When the Sheriff rode into Luthuli town

William Saunderson-Meyer writes on the liquidation proceedings against the ruining ANC


By any rational calculation, the African National Congress government is surely on its last legs. Not only morally bankrupt but financially, too. 

Its tally of own goals is awe inspiring. 

It has tanked the economy. A miasma of decay and depression hangs over the nation. Only social evils thrive.

Given this backdrop of misery, when on Monday the gods rained on the ANC’s parade, South Africans had a rare moment of pleasure.

The way it unfolded was karma. Or maybe divine intervention from beyond the grave by a vengeful Madiba, disappointed at the criminal syndicate his beloved liberation organisation has descended into. Even if were merely random, it was nevertheless a moment of exquisite symmetry.___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Just a day before the 10th anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela — an annual opportunity for the ruling party to lavish praise upon itself — the Gauteng Sheriff rode down the filthy streets of that crumbling old mining town Johannesburg, to the ANC’s national headquarters. His mission, to collect on an unpaid 2019 bill.

Leaving his pantechnicon-sized mechanical steed occupying a generous strip of loading space outside Luthuli House, he and his posse moseyed up to the heavily guarded front doors. It must have been a tense moment.

The uninviting, Brutalist-style building, named after Chief Albert Luthuli, revered former ANC president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, is now more commonly known to the public as Loot-freely House. But in the eyes of the ANC, it’s something sacrosanct.

There’s a bloody history. When Shell House, the ANC’s infamous previous headquarters a few minutes down the road, was the destination of an Inkatha Freedom Party supporters’ march in 1994, the ANC guards opened fire with automatic weapons. 

Nineteen people died in the massacre. All were IFP supporters.

The Nugent Inquiry found the ANC actions to be “not justified”, but no one was ever charged. This was in part because by the time a frustrated SA Police Service was allowed access to the building, all the firearms had been magicked away, making forensics impossible. 

Mandela later stated that it was he who had ordered Shell House to be defended, with bloodshed if needs be. It’s an injunction now baked into the ANC’s DNA. Ever since the ANC took occupation of Luthuli House in 1997, not even the meekest of public demonstrations near its precincts have gone unchallenged.

Earlier this year, the police had their hands full restraining the ANC Youth League’s self-styled “defenders” from attacking with sjamboks and staves a peaceful Democratic Alliance march to protest load-shedding. The mere presence of opposition supporters, said the ANCYL, was an intolerable provocation.

So, when the Sheriff and deputies swung through Luthuli House’s front door, who would blame them if they had their hearts in their mouths? Here they were intending to confiscate R104.5 million of assets from a political party that is laced with criminals, including some — like the country’s deputy president — who have had chilling allegations of violence and assassination made against them. 

There was also the party’s bellicose frontline battalion, the ANC Youth League, to be faced down. Earlier video footage on X showed a gang of ANCYL members threatening that when the Sheriff and his men arrived at Luthuli House, the young lions would moer them and send them packing with bloodied heads.

Fortunately, the way it played out was rather anti-climactic. The Sheriff, clearly a strategist, made his approach at sparrow’s fart, just as the city’s first bleary-eyed commuters were arriving in town. The hyped-up ANCYL warriors of social media fame were still snoring their dreadlocked heads off. 

Eventually, the ANC camouflage-clad security guards allowed the Sheriff and his deputies entrance to the building. The ANC at the highest levels had conceded that they could enter to inventory the assets but they were dissuaded from, at this stage, removing anything. 

“The Sheriff could not attach ANC assets as the party has sought recourse with the Constitutional Court,” ANC national spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri told the media afterwards.

In any case, it would have been a paltry haul. There wasn’t much worth seizing. Like the semi-automatics from Shell House, anything significant had either never been there or had been removed in expectation of the Sheriff calling.

All that was to be found was shabby, bargain-basement stuff. As the Sheriff’s valuation sheets reveal, it was more in the style of Afro-tat from Ellerines than Euro-chic from Il Lusso. 

Take a gander at some random extracts from the Sheriff’s scribbled inventory.

On the third floor, a coffee table, 12 chairs and a water cooler were estimated as likely collectively to fetch R500 on auction. On the fourth floor, there was “a lot of broken furniture” worth R500. The fifth floor had assorted shelving and a lounge suite, together worth R100. On the 9th floor, Mahogany Row, the boardroom table and 20 chairs were valued at R5,000.

Throw in a tired Ford Ranger bakkie at R100,000, lots of dated computers and printers, and some basic office furniture of kindling quality. Top that off with a brace of “wall decorations”, and the estimated grand total of the saleable contents in ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters came to a derisory R200,000 and change. 

Given the mounting scale of the ANC’s debt — it started at R87 million five years ago and is incurring compound interest at 8.75% per annum — we may soon be entertained by further attempts to sniff out other, probably more carefully concealed, assets. There is, after all, a history of the ANC’s “investment” company, Chancellor House, receiving hundreds of millions of rands from dubious procurement contracts. 

Or is it all as it appears? That in the ANC’s feckless tradition, all the bucks have been blown? 

There’s no doubt that the party is struggling. Staff routinely go three to four months at a time without receiving their salaries. It has repeatedly failed to pay over the staff’s provident fund and medical aid contributions, despite deducting these amounts from their pay packets. 

For any other employer, that would be a criminal offence, punishable with a fine of up to R10 million or imprisonment for up to 10 years. But, fortunately for it, the ANC has developed an enviable auto-immunity against legal sanctions. 

Nevertheless, if the ANC genuinely doesn’t have the money, it has a serious problem. It’s going into a general election, likely in the next six months, with its bank accounts frozen and the stigma of not having paid for the posters it commissioned for the previous general election. 

Like its Youth League a few years back, the ANC faces liquidation. Not a good look or a winning package. 

The ANC’s first response, a direct appeal to the Constitutional Court, is futile. It’s in the tradition of the Stalingrad defence mounted by disgraced former president Jacob Zuma. Using the same law-fare that Zuma has deployed to delay his prosecution for fraud and corruption for 19 years — to the vocal criticism of the Ramaphosa faction — Ramaphosa is now trying to stall the bailiffs.

Nor does the Constitutional Court appeal have much chance of success. Successive judgments in the Magistrates and High courts have ruled that the ANC did, contrary to its assertions, enter into a binding contract with Ezulwini Investments for its 2019 election banners.

Last month, a full Bench of the Supreme Court of Appeal endorsed the findings of these courts. It dismissed the ANC’s version — reiterated this week by Mbalula — that junior staffers had entered into an unsanctioned contract as “far-fetched and implausible”. Given the unanimous and unambiguous SCA judgment, it would come as a surprise if the Constitutional Court even agrees to hear the ANC’s appeal.

That may not matter. The ANC is playing for time in the same way that Ramaphosa did when he launched a similar appeal to the Constitutional Court in December last year, despite knowing that was doomed to fail. It did the job — it forestalled a National Assembly impeachment investigation.

In the past, the ANC has always averted financial disaster with a quick whip-around — or shake-down, depending on your perspective — of corporate South Africa and other, less salubrious, big-pocket supporters here and abroad. If this fails, it may be that its billionaire president, Ramaphosa, will kick in the money.

Or it might try just to make the matter go away. If the ANC can prevail upon Ezulwini to retract its claim, through either blandishments or threats, that would be a good outcome for the party. 

They’ve already dangled the carrot. Ezulwini co-owner Peter Fernando told Daily Maverick that the ANC had tried to settle out of court, offering a “ridiculous amount”, on the basis that it would then pay off the bill in small portions, as well as assuring Ezulwini that it would, as a reward, give the company “some work for the 2024 election”.

What a deal!: “If at first we don’t pay you, work for us again and again until we do.”  

Ezulwini politely declined the offer.

But with the ANC, should the carrot fail, the stick is never far behind. For the time being, I suggest that Ezulwini and its directors lock up carefully at night. 

Footnote: At the time of going to press, Ezulwini announced that Ramaphosa and a “group of ANC veterans” had intervened and “beseeched” the company to pause liquidation proceedings until next Tuesday, citing the “reputational damage” and “dire implications” that the matter had for the ANC. 

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye

SCA judgment