At the heart of After the party - the new book by former ANC MP, Andrew Feinstein - is an account of how the ANC leadership quashed the inquiry into the arms deal. The book also casts interesting new light on the efforts by the ANC leadership to quash press reports that it was trying to quash the investigation into the arms deal.
The inquiry was formally set in motion by a resolution presented to parliament on November 2 2000 by the public account's committee (SCOPA) on which Feinstein was the ranking ANC member. The ANC, in a fit of absent-mindedness, voted for the resolution and it was passed unanimously by parliament. Once the Mbeki-ites realised what had been done the great clampdown began.
On November 8 2000 Feinstein and the rest of the ANC component of SCOPA were hauled before the party's governance committee, the body established to give "political leadership" to the ANC in parliament.
The meeting began with the chairman of the defence committee, Ntsiki Mashimbye, launching into a tirade against the ANC SCOPA members. He alleged that, Feinstein writes, we "didn't understand the deal and that it was a matter his committee should be dealing with." Throughout this harangue the Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad, was clapping Mashimbye "on the back as if geeing on a promising colt. We were bemused and frightened."
At some point Feinstein was given a brief opportunity to explain the evidence they had, and the process that was being followed.
"Within a few minutes Pahad had launched into a ferocious diatribe, spluttering ‘Who the fuck do you think you are, questioning the integrity of the government, the Ministers and the President?' Pointing aggressively at me, he shouted that we should simply withdraw the resolution."
Sam Sole and John Matisonn reported on Pahad's intervention in an article published concurrently in the Sunday Independent and Sunday Tribune (November 12). It was headed "Mbeki's minister tries to derail probe into arms deal." The article, for which Feinstein was not a source, claimed that "At a meeting of the ANC's governance committee on Thursday, Pahad spoke out strongly against the proposed investigation." In a letter published in both papers the following week Pahad replied:
"I would like to deny categorically your newspaper's suggestion that I sought, at a private ANC meeting, to derail the investigation into South Africa's arms purchases... It is necessary to state, quite clearly, that at no stage did I seek to interfere with the investigation. Whoever said I did was lying. Yet, without offering me a chance to comment, you prominently published this as fact..."
He also attempted to pressure the editors of the two newspapers into publishing a retraction and apology. However, they stood their ground. On November 26 the Sunday Times published an article which reported, again, that Pahad had "put pressure on the ANC MPs [at the meeting] to back off from the inquiry."
Pahad now wrote to the Sunday Times to complain. In an article headlined "In search of the truth" he complained that the newspaper had "regurgitated the lie that I tried to put pressure on ANC MPs to back off from the inquiry into arms purchases." He went on:
"I had already strongly denied this, but, from their report ... they clearly do not accept my denial. The public should be informed, in explicit terms, that at no stage did I try, in any way, to derail the inquiry. Suggesting I did is damaging not only to me as a minister, but to our country and its standing in the world. It could not create a worse impression."
After delivering a lecture on journalistic ethics he concluded: "I stress that at no time, at no meeting, did I seek to derail the arms inquiry. Period."
Beneath the article the editor of the Sunday Times, Mike Robertson, published a supine but sanctimonious apology. He wrote that Pahad was "correct" and "unreservedly apologised" for his journalists reporting He concluded:
"Unfortunately, I cannot promise that we will not make mistakes again. I can, however, promise that we will do our utmost to be fair and accurate. And we will continue to tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable for those in power."
A few weeks ago, this column noted that one of Mbeki's endearing features is that he has a tendency to make his apologists look like prize turnips. Mark Gevisser's recently released biography of Mbeki - The dream deferred - contains a classic example of this. Ronald Suresh Roberts's pseudo-biography of Mbeki was published in mid-June this year. Minister Essop Pahad drummed up at least R1,55m from corporate sponsors for Roberts to write the thing. And the book dutifully proceeded to proclaim: "Thabo Mbeki is not now, nor has he ever been, an AIDS dissident." As noted previously Roberts scrupulously avoided mention of the March 2002 dissident manifesto, Castro Hlongwane, which is perhaps the most comprehensive exposition of Mbeki's evolved views on AIDS. Yet even as Roberts was working so hard to shift public opinion on this matter, Mbeki was preparing to flush all his efforts down the toilet.
Gevisser writes, "In June 2007 ... I received a phone call late one Saturday night from Thabo Mbeki." Mbeki, it seems, wanted to know if Gevisser had seen the Castro Hlongwane document. He said he had and asked Mbeki "whether he was its author."
"[Mbeki] declined to confirm this, stating that it had been written by a ‘collective' of ANC leaders, but agreed that it was an accurate reflection of his views. The following day, a Presidency driver delivered a hard copy almost twice as long as the one circulated in 2002, with citations from publications as fresh as August 2006. Mbeki had never previously contacted me unsolicited, and my reading of this unusual interaction was that he wished the record to reflect that - despite his near-silence since it was initially distributed - he still held to the views expressed in ‘Castro Hlongwane', which clearly remained a living, breathing document on his desktop."
Gevisser concludes, "There is no question as to the message Thabo Mbeki was delivering to me along with this document: he was now, as he had been since 1999, an AIDS dissident."