Ace ups his sleaze

Andrew Donaldson writes on the ANC SG's outrage over Covid-19 corruption


Among the classic films we return to from time to time when flattened by man flu is Casablanca. I make no excuses for this. Michael Curtiz’s 1942 romantic drama is a terrific movie, stuffed with moments that have made cinematic history — one of which I was reminded of this week. 

It occurs early in the film. The Vichy-occupied Moroccan city’s unabashedly crooked police chief, Louis Renault (Claude Rains), leads a raid on the nightclub owned by American expat Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) at the behest of the Gestapo. Blaine demands to know why his place has been targeted. The cavalier Renault, a regular at the club’s roulette tables, replies, “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here.” Just then a croupier hands him a wad of cash. “Your winnings, sir.” Without skipping a beat, Renault responds, “Oh, thank you very much.” 

Almost 80 years later, over at Casa Luthuli, ANC secretary general Ace Magushule has reprised the performance — only with a terrible script this time and no sense of comic timing at all. His scene came after the ruling criminal enterprise’s national executive committee met last weekend to discuss, among other matters, claims of widespread corruption relating to the procurement of Covid-19 personal protective equipment, the use of food parcels to dispense political patronage and various other tenderpreneurial irregularities.

In a statement released on Tuesday, an “outraged” and “ashamed” Magashule said: “These developments cause us collectively to dip our heads in shame and to humble ourselves before the people. We acknowledge the justifiable public outrage caused by the depravity and heartlessness displayed by some elements in government, our organisation and the private sector.”

It’s incomprehensible that anyone actually believes this. Magashule is the gang’s top gun, the biggest of the ANC’s big six. He didn’t get there by being an exceptionally good person. It was on his watch as Free State premier that the province was driven to the wall by crony patronage, and his name continues to appear in testimony before the Zondo state capture commission of inquiry. 

Yet here he is, centre stage, pure as the driven slush, condemning all forms of wrongdoing. “We will comprehensively fight corruption, combining both prevention and punishment,” he says. “Those who loot public resources must face the might of the law.” 

Quite why he was chosen for this particular role is baffling, although it has been pointed out that, depending on the light, camera angles and the audience’s myopia, our Ace does bear, sort of, a passing resemblance to Hollywood’s Samuel L Jackson. Disbelief having been willingly suspended, etc.

His star turn, unfortunately, came mere days after the Daily Maverick had reported that the Free State treasury had awarded companies owned by Magashule’s sons, Tshepiso and Thato, contracts worth R2.7-million for liquid soaps, masks, hand sanitisers and other materials. Magashule claims he knew nothing about the contracts, let alone who won them. “I have got nothing to do with Free State government matters or tenders,” he was quoted as saying. “I am out of that space.” He also denies influencing the procurement process,  although it has been reported that he is “close” to Free State Finance MEC Gadija Brown, whatever that may mean.

It’s glaringly obvious that the ANC has a unique interpretation of sleaze, one that flourished in the toxic stupidity of the Jacob Zuma era. How is it possible that the government can ever be corrupt, the former president would claim, beaming with peasant guile, when the friends and family members who have benefitted from such munificent patronage are not in government? They are business people. Are they not permitted to have their own businesses? Like other business people?

Magashule drew on this perverse logic in an interview with News24 on Thursday. In a move to shift attention from himself and his sons, he suggested that relatives of many other ANC leaders also do business with the state. There is no law against this, he said. “Tell me of one leader of the ANC, who has not done business with government… you are looking at [just] government; [other] people are working with banks.” 

Very spluttery, you will agree, with lashings of indignation. Typically, no names mentioned. And, natch, absolutely no evident understanding of why such behaviour is utterly wrong.

A flicker of action

Which brings us to the swirl of rumours to the effect that Cyril Ramaphosa is having a rough time in these NEC meetings. Latest gossip is that committee members take it in turns to use Squirrel as some sort of punch bag whenever he suggests they should at least pretend to be honest and that it can get a bit like Raging Bull or Rocky, what with the crunch of nose gristle and bloodied gum guards shooting out the mouth. The latest such to-do apparently erupted when he proposed that family and friends perhaps stand back altogether when government contracts were being doled out. There came, it is said, much in the way of slaps as a result of this bolshie nonsense..

But the Potemkin President can roll with the punches, and he has now gamely appointed a committee to deal with the Covid tender fraud scandals. Its members include presidency, finance, police, public service and administration and cooperative governance and traditional affairs ministers, and it is chaired by Ronald Lamola, the justice and correctional services minister. What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, Squirrel has boldly compared the behaviour of his colleagues and fellow comrades to that of hyenas and scavengers. He writes in his weekly newsletter that corruption is a particularly heinous crime during a time of national disaster and that perpetrators will be dealt with severely:

“It is difficult to understand the utter lack of conscience that leads a businessperson who has heeded the call to prove lifesaving supplies during a devastating pandemic to inflate the price of a surgical mask by as much as 900%. Nor can one explain why a councillor would stockpile emergency food parcels meant for the poor for their own family, or why another councillor wold divert water tankers en route to a needy community to their own home. It is impossible to discern what drives an entire family whose member stole funds meant for unemployed workers to go on a spending spree, buying cars, paying for renovations and beauty treatments, and even headstones.”

Away from this dramatic tour de farce — because that what it is, an overwrought, hammy address to the gallery — he did outline a vague plan of action: he has authorised the Special Investigating Unit to look into the matter. A directive, in other words, that directs an organisation whose mandate it is to investigate criminal behaviour to now investigate criminal behaviour. One wonders how the SIU otherwise keeps itself busy. 

But Squirrel insists he will be kept informed of their progress. “I will be receiving interim reports every six weeks on the cases at various stages of investigation and prosecution,” he writes. “When investigations yield evidence of criminality, they will speedily be referred for prosecution.” 

Interim reports every six weeks? Let’s not take relax our grip on the snooze control, then. Decisive action may follow in 2022, or so. Maybe.

The classic movie that comes to mind here is Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront. Marlon Brando, as the dockworker and once-promising boxer Terry Malloy, delivers the lines that could be the epitaph for the Ramaphosa presidency: “I coulda’ had class. I coulda’ been a contender. I could’ve been somebody. Instead of a bum, which is what I am — let’s face it.”

Paranormal activity

News from the Western Cape High Court, where British American Tobacco SA’s legal challenge against the ban on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products is underway. According to her advocate, Andrew Breitenbach SC, it would seem that Clarice — as we refer to prime minister Nkosazana “Nongqawuse” Dlamini-Sarafina-Virodene-Nanny-Apron Strings-Coronavirus-Cheshire Cat-Hand That Rocks The Cradle Only To Then Push It Down The Stairs-Proxy-Zuma — was fully aware that her actions would result in a dramatic boom in the illicit cigarette trade. 

“She took this decision well knowing, for instance, that there is a well established criminal underworld involved in illicit tobacco dealing in South Africa,” Breitenbach was quoted as telling the court. “She knew full well that one of the consequences of imposing this prohibition would be to provide a business opportunity for people engaged in that line of work.” 

Well, it has been claimed that she even knows full well some of the people engaged in that line of work, like alleged cigarette smuggler and all-round oil slick Adriano Mazzotti. Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), there is some concern that, with all this knowing full well about the place, Clarice may well have clairvoyant powers. It’s worrying that she is able to peer into our hearts and there pick through our thoughts and desires. But aside from that, it’s good to know that she has our wellbeing at heart. 


Rhodes Avenue Primary, in north London, is being pressured to change its name — even though the school is named after a street, which, in turn, is not named after Cecil Rhodes, but his great uncle. Thomas Rhodes, who owned a dairy farm near Muswell Hill, died in 1856 when his great nephew was three. There is no evidence, historians say, that Thomas ever met Cecil — or even shared his colonial ambitions. No matter; one Rhodes is the same as another, and the Rename Rhodes Avenue Primary campaign insists the name “cannot be disentangled from the pursuit of white supremacy and the dehumanisation and subjugation of black people”.

The campaigners may have a point. Names come with baggage. Consider Chenjerai Hunzvi, the Zimbabwe liberation war veteran who chose “Hitler” as his professional nom de annoyance. Ditto Umkhonto we Sizwe founding member Eric Mtshali, who elected to be known as “Stalin” when going about his business. Both passed away before revealing any discomfort they may have endured in this regard, but one wonders how they disassociated their identities from pursuits to dehumanise and subjugate others.

Perhaps Melanie Verwoerd (nee Fourie) could offer insight. For my part, I’ve considered a move to distance myself from the Mountbatten-Windsor scion who is being prevailed upon to assist the American authorities in their investigations into the organised rape of minors. Perhaps Angus. It’s what my mother originally wanted, but she was alas overruled.

But what of the kids at Rhodes Avenue Primary? If activists have their way, their school will be renamed after Oliver Tambo, who lived in the area during exile. Not everyone is enamoured of the suggestion. Spectator columnist Rod Liddle this week describes the late ANC leader as “the popular South African murderer and politician”. But The Times quoted Frances Browning, a former pupil who started the campaign, as saying: “The violent legacy of Cecil Rhodes and his family has been memorialised and immortalised.

It is a family name which cannot be disentangled from the pursuit of white supremacy and the dehumanisation and subjugation of Black people. We would like to see the name changed to honour Oliver Tambo. We feel this would be a beautiful way to honour this area and the people who live here and to stand firmly with the broader Rhodes must Fall movement and with Black Lives Matter and the wave of global activism.” 

Being a bachelor “wedded only to empire”, as his contemporaries delicately put it, Rhodes did not have a family of his own. The considerable sins of the father could thus not be passed onto any children. Can these sins now be shared among his ancestors? Perhaps the time has come for such a development in the culture of public shaming. The descendants of our struggle heroes should take note.

Sticks and stones, etc

The week’s top “good news” story must surely be the admission from ANC Gauteng deputy chairperson Panyaza Lesufi that being told to “voetsek” and ridiculed on social media is actually a painful experience. “When I joined the ANC many years ago,” he told City Press, “nobody ever mocked us. We used to laugh about Bantustan leaders like Lucas Mangope, Patrick Mphephu and the Matanzimas.

It never occurred to me that, one day, jokes would be made about our own leaders. Who would have laughed at men like Nelson Mandela or Walter Sisulu?” No prizes for guessing why this is. “We have to ask ourselves why corruption is so persistent when we have all these laws and institutions.” Lesufi conceded that “everyone” is unhappy with the ruling criminal enterprise — even those within its own ranks. “People mustn’t think they’re the only ones angry with the party.”

That’s a peculiar way of putting it, but never mind. The insults are starting to find their mark. We must keep it up.