Andrew Donaldson looks forward to the arrival of the last and longest tome on state capture
A FAMOUS GROUSE
LIKE the regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), I was rather hoping that the handover to President Cyril Ramaphosa of the long overdue final instalment of Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s report into state capture would have taken place, as planned, on Monday. Alas, this was postponed to Wednesday, too late for purposes of this week’s Grouse.
Although disappointed, I wasn’t surprised. There have already been several postponements. The report was previously expected last Wednesday, June 15, as per an order by the Pretoria High Court. Before that, the court had ruled that Zondo submit the report at the end of April, and there were, it seems, half-a-dozen earlier extensions.
Being of sunny and generous disposition, I’m inclined to believe the delays were not due to laziness on the part of its author, but rather the sheer volume of the testimony before Zondo’s commission of inquiry—which, in simple terms, was tons of gat. So much so, that this final instalment is said to run to more than 1 800 pages. If ever there was a book to be thrown at Jacob Zuma, this would be the one.
Expected among its contents are findings on malfeasance at the SABC, the Estina dairy farm scam and the Gupta wedding party’s use of the Waterkloof Air Force Base. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___
But more to the point, given Squirrel’s present difficulties, we look forward forward to Zondo’s conclusions on the murky activities of the State Security Agency and its former boss, Arthur Fraser.
It is tempting to regard Fraser, an ardent supporter of Accused Number One, as a tactician who, in order to sully Ramaphosa’s reputation in the ANC’s leadership contest, had carefully timed the dropping of his “bombshell” affidavit on the burglary at the president’s Phala Phala farm.
I’m not entirely convinced. It is true that Squirrel has been greatly compromised by the Farmgate scandal. This, in turn, has resulted in an outbreak of smugness among the ruling party’s Radical Economic Transformation faction so virulent that it approaches sexual frenzy. Be advised, then, to stand well back from Carl Niehaus and Lindiwe Sisulu if their hands are not in plain sight.
But Fraser’s motives are as much about saving his own skin as ousting Squirrel. Going by what Zondo has already heard about the SSA, we have a fairly solid idea what his report will reveal about the way Fraser ran the agency.
Without preempting anything, we can safely assume that mention will once more be made of large amounts of public tom swallowed up by the Zupta criminal enterprise. Much of it will come as no great surprise to those who have read Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and Out of Prison (NB Publishers, 2017).
The book’s marketing campaign was greatly boosted when, within days of its publication, the SSA sought to have it removed from distribution on the grounds that it contravened intelligence legislation. The revenue services also piled in with an announcement that they would be investigating criminal charges against Pauw for publicising confidential tax records. These ham-fisted censorship threats resulted in sales of more than 200 000 copies.
In 2018, new president Squirrel commissioned a high-level into the SSA’s activities, which found that it “appeared that there had been instances of serious criminal behaviour, which had taken place under the guise of conducting covert work, and that this behaviour may have involved theft, forgery and uttering, fraud and corruption and even bordered on transgressions of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act”.
Reason enough, you’d imagine, to act against Fraser. Which Squirrel did, by “demoting” the spook to the department of correctional services. At the time the president indicated he was waiting for the final outcome of the Zondo commission, which had then just begun its work, before taking further action. It was a startlingly timid decision, one that has backfired in spectacular fashion.
As a “lowly” correctional services commissioner, Fraser controversially freed uBaba from prison on “medical parole” last year after the Thief-in-Chief was sent down for contempt of court following his refusal to appear before the Zondo commission.
Squirrel, oddly, seemed quite pleased. “We have also received and taken note of the decision by correctional services and the national commissioner to release comrade Jacob Zuma from incarceration on medical parole,” he said. “We welcome this.” Not so welcome, of course, was the rioting that followed.
This extraordinary prostration by the “great reformer” was just one more example of his futile attempts to unify and “renew” a party riven by factionalism. This was always going to be an impossible task. Unity and accountability cannot co-exist within the ANC; it is either one or the other. Farmgate will not be swaying opinions or changing any minds here. It’s still the one gang against the other. The in-fighting remains as vicious as ever, and the stench of hypocrisy just as overpowering.
Speaking of which, did you know that an anagram of Arthur Fraser is “rear fart rush”?
A fish called Rwanda
Squirrel, meanwhile, could not to attend the Commonwealth summit in Kigali. He has other arrangements, Daily Maverick reports. There’s the Brics summit, for example, hosted on Zoom by China’s Xi Jinping. This will be followed, on Friday and Saturday, by the ANC’s Gauteng conference. Then it’s off to Germany to attend the G7 summit in some weird guest status, where he’ll no doubt be bullied for his “neutral” stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The presidency insists, somewhat unconvincingly, that Squirrel’s absence is not at all due to any “bad blood with Rwanda”. Pretoria does, of course, have a particular beef with Kigali, thanks to the murder in 2013 of former Rwandan spy boss Patrick Karegeya by a hit squad allegedly despatched by President Paul Kagame. There have also been several attempts to assassinate in South Africa a former Rwandan army leader, Kayumba Nyamwasa, between 2010 and 2014.
As a result, Pretoria expelled three Rwandan diplomats in March 2014 and, in response, Kigali kicked out six South Africans. At the time Rwanda claimed Karegeya and Nyamwasa were plotting to oust Kagame and that their opposition Rwanda National Congress was conducting an armed struggle against the state from bases in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The RNC has denied these allegations.
Squirrel did have a bash at reconciliation with Kagame while attending the 2018 African Union summit in Kigali. This came to nothing, however, and further attempts at reconciliation were complicated by disclosures that Squirrel’s cellphone had been hacked by Rwandan officials using Israeli-manufactured spyware.
As it is, Squirrel is probably better off staying away from the Commonwealth summit. Delegates are apparently going to find this beano an uncomfortably embarrassing and unrealistic “Potemkin” experience.
Kagame had been hoping to showcase his country as an “African Singapore”, a veritable Wakanda virtually unrecognisable from the horrors of the 1994 genocide. Alas, bothersome lefty lawyers and their infernal preoccupation with human rights have spoilt the party. Britain’s world-beating plan to dump unwanted asylum seekers in Rwanda has been reduced to a farce, thanks to the European Court of Human Rights, and now Kagame’s own behaviour is under scrutiny.
To make matters worse, Prince Charles, who is attending the summit in place of the Queen, has added his voice to the growing criticism of the migrant plan, calling the £120-million deal with Kigali “appalling”. Charles was chosen as the next Commonwealth head at the organisation’s last summit, in 2018.
According to Michela Wrong, author of the acclaimed Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad (Fourth Estate, 2021), such humiliations will have infuriated the micromanaging Kagame. Writing in The Times, Wrong claims the president will regard such setbacks as being the result of “British bungling and a royal betrayal”. She quotes a former presidential secretary, Theogene Rudasingwa as saying:
“Kagame is a very vindictive man. He will be cursing [Charles] in private. He will be venting, shouting at his staff. He will feel humiliated, embarrassed, but also confused how this could have been allowed to happen… He has always done whatever he wants and no one has raised a finger. He will be confused about how the British government’s plans were allowed to fail.”
Here is a clue that may assist in dealing with his confusion: one of the venues for the summit is the Hôtel des Mille Collines. In English, that’s “hotel of a thousand hills”. Better still, it could be named “hotel of 1 268 souls”, for that is the number of Hutu and Tutsi refugees manager Paul Rusesabagina sheltered in the hotel, thus saving them from certain death at the hands of the Interahamwe militia during the genocide. An account of Rusesabagina’s actions was later dramatised in the acclaimed film Hotel Rwanda, in which he was portrayed by the actor Don Cheadle.
Living abroad, Rusesabagina became a vocal critic of the Kagame regime. In 2020, he was lured to Dubai where he was kidnapped by a “snatch squad” and brought back to Kigali and sentenced to 25 years in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. According to The Times, one of the topics up for discussion at Rusesabagina’s old hotel this week is “radical extremism”. Go figure.
Meanwhile, in the Egg, Face & Panic Department, the British government is hastily preparing to rip up existing rights legislation to usher in new laws that will allow their world-beating asylum deals to proceed without interference from foreign types in Strasbourg. One set of human rights for us, and another for “them”. Seems very apartheid-ish.
On Friday, oil-rich Gabon, described as a “feudal state” by activists, will become the Commonwealth’s newest member. It’s a development, observers say, that will undermine the organisation’s shared commitment to (ahem) democratic values and raise questions on the relevance in the 21st century of this “club” built on the remnants of the British empire. Gabon’s entry comes at a time when other long-standing members, like Australia and Jamaica, appear to want out.
Gabon, of course, is a former French colony and has no historical links with Britain whatsoever. But then neither has Mozambique and, of course, Rwanda, and both are members and can freely rub shoulders with the toffs. But that is neither here nor there.
Gabon is ruled by one of Africa’s longest-running and most corrupt political dynasties. The country has been the fiefdom of the vast Bongo family since 1967, when Omar Bongo was sworn in as president. In what can only be described as behaviour that is the stuff of RET wet dreams, there came much plunder of state resources, which continued after the death of Bongo in 2009 when his son Ali Bongo took his place.
What is intriguing about Ali, or Alain, as he was then known before his conversion to Islam, is that he once fancied himself as a singer, and in 1977, as a young man of 20, even recorded an admittedly cracking funk album, A Brand New Man (United Artists Records). This was perhaps entirely due to the contributions of the musicians backing the young Bongo and the producers he worked with.
As such, Gabon’s president is the only dictator in the world to have recorded with the legendary James Brown’s backing band.
Brown, the Godfather of Soul, first came into contact with the Bongos when he and his entourage, along with other US musicians, including amongst others the Crusaders and BB King, travelled to what was then Zaire for the “Rumble in the Jungle”, the October 30, 1974, heavyweight championship fight between George Foreman and Muhammed Ali.
The musicians were booked to perform at Zaire 74, a Mobuto Seso Seko love-fest dubbed “the black Woodstock” that also featured the exiled South African star, Miriam Makeba. For more details see Leon Gast’s Oscar-winning 1996 documentary, When We Were Kings, and Jeff Levy-Hinte’s 2008 concert movie, Soul Power.
The musicians’ first port of call in Africa, though, was Libreville, Gabon and it was here that Brown struck up a friendship with Omar Bongo, a relationship that was to last several years. US state department cables reveal that Brown, then in deep trouble with the IRS, visited Gabon in 1977 along with his manager, Charles Bobbit.
According to a CNN report, Bobbit admitted in a 2007 interview that the purpose of this visit had been to ask Bongo for money to assist Brown with his debts. It’s not known what sort of arrangement they came up with, or if Brown received anything from Bongo, but one outcome of this trip was his son’s album.
The thing is, imagine if the young Bongo had been a percussionist. Now that would have been funny.
Out of the box
Artist William Kentridge has an idea, one that has outraged the Home Counties. The South African suggests that statues of contentious historical figures, like Winston Churchill, should be buried up to their waists so that viewers can “look down upon them”.
Speaking to the Art Newspaper, Kentridge said that Britain was struggling to deal with its history. The current policy with regards to controversial public statues is one of “retain and explain”, but the artist believes that “reframing” such works would ease tensions in the UK’s “culture wars”. The country, he added, was lagging behind South Africa in dealing with its “shameful” histories.
During the Black Lives Matter protests in London, a protective box had been placed around the statue of Churchill in Parliament Square. “That palisade was saying, for British people, Churchill is the greatest Briton who ever lived,” Kentridge said. “But for millions of Indians who starved because all grain was taken for the British forces, he’s not a hero. I think [the UK] could just take some of these monuments of their plinths and dig a hole in the ground, then bury them up to their waists.”
Kentridge’s comments were published in The Times. Conservative readers were suitably offended. One suggested that the artist, who has a major retrospective at the Royal Academy this year, should just “fox off” back to South Africa. Others said they’d never heard of him.
The Times, incidentally, recently published a lengthy feature on Orania, the town that boasts what must be the world’s largest collection of “shameful” busts of Hendrik Verwoerd. Just saying.