Birth of a Frankenstein monster

Paul Trewhela says corruption in the ANC goes a long way back

There is a passage which sends a chill down the spine, connecting a bad history to a bad present, and intimating a threatening future, in the new book by Martin Plaut and Paul Holden, Who Rules South Africa?, published by Jonathan Ball in South Africa and Biteback in Britain (see here).

The first of a number of major studies to appear before the ANC centenary conference at Mangaung in December, the book intersperses sections by Plaut - the Africa editor of the BBC World Service in London, who is a graduate of the University of Cape Town - and Holden, previously the researcher for Mark Gevisser's massive biography of Thabo Mbeki (Jonathan Ball, 2007) and subsequently author of The Arms Deal in your Pocket (Jonathan Ball, 2008) and The Devil in the Detail: How the Arms Deal Changed Everything (Jonathan Ball, 2011), co-authored with Hennie van Vuuren of the Institute for Security Studies.

Plaut's senior experience at the BBC World Service links up in this book with Holden's qualities of intellect and rigour (justly recorded by Gevisser) in research into the corrupting effect of the Arms Deal, going back to its inception by Thabo Mbeki while still Deputy President under Nelson Mandela.

Suggesting very deep structures of criminality in South Africa today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, the chilling passage appears in a chapter by Plaut with the title "Crime, Corruption and Connections" - a title all the more telling since the book was launched in South Africa in mid-June, only weeks before Zweli Mkhize, the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, spoke of "the confluence of politics, criminality and business" at the funeral of an ANC activist, the victim of a wave of political assassinations sweeping across the ANC.

"Crime, corruption and connections", indeed. The murdered man, Wandile Mkhize, shot when he returned home from the violent altercations at the ANC policy conference at Midrand, was still alive when Holden and Plaut launched their book....

In the same way, the former mayor of Rustenburg, Matthew Wolmarans, together with his former bodyguard, had not yet been convicted and sentenced, as they were last month, of the murder three years ago of an ANC councillor, trade unionist and whistleblower of true integrity, Moss Phakoe.

After they were convicted and sentenced, the general secretary of Cosatu, Zwelinzima Vavi, wrote in City Press last month that Moss Phakoe had previously been removed three times by Wolmarans from the mayoral committee, "for trying to expose corruption."

In an attack on the society's "nepotism, patronage, corruption and greed", Vavi stated that just before he was assassinated, Phakoe had "handed Wolmarans a dossier that implicated numerous politicians in acts of corruption in the municipality.

"He also had evidence of fraud in North West drought-relief projects. R33 million had been allocated for drought relief, but none of the money reached the communities in need. Instead, it was siphoned off through companies.

"Comrade Moss handed documents proving this fraud to the then minister for cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Sicelo Shiceka," Vavi continued. "Shiceka said he gave the documents to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU)."

"Crime, corruption and connections", stated Plaut and Holden in June.

The "confluence of politics, criminality and business," stated Zweli Mkhize in July.

And from Vavi, in memory of the murdered Moss Phakoe..."nepotism, patronage, corruption and greed."

In Plaut and Holden's book, the chilling connection to these judgements by Zweli Mkhize and Vavi comes from one of the most sinister men in South Africa's living memory, "Doctor Death" himself, Dr Wouter Basson.

Though acquitted on criminal charges in 2002, Basson continues to face an inquiry into his professional conduct as a doctor.

Plaut quotes from evidence by Basson's legal team during his trial that while running the notorious "Project Coast" from the headquarters of Special Forces in Pretoria during the last decade of apartheid dictatorship, its aim had been to "infiltrate the drugs and arms routes used by the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe." (Plaut and Holden, p.270)

These words quoted here from Plaut's chapter are reproduced from a paper by Chandré Gould and Peter Folb, "Project Coast: Apartheid's chemical and biological warfare programme", published in Cape Town in 2002 by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research and the Centre for Conflict Resolution (see here - PDF).

They make total sense. In its reference to "drugs...routes", Basson's legal team here for the first time gave indication from the side of the apartheid state of its infiltration of criminal networks run by the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), in exile - a confluence (to use Zweli Mkhize's acute term) between the apartheid state and a powerful fraction of MK in exile, a "confluence" of politics, criminality and the so-called "special" operations of the military.

In the same chapter, Martin Plaut provides a concise review of previously published material concerning the ANC's criminal networks in exile, a subject which I discussed in an article "Criminal networks in exile" on Politicsweb (2 July 2008).

He cites evidence provided by RW Johnson and others of help given to the ANC by criminals from the very start of MK's military campaign, with specific focus on the former gang-leader of the Spoilers gang in Alexandra, Joe Modise, later commander of MK in exile, subsequently Minister of Defence in the first two ANC administrations and, as Plaut quaintly puts it, "of later Arms Deal fame". (p.268)

Chris Hani had already pointed the finger at Modise in his famous "Memorandum" of 1969, written with six other MK colleagues, and assisted by Professor Jack Simons, two years after their participation in the Wankie campaign in then Rhodesia and their subsequent imprisonment in Botswana: a crucial document of South African history made public 40 years later by Hugh Macmillan in a paper published in 2009.

Across the decades, Hani's words continue to accuse the criminal beneficiaries of both Mbeki and Zuma administrations today.

They were "disturbed by the careerism" of ANC leaders, in receipt of salaries ("money inducements") which would "corrupt cadres at any level," these MK soldiers wrote in their Memorandum, for which they nearly paid with their lives.

Certain "symptoms" were "very disturbing and dispiriting," they continued.

These included the "opening of mysterious business enterprises which to our knowledge have never been discussed by the leadership of the Organisation." In Livingstone in Zambia's Western Province, they argued, "a bone factory whose original purpose was to provide cover for underground work in Botswana is now being used as a commercial undertaking.... And some of the people in charge of these enterprises are dubious characters with shady political backgrounds....Thabo More, who is supposed to be planning, directing and leading the struggle in South Africa is fully involved in these enterprises....

"The Leadership of the ANC can't but be blamed for this state of affairs," they concluded.

"Thabo More" was of course Joe Modise, of Spoilers and later Arms Deal fame.

Plaut cites material provided by RW Johnson accusing Modise of "running stolen car rackets from Zambia and encouraging bank robberies", of sharing a house in Lusaka with a drug-dealer and of having no legitimate means of explaining his extravagant lifestyle. The "routes used to smuggle arms and fighters into the country," he points out, also served "the more dubious interests of personal enrichment." (p.269)

The book is rich in detail and evaluation of this kind, in chapters by both authors. The significance of Brett Kebble, through his connections with ANC activists, with the gangster Glenn Agliotti and with the disgraced and convicted head of South Africa's (and Interpol's) police force, Jackie Selebi, is given proper place.

If there is a single thread, though, to set beside the malign cloud of corruption running through Who Rules South Africa?, it is the hollowing out of authority of the National Assembly. An over-mighty, corrupt executive, swollen in the model of Joe Modise as Mafia Boss of South Africa Inc, now threatens to devour the other institutions of the Constitution. 

In a chapter headed "The Arms Deal and the erosion of parliamentary power", Paul Holden pointedly writes: "The proportional representation system, in the service of a dominant party that effected political centralism on a grand scale, rendered the idea of independent MPs a figment. At every point in the Arms Deal, Parliament was ignored or actively browbeaten...."

The National Assembly was shown by the Arms Deal to have "only the most limited power to halt or even monitor the activities of the executive."

When MPs attempted to perform their constitutional duty, the "executive launched a public attack that could only have undermined confidence in South Africa's primary democratic institution." MPs were "quickly brought into line, harangued, harassed, removed from positions of power and slowly frozen out...". The result, in Holden's quiet but threatening words, is "a democratic system creaking under the weight of single party dominance...". (pp.123-24)

Shouldering its way into the negative space of this Parliament-that-isn't, Holden and Plaut scarily reveal the rise of the a Frankenstein monster: a despotic Executive twinned with Corruption.

In every service delivery protest across the land, "The people shall govern!" - the first principle of the Freedom Charter of 1955 - is shown in practice as a fraud and a sham.

If there is a single failing of this valuable book, it would be in not having devoted more attention to this fatal flaw of South Africa's democratic Constitution, alluded to by Holden, above - the absence of individual accountability of MPs, of members of provincial legislatures and in half of all municipal seats.

As "the most important item in the constitution" and "the key to the workings of the new political system", as RW Johnson pointed out in 2004 in his South Africa: The First Man, The Last Nation (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, p.207), the legislature - created by a bad electoral law, and governed by the party list - is offspring of a forced marriage between the Sovietism of the ANC in exile and the capitalist economy it inherited, following secret negotiations on the electoral law between the ANC and the National Party, then in its death-throes. This was a fix guaranteed to feed corruption through its exclusion of constituencies, and thus individual accountability of politicians.

Its result is is the opposite of what the founders of the ANC intended a century ago, and instead provides a replica of the Chamber of Deputies, in the totalitarian model of the Soviet Union and East Germany which patronised the ANC for the 30 years - the subject of Stephen Ellis's forthcoming book, The External Mission: The ANC in Exile 1960-1990, to be published by Jonathan Ball in September.

Democracy is not sustainable where the National Assembly is a cow-pen for highly-paid MPs, the majority bribed to stay silent and say "moo" when required by the cow-herd.

How did this happen, in a country where the vote was the most important focus of political discussion for a century? How did the democratic hopes of the people come to be so comprehensively trashed? And what is to be done about it?

Investigating this must be the task of another book, still yet to be written.

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