COMMENT

Zandile Gumede, the unsinkable

Andrew Donaldson writes on the extraordinary buoyancy of the ANC cadre class

A FAMOUS GROUSE

One of the more embarrassing developments making a mockery of Cyril Ramaphosa’s relentless prostrations about tackling corruption is the appointment of shabby grifter and former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede to the KwaZulu-Natal legislature. This is not a good signal, as they’re wont to say in the think tanks, and we’re fast approaching the point where we’ll no longer see the ointment for the swarming flies.

Still, Squirrel rabbits away. He was in fine form in his letter to ANC comrades last Sunday, what with the by-now familiar yada yada about cleaning up the outhouse as the brown stuff piles ever higher. Some commentators, raised on Twitter and the like, took issue with its length — seven pages! — but it could have been longer. What if Ramaphosa had elected to repeat all his previous undertakings to root out the rot? But, even so, it does appear that he has embarked upon a crusade to pledge the tenderpreneurs to death.

True, the Potemkin president was specifically responding to the orgy of corona-plunder by the “pack of hyenas”, as he labelled colleagues who had helped themselves to government’s R500-billion Covid relief package. For a while it seemed as if he was under the impression that all this thieving was a new thing, but then he did admit that the criminal enterprise has been in power for more than 26 years — a quarter-century in which “deviant behaviour” has been unchecked, and a culture of pilfering and self-enrichment has been allowed to flourish. Ramaphosa writes:

“Our lack of discipline and failure to deal with the issues in our movement have eroded our organisational ethos and standing. Over many years, we have seen corruption in the state, in society and in the ANC take several forms. Perhaps the best-known form of corruption is the award of tenders and other contracts to certain companies based on conflictual relations such as friendships or family connections. For these people, success depends on who you know in the public service. Sometimes those awarding the tenders receive kickbacks from the successful companies.”

Well, tell us something new, etc. But given the extent of the graft, it hardly seems fair singling out Gumede for attention. Small baksheesh potatoes, you could argue, when compared with the overall larceny project. Nevertheless, Gumede remains a poster girl for impunity, a perfect model of how brazenly corrupt officials not only go unpunished but are richly rewarded. It seems an imperative that, in order to leapfrog up the food chain, one must be caught rifling the cookie jar. 

Gumede, you may recall, was appointed eThekwini mayor four years ago. In December 2018, the Hawks began investigating reports of fraud, money-laundering and corruption that stemmed from within her office, as well as her alleged personal involvement in illegal tender awards, fake employment creation and other wrongdoing.

She duly appeared in the Special Commercial Crimes court in May 2019, where she faced multiple charges of fraud and was released on R50 000 bail. She fobbed off calls to resign, and there was much bleating about innocent-until-proven-guilty from her supporters, particularly in the ANC Women’s League, who insisted she stick around purely on the basis that she was one of theirs, just a sister on the make. 

Then, in August, the Hawks officer leading the investigation into her business affairs was wounded by gunmen outside his home. Unsurprisingly, police investigating the attempt on their colleague’s life were unable to say whether or not the incident was in any way related to anything.

A month later, Gumede’s term as Durban’s mayor came to an end, but she continued to serve as an ordinary councillor. In October, the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority raided her Durban North home — only to find she had vacated the premises three months previously.

This does seem suspiciously shabby. Gumede is a high-profile fraud suspect, accused of illegally influencing the awarding of municipal waste removal contracts to the value of R430-million (and counting). That the cops failed to notice that she had moved house suggests a pronounced laissez faire attitude to the job, one would think (after perhaps watching far too many BBC crime dramas.) 

The move also violated Gumede’s bail conditions and there followed weaselly footwork from her attorney — mea culpa, he claimed; he’d simply forgotten to tell the cops his client was changing her address — and she was permitted to remain at large. But she was now compelled to furnish the authorities with her new address, and they were thus able to finally proceed with their, ahem, surprise raid on her home. 

This time, they took TV crews along with them, and they gleefully recorded the operation as R51-million worth of assets were seized from the residences of Gumede and her fellow accused. The sight of sports cars and top-end limos being hauled away were of particular interest to viewers, prompting as it did much speculation about the buying power of municipal salaries. 

The KZN premier, Sihle “Silly” Zikalala, decried the “Hollywood” style of the raids, claiming it was wrong of the law to invite the media along to film the fun. He dashed off a memo to Squirrel to the effect that such behaviour was “undermining unity within the ANC in the province” and — get this — it was not to happen again. 

Fast forward ten months or so, and Zikalala has now conceded that Gumede’s presence as a councillor “impaired” the functioning of Durban’s municipal executive. But quite why she should then have been shifted, with the blessing of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, to the provincial legislature remains a mystery. The premier’s current explanation is especially unhelpful. He was quoted by Daily Maverick as saying: 

“As an organisation we must balance challenges we face and navigate the space. The redeployment of Gumede to the legislature is not the best of everything. It is only solving one problem with another problem … It might happen, for now, that the ANC is not clear on what happens with people that are charged. Society might find us confused and we respect that view. We are not undermining the national leadership of the NEC —  we are a part of the leadership. We needed to do the deployment now because we had a position [in the legislature] that had become vacant, and if we did not act, the Independent Electoral Commission would have filled it [from the list of candidates presented to the IEC during the 2019 elections].” 

 Society may indeed regard the ANC as confused and with this kind of woo-woo and gobbledegook who can blame them? One thing, however, is clear. “Navigating the space” has more than doubled Gumede’s salary overnight. As a councillor, she earned about R512 000 a year. As an MPL, she gets R1.1-million, with a heap of perks such as two dozen free flights a year and various other allowances. It is good work when you can get it.

All you can eat

The ANC is making strangely earnest noises to the effect that all this sleaze is like, uh, a bad thing. City Press reports that a bold strategy to deal with “rotten” members and their relatives who have been implicated in wrongdoing was tossed up at the last NEC meeting. Namely, bring in “independent, top legal minds and forensic experts” to advise on how to deal with those who have been implicated in “misconduct”. 

These independent, top legal minds and forensic experts are deemed necessary as some critics feel that that the ANC’s integrity commission lacks, uh, integrity and the committee falls short when it comes to the required sort of legal expertise. In the meantime, “audited” lists of members accused of corruption and other serious crimes, as well those of businesspeople and public figures linked to the party, are to be drawn up for consideration by the ANC’s top six. 

Secretary-general Ace Magashule’s office will then be tasked with collating these reports before deciding on how best to proceed. According to the newspaper, Magashule may also “appoint a team of ANC cadres to examine independently with the relevant authorities any outstanding criminal charges or criminal convictions of any of the above comrades”.

What could possibly go wrong? It is an excellent plan. Magashule is no slouch when it comes to independent, top legal minds and forensic experts, and his hands-on experience of corruption, carefully nurtured during the years as Free State premier, places him in good stead here. As my old friend, journalist and filmmaker Chris du Plessis puts it, “And it is with pride that we have decided to appoint Mr Jeffrey Dahmer as head of the new commission to investigate cannibalism.” 

Peri peri wild geese

Have gun, will travel? Searching for a Simon Mann-type African adventure? Itchy trigger finger in need of scratching? Look no further. Opportunity is knocking. The French oil giant, Total, this week signed a security agreement with the Mozambican government to protect the corporation’s $23-billion liquified natural gas project in Cabo Delgado from attack by extremists. 

In terms of the pact, Total will provide “logistical support” — splodges of wonga — for a new joint task force that will guarantee protection of the company’s planned onshore plant and its operations in the country’s northernmost province. Total's facility, one of the biggest single investment projects in Africa, is located 60 kilometres to the north of Mocimboa da Praia, the strategic port that was recently captured by militants said to be aligned with Islamic State. 

Cabo Delgado has been the scene of a jihadist insurgency since 2017 that has killed more than 1 500 people and displaced 250 000 others. Mozambique’s armed forces appear unable to halt the attacks. Our defence minister, meanwhile, has made vague rumbling sounds to the effect that there are plans in place to deal with the increased insurgency. No details of these plans have been released. 

South African involvement in the conflict has to date come from the Dyck Advisory Group, a private security company that has reportedly been mounting aerial attacks on the jihadists. Much more needs to be done. Notices of employment opportunities may or may not be found in the classified columns of Soldier of Fortune magazine.