Jeremy Gordin says the ex-journo was tripped up by old skeletons, but she was not part of 'state capture'
On October 21, yesterday, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) issued a statement on the appointment of Ranjeni Munusamy as what the EFF called “political secretary [sic] of the Minister of Finance”.
The EFF was referring to finance minister Tito Mboweni tweeting pictures of his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) speech-drafting team on Tuesday. Mboweni added, “This is how it works: based on the Cabinet budget fiscal framework, different teams in the National Treasury write chapters in the big document [and] the core team [sic] drafts the speech.”
It's not clear whether Munusamy is a full-time employee (is she on contract?) of the national treasury or on Mboweni’s personal staff, how long she has been there, or how long she will stay.
According to former Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa, Munusamy has been working at the finance ministry “for months.” Shilowa reportedly tweeted on Wednesday that “[Munusamy] says she is [Mboweni’s] Special Envoy, whatever that means. First heard about it from people in the Greater Tzaneen Municipality where she would stand in for him. Said there’s nothing wrong when I asked him [Mboweni, presumably] in May 2020.”
The final paragraph of the EFF statement reads as follows: “We make this demand [that Mboweni jettison Munusamy] because we will not stand by and do nothing when State institutions are being infiltrated by a Cabal [sic] of highly compromised individuals. We are fully aware where these appointments are initiated and processed and in the same way we [sic] fought and defeated the Gupta criminal syndicate, we will defeat the Cabal and Rogue Unit [sic] criminal syndicate that is capturing strategic sectors of the State.”
The EFF statement left me cold. In my own head I added to the final sentence as follows: “.... we will defeat the Cabal and Rogue Unit criminal syndicate that is capturing strategic sectors of the State ... until such time as we get hold of such strategic sectors and put our own hands on the lovely lolly.”
In short, the EFF statement on Munusamy was a typical example of the selective morality in which the EFF specializes, and was not at all surprising, especially when one recalls that in December 2018 Munusamy joined the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef), Pauli van Wyk, Adriaan Basson, Max du Preez, and Barry Bateman in a court actionagainst the EFF and Julius Malema for threatening them with violence, harassing them, etc. 
On Thursday morning, however, eNCA presenter Thulasizwe Simelane, who has apparently been given carte blanche to editorialize as righteously as possible (as opposed to merely presenting the news), put both his feet on the throttle regarding Munusamy.
Nonetheless, it was neither a cheap attack nor one devoid of rationality. Simelane emphasized that “the issue” wasn’t Munusamy per se. Simelane opined that Mboweni is the one who should be censured. How could Mboweni – at the height of our newly-found indignation regarding corruption – hire someone who’d been tainted by evidence given at the Zondo Commission?
And to make matters worse, how could Mboweni respond by saying that he has the prerogative, as per the good ol’ Ministerial Handbook, to appoint whom he likes? “The Ministerial Handbook!” – Simelane almost spat out that phrase. And who would disagree with him? As we all know, the handbook has been used to excuse many a shoddy malfeasance.
Additionally, Simelane just didn’t hold forth – good for you, Thulas! – he interviewed Geordin [no relation] Hill-Lewis, the DA’s shadow minister of finance – and an apparently balanced, sensible, and quietly-spoken person as well.
Hill-Lewis said Munusamy’s appointment in the finance minister’s office was unwise and ill-considered because of the allegations made against her at the Zondo commission (and about which her subsequent explanation of events had been so suspicious); one just could not have someone accused of state capture corruption taken into the “the heart of the Treasury”.
Additionally, the DA has submitted questions try to find out what Munusamy’s job description and key performance areas are (she’s apparently billed as a “community outreach officer”) as well as her pay grade and the processes followed in making her appointment.
Caveat emptor – or rather caveat lector, let the reader beware. I consider Ranjeni Munusamy a friend.
This is so even though I have not spoken to or seen her for about eight or more years. As best I know, our contact was severed because she was angered by something I wrote about her. But since it was she who apparently took umbrage, I don’t hold this against her.
I came to know Munusamy in about 2003. She was then on her way out of journalism after playing a major role in precipitating the 2003 Hefer commission of inquiry into whether then National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka was a spy for the bad guys pre-1994.
I got to know her better while working on my biography of former president Jacob Zuma (2008). Having had to quit working as journalist, she became one of Zuma’s aides during the 2000s when he faced numerous court trials including a rape one. She also set up the Friends of Jacob Zuma website, from which (as best I know) she was able to scrape a modest living only.
Did Munusamy try to, and indeed, “play” me as a journalist – as in mislead me in the direction along which she wanted me to go – during those years?
For sure she did, as did others in the so-called Zuma camp. It was her “job,” as it was theirs. If in many instances I got motivations, interpretations, or emphases wrong in the book and articles – and I did – it was my fault for not probing deeper.
During a recent discussion about the plethora of books now being published regarding the huge amounts of disinformation fed to the media, a witty colleague remarked: “The question for the members of the media [during the last 25-40 years] should be ‘Were you paid?’ or ‘Were you played?’” I wasn’t paid but, as I say, I was in many cases played. And, as indicated, I don’t hold this against Munusamy either.
So, what do I mean when I say that I consider Munusamy “a friend”? I mean I consider friendships sacrosanct, and though I might know “things” about Munusamy (none, by the way, related to treasonous activities ), I consider those to be “privileged” and private and I certainly wouldn’t spill them here – or anywhere. Besides which, regarding the specific matter we’ll get to now, I don’t in fact know anything.
But I can, I believe, make some informed suggestions/guesses.
Let’s now refresh our memories about those state capture corruption allegations against Munusamy of September last year.
They were as follows. While giving evidence to the Zondo commission about a SAPS’ Crime Intelligence Division slush fund, senior Hawks officer Kobus Roelofse said he had discovered that R143 621.78 was allegedly transferred in 2008 into a Wesbank account by Crime Intelligence as a settlement payment on a vehicle registered in Munusamy’s name.
How was this generally reported by the media in 2019? “Hawk's investigator Kobus Roelofse said on Wednesday a secret slush fund of the Crime Intelligence paid off Tiso Blackstar journalist and editor Ranjeni Munusamy’scar [my emphasis]”. I.e., Aha, yet another rogue journalist is among us.
And, as a result of the allegations, Munusamy was put on “special leave” by the management of Tiso Blackstar (now Arena) where she was an associate editor – and then, though we don’t know what words passed between Tiso Blackstar management and Munusamy, she was told or asked to go away.
Personally, I would have taken Tiso Blackstar to the Labour Court – how can a company dismiss someone for unproven allegations that allegedly happened when this person wasn’t even employed by the company? But, as I said, we don’t know what words passed between management and Munusamy.
Additionally, as pointed out by the DA’s Hill-Lewis, Munusamy’s ex tempore explanation for what had happened was “strange”.
Munusamy said “a close family friend” had offered to pay off the debt on her BMW; that she was only made aware of the involvement of the garage [being investigated by the Hawks] in the debt settlement [related to her car] after hearing Roelofse’s testimony; and that the garage in question owed the family friend money and he’d therefore instructed that R143 621.78 be transferred to Wesbank in settlement of Munusamy’s account.
Worse, though, as it turns out, Munusamy indicated at the end of September last year that she’d instructed lawyers to represent her and intended to cross-examine Roelofse and another witness at the Zondo commission. But she doesn’t appear to have done so.
What have we got?
We have untested allegations made at a commission of enquiry. This is not – I repeat not – a proof of guilt. Why Munusamy has not cross-examined those making the allegations, I don’t know. Perhaps she still intends to do so.
In my view, if Munusamy’s car was indeed paid for from a SAPS’ slush fund, then she – and/or whomever was responsible – should answer for this. But far more to the point, what does this payment, if it happened, have to do with “state capture”?
It is important to remember the history here. Munusamy broke with Jacob Zuma before most others in that faction of the ANC, including Julius Malema. She worked for Blade Nzimande at the Ministry of Higher Education for a while but left in late 2010. She then remade her name as a journalist with her critical commentary of the Zuma Presidency while writing (for five years) for the Daily Maverick. This included numerous articles critiquing "state capture" by the Zuptas.
This was even as numerous other journalists, and more established publications, were being fed (and were running with) hit pieces by the state's spooks on those politicians and civil servants that the Zuptas wanted out of the way. No doubt, then, through this period she built up credit with the Ramaphosa faction of the ANC that triumphed (sort of) in December 2017.
What of relevance to state capture (in 2008) was Munusamy being paid for? She wasn’t a journalist, and nor did she, at the time, have any realistic prospect of becoming one again; she wasn’t even employed, except by Zuma, and that was more a “labour of love” than a paid job. Munusamy would at the time have been coming to the end of her relationship with Zuma. So maybe it was a “gift” in return for those years of service – during which I know Munusamy struggled financially, sometimes bitterly so.
Possibly too there was even someone at Crime Intelligence (in the “Zuma camp,” to be sure) who was a friend, who knew what hard work she’d put in for the cause and who, having access to the “slush fund,” decided s/he could give Munusamy a gift.
I’m not suggesting that these possibilities make what happened (if it did) kosher. But I am suggesting that the payment, if it was made, had little to do with state capture per se.
Talking of which, whether or not Munusamy does ever cross-examine at the Zondo commission, the fact of the matter is that as of a year ago, she was yet again unemployed.
Munusamy doubtless then spoke to a number of friends, perhaps including Mboweni himself – he is after all from the old guard – and said, Jeez, I’m on the bones of my posterior yet again, can’t someone help? Clearly, Mboweni decided that he could.
This would not be a new story; much of modern South African political history is about old loyalties and friendships,about disgrace and redemption, and about being tripped up by the “smallanyana skeletons” of the past. That’s just how it is.
I can’t see how Mboweni is going to get through this one. Notwithstanding the Ministerial Handbook, I suspect Munusamy is going to be out in the cold again. All of which, despite everything, I think is a pity.
I don’t know what a “community outreach officer” is or why the treasury needs one. But I do know that whatever task Munusamy has set her mind on doing, she’s always done well and with 100% commitment.
The Equality Court found against the journalists, apparently because, according to Pierre de Vos in October 2019, they’d used the wrong legal “mechanism.” Go figure.
 One of life’s more amusing episodes took place in about 2009 when Munusamy was appointed Blade Nzimande’s spokesperson at higher education. Problem was she had to have a security clearance. She gave my name as a “reference”. I was visited by an intern (I kid you not) from the then National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Munusamy received her clearance.
Now, any state security agency that would take seriously the assurances of someone like me must surely have some chinks in its armour, don’t you think? And I don’t think that “the word” had come down from Zuma – he never cared much for my book anyway.