NEWS & ANALYSIS

Defaming Gigupta

Andrew Donaldson writes on the minister's threats of legal action against Redi Tlhabi

A FAMOUS GROUSE

MATTERS went a bit pear-shaped this week for the preening home affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba. He was apparently left with no choice but to sue a journalist for defamation. And now people think he’s funny, but not in a nice way.

It started with the best of intentions. In a bid to further stimulate Cyril Ramaphosa’s, uh, stimulus package and inject foreign tourist tom into the GDP, Gigaba has cheerily announced he was revising his notorious visa restrictions.

Had not the tourism authorities reported a dramatic drop in visitor numbers? Had not the hotel and leisure industry complained of empty beds and half-filled restaurants? 

He would act. And he did.

But were they grateful? No, they were spiteful and hateful, and there was much truculence and moaning that the visa laws were now more baffling than ever; the situation had gone from bad to worse. 

Previously, foreign minors were compelled to provide documentation proving parental consent to travel. 

Now, Gigaba said, his department would merely “strongly recommend” that such steps be taken. Officials would only insist on documents “by exception — in high-risk situations — rather than for all travellers.”

In other words, tourists with kids arriving at the airport should pray the stamp jockeys at passport control are in a good mood and won’t get all “high-risk” on their case by demanding letters from former spouses and deceased partners. 

“It doesn’t take a genius,” one editorial noted, “to see the pitfalls, not least the potential for corruption.”

Many commentators pointed out that it was Gigaba who had, in 2015, cocked up the regulations in the first place, but it was broadcaster Redi Tlhabi who suggested he may have had a personal reason for doing so: he didn’t want his ex-wife, Thabong, making travel arrangements for their daughter without his permission.

Tlhabi referred to an incident in 2010 in which Gigaba laid kidnapping charges against Thabong’s cousin, one Lwazi Ngidi, because Ngidi had taken the girl to East London with her mother’s permission — but not his.

At the time, the Sowetan reported that Gigaba’s marriage was falling apart. He’d taken a lover, and Thabong and her daughter had moved out of the family home. 

Tlhabi tweeted, “YOU had a personal issue of yr ex wife making travel arrangements with yr daughter without your consent, so you decided ‘I'll sort this problem out’? You implemented untested regulations, claiming to address child trafficking? Have your regulations brought child trafficking down?”

With that, Gigaba went all hand-flappy, demanded a retraction, got none, and has reportedly issued instructions to attorneys to sue Tlhabi for defamation of character. 

Here at the Mahogany Ridge we’re rather hoping the matter does go to court, if only to get a legal ruling on the character of perhaps the most compromised enabler in the state capture project — and how it could possibly be defamed. 

Many of us recall, shortly after his appointment as finance minister last year, his remarks that the “narrative or perception” that the Treasury belonged to “orthodox” economists had dragged on for far too long.

Steps to counter convention, then, and manage the people’s economy included blowing some R873 000 of taxpayers’ money on travel expenses for his second wife, Norma.  

But perhaps we are being harsh. There was reason enough for Norma to be with her husband when he travelled: she needed to watch him lest he stray from the marital bed. 

He did so in 2015 with the bulbous Buhle Mkhize, a fashionista who frequently bothers social media with selfies in varying stages of undress. 

It was however the long, rambling account of her year-long affair with Gigaba that she posted online that was the more revealing. Let’s just say that this was a complicated relationship, one that had started before Gigaba married Norma — an event that Mkhize, married herself, was wholly unaware of — but continued long afterwards. 

“Of course,” she wrote, “I questioned him [about] not telling me he was getting married. He apologised and explained it as a fear I wouldn’t give him a chance if I knew [about Norma]. 

“I then raised the WHY he’d so strongly pursue another woman in the middle of his [marriage] vows. He explained that he’d been married in the past and had an ugly divorce that didn’t sit well with some of the public. He also said that he wanted to succeed politically and had kids with Norma and it wouldn’t be the right image for him to have the record of an ugly divorce and then a baby mama who, in his own words, basically cornered him into marrying her.”

Oddly enough, Gigupta still has a job. And I don’t. Well, at least no longer with the Weekend Argus. This is a slightly longer version of my last column for the newspaper. Starting next weekend, A Famous Grouse will appear exclusively on Politicsweb.