The documents include a letter from Motlanthe to the Iraqis, confirming Majali as the ANC’s designated representative for this project.

Today’s Business Day tells us that a new public opinion survey shows that 86% of 500 respondents feel President Thabo Mbeki’s dismissal of former deputy president Jacob Zuma sent a clear message on corruption to the rest of government. When asked if dismissing Zuma demonstrated Mbeki's commitment to a transparent government, 83% agreed and 11% disagreed. According to the poll, Mbeki’s approval rating rose from 48% in January to 83% after he fired Zuma.

I happen to disagree with the majority of respondents on the poll. I don’t think that Mbeki has sent a clear message to his government that corruption won’t be tolerated. The only message that he is conveying is that if you support my rivals or go up against me, then your corruption won’t be tolerated. Even though the government may be passing bills to make corruption more difficult, and have of late in terms of the National Anti-Corruption Forum been sending signals that they are hardening their attitudes on corruption, other than Zuma’s dismissal, they’re not doing anything particularly bold to stamp out corruption. And while government might be making more of an effort to fight corruption in local government, that probably has a lot to do with pressure to deliver basic services from the many violent community protests against poor service delivery. This, ahead of the next local government elections which will probably occur in around February 2006.

The people involved in the oilgate scandal are all close to Mbeki’s camp – I don’t see him taking any action against them. The NPA has said that it will not be investigating oilgate. The matter is being looked into by the Public Protector, Laurence Mushwana who says he will be releasing his report at the end of this month. In August last year, Mushwana was one of 179 members of parliament and former parliamentarians under investigation in connection with a R13m travel voucher scam. I’m not sure what the outcome of that was, but travelgate is a perfect example of how the president has failed to act against corruption in the ANC. As for the five implicated MP’s who gave up their seats voluntarily, the SABC reported last week that it had evidence that they were forced to resign by the ANC, according to thier plea bargain agreements they were supposed to keep their seats. Rumour has it that they were Zuma supporters, but obviously I can’t verify that.

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