Three questions for Kebby Maphatsoe to answer

Paul Trewhela says the deputy defence minister has displayed a disturbing lack of judgment

Kebby Maphatsoe - the deputy minister of Defence and Military Veterans, and chairman of the uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) - confessed to Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Piet Rampedi in the Sunday Times (14 September) that he lost his right arm in a failed attempt to escape from an ANC camp in Uganda in January 1991.

He had previously misled the public and MK veterans about the manner in which he had lost his arm, saying on one occasion, as reported in the Sunday Times, that he had been "involved in a car accident", and on another, that "a hand grenade exploded in his hand."

This confession followed his even more outlandish allegation earlier this month that Thuli Madonsela, the Public Prosecutor, is a "CIA agent".

True, Mr Maphatsoe withdrew his allegation and apologised to Ms Madonsela several days later, in a damage-limitation exercise required by the government.

There are too many outstanding questions, however, about the background of Mr Maphatsoe, for which answers have not been provided to the public. In a parliamentary democracy this is unacceptable in a government minister.

These questions include the following:

1. The exact character of Mr Maphatsoe's role in MK in exile. This is important, because his becoming chairman of MKMVA was his first step towards inclusion on the ANC party list prior to the last general election, and thus to his appointment as an MP and then as deputy minister of Defence (with no previous experience as an MP, or as member of a legislative assembly, or as municipal councillor).

Above all in view of the Defence post to which he was appointed by President Jacob Zuma, fellow MK veterans as well as the public have a right to know the truth about his military background.

In his interview in the Sunday Times, Mr Maphatsoe revealed for the first time that he had "worked largely as a cook at the Moscow military camp in Angola, and later in Uganda, rather than as a front-line soldier." He had never previously made this clear to members of MKMVA, or to voters before or after the last general election.

Describing him as "this MK deserter", the former Minister of Intelligence and before that, head of Military Intelligence in MK, Ronnie Kasrils, last week in a letter to the Mail & Guardian further demanded that he either "produce the evidence" for a separate allegation he had made about Kasrils in a way that could be tested in a court of law, or "retract his accusation." Kasrils described the allegation, which he categorically denied, as "cowardly and false".

In a constituency-based electoral system, as in Britain or the United States, no deputy minister in charge of the country's armed forces could remain in post, or even continue as an MP, with such bizarre unclarified questions about that person's suitability for office. Only the party list system permits such a degree of unaccountability in South Africa. Parliamentary democracy in South Africa is itself tarnished and made ridiculous, along with the ANC military veterans' association.

2. Mr Maphatsoe has never adequately responded to allegations of mismanagement and abuse of funds, relating to his chairmanship of MKMVA. Detailed allegations were made, in this regard, in an application to the South Gauteng High Court on 1 June 2012 by an MK veteran, Omry Mathabatha Makgoale, a former bodyguard of Oliver Tambo in Lusaka, district commander of MK in Luanda and the chairman elected in September 1989 of the Regional Political Committee representing all ANC exiles in Tanzania.

In February 1984 Mr Makgoale prevented a massacre of ANC troops by the Angolan presidential guard at Viana camp outside Luanda, through negotiation with its commander, Colonel Antonio dos Santos Franca ("Ndalo", later chief of MPLA government armed forces), by persuading protesting MK soldiers to surrender their weapons. He was then arrested by the ANC security department, Mbokodo ("the grindstone"), tortured and detained for four years in Quatro prison camp, where he was regularly beaten by guards. Mr Makgoale has never hidden his past. (Nor has he boasted about it). His history has been available in print since 1990, and I republished it in my book Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPO (Jacana, 2009).

The case brought by Mr Makgoale (no. 2012/19824) fell away when Mr Maphatsoe and three fellow members of the MKMVA executive committee made no response to the application, having been cited as respondents. The application was made by Mr Makgoale in his capacity as the elected secretary of another body of MK veterans, the Commissariat, in terms of resolutions passed at a cadres' assembly of more than a thousand MK veterans held at Tshwane Institute of Technology, Shoshanguve, Pretoria/Tshwane in April 2011.

Details of the allegations of the mismanagement of funds on the part of Mr Maphatsoe and his three co-respondents, as revealed in findings by the accountants SizweNtsalubaGobodo, can be read online in an article by Lionel Faull in the Mail & Guardian on 15 June 2012, headed "Leading MK vets 'looted millions'". These allegations have not been adequately contested, or refuted.

(It should be noted that a second government minister, Ms Ayanda Dlodlo - the deputy minister of Public Service and Administration - was cited as a fellow respondent with Mr Maphatsoe in the original application made in court by Mr Makgoale.)

A further application is now likely to be made in court.

In a major article by Thuletho Zwane in the Mail &Guardian last week, headed "MK vets slug it out over war chest", a legal representative acting on behalf of Mr Makgoale stated: "We are preparing for a case; the case is not dead. We have been trying to verify aspects of the story with the intent to take proper legal action."

The newspaper stated it was "in possession of the latest court papers alleging that those in control of the MKMVA assets, among which Maphatsoe is the best known, are trying to liquidate holdings, sometimes at well below their actual value."

In one instance, it reported, Mr Makgoale claimed MKMVA leaders were intent on selling assets at a tiny fraction of their value. He was reported as stating last week: "They told us they wanted to sell the shares for R5-million when we knew they were at least worth R126-million."

The M&G reported that "Maphatsoe roundly dismissed the claims as a ‘waste of time' and said Makgoale was fishing for information.

"Maphatsoe said that shares were housed in a holding company to which he had no access, and that the MKMVA did not have share certificates for some of the shares Makgoale alleged were being sold, because of long-running leadership and financial battles within the organisation." It reported Maphatsoe as claiming "this was a personal vendetta against him."

Instead of Mr Maphatsoe and his fellow respondents replying in court to the original allegations in June 2012, the Commissariat - on behalf of which Mr Makgoale was acting - was effectively dissolved shortly afterwards by the ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe.

Mr Makgoale (MK name Sidwell Moroka, or Mhlongo) and another member of the Commissariat (Eddie Mokhoanatse, MK name Alex Mashinini) were then arbitrarily stripped of their membership of MKMVA by its executive, headed by Mr Maphatsoe.

They were likewise excluded from the MKMVA national conference held at Birchwood Conference Centre, Boksburg, in October 2012, preceding the ANC national elective conference held in Mangaung in December that year. The elective conference at Mangaung placed Mr Maphatsoe on the ANC National Executive Committee, from which he was placed on the ANC party list for election as an MP in the general election this year. From there he was appointed deputy minister of Defence.

Neither the government nor the ANC made any proper inquiry into the allegations against Mr Maphatsoe, as placed before the court. A statement sent to City Press by Mr Makgoale on 11 October 2012 prior to the MKMVA conference at Birchwood Conference Centre in Boksburg, stated:

"The key issues affecting this conference are similar to those affecting mother body (ANC):

Lack of Accountability- there are no financial statements from 1996 up today.

Rampant Corruption of MKMVA officials- see attached Gobodo Forensic Report.

Fly by Night MK members - No proper accreditation - they still recruit for MK even today.

"The incumbent leadership has been in office from 2007 to date. They have never produced financial report throughout their term of office. They have been supported by ANC NEC members throughout their term in office.

"I am requesting City Press to follow up on this conference in the interest of clean governance in the country."

3. The threatening language in which Mr Maphatsoe is reported as having described the Public Protector as a "CIA agent".

Under other circumstances, this phrase might be regarded as merely personally offensive, or extreme, or unhinged. In the context of MK as a military organisation which saw action in the last three decades of the Cold War, this phrase can only be seen historically - especially when coming from the chairman of MKMVA and deputy minister of Defence - as carrying a potentially dangerous threat.

In exile, the use of the term "agent" against an ANC member always contained the possibility that the accused person could be killed, or tortured, or detained without trial, indefinitely.

Its crazy logic was summed up in the Shishita report ("Report on subversive activities of police agents in our movement," issued 1 July 1981), which attacked a leading ANC member in exile, Mark Shope, and a colleague, Albert Dhlomo, in the following words:

"Objectively these comrades are playing the role of enemy agents or provocateurs despite the fact that they were never formally recruited."

(Quoted in Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren, The Devil in the Detail: How the Arms Deal Changed Everything, Jonathan Ball, 2011. p.53).

Mr Maphatsoe's charge against the Public Protector carried the same sinister logic: "I don't like what you say, so you are an enemy agent, and we will do whatever we like to you."

This was indeed an attack on the foundations of the Constitution, by a member of the government.

Coming from a minister in charge of the armed forces of the state, language of this kind carries the threat of a coup, or purge. (Think of Stalin's purges of his political enemies, or perceived enemies, or possible future potential enemies - all called "agents of Hitler", or "agents of US imperialism", or whatever).

It was in this sense that the former MK commander and subsequent chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Siphiwe Nyanda, two years ago described the use of MKMVA personnel under Mr Maphatsoe's command as that of a "private army". ("'MKMVA is divisive' - Nyanda slams ANC's army veterans", Sunday World, 3 September 2012)

Allowing for Mr Maphatsoe's apology and withdrawal of his accusation against the Public Protector, two other questions follow from this.

First. How suitable is a man with such a lack of judgment, and who told untruths about his past, as the representative of an association of military veterans?

Second. Why was this man appointed deputy minister of Defence?

By keeping Mr Maphatsoe in a command position in the armed forces of the state, the government is failing in its duty of accountability to the people.

Ahead of the likely impending legal action, Mr Maphatsoe should be stood down as government minister, as an MP, and as a member of the executive committee of MKMVA, ahead of a full resolution of these outstanding issues.

The integrity of the government, of the ANC and of MKMVA is at stake.

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