Thuli Madonsela, Oilgate and us

At a conference two weeks ago, Vusi Pikoli, who lost his job as the national director of public prosecutions because he refused to halt the investigation of corrupt police chief Jackie Selebi, identified two cases as definitive for the future of South Africa’s anti-graft efforts: the arms deal and “oil for food”, better known to readers of this newspaper as Oilgate.

We agree.

Of course, an “investigation” into the diversion of funds from parastatal oil company PetroSA to the ANC was done by public protector Thuli Madonsela’s predecessor, Lawrence Mushwana, but it was a shameful whitewash that defamed the Mail & Guardian and, more importantly, failed to do anything of substance to uncover the truth.

“Much of what has been published by the M&G was factually incorrect, based on incomplete information and documentation and comprised unsubstantiated suggestions and unjustified speculation,” the report said.

In fact, investigators at the office of the public protector had not even downloaded the crucial supporting documents that we had posted on our website or conducted the most elementary follow-up.

The Supreme Court of Appeal set aside Mushwana’s report, which we had taken on judicial review, and Madonsela announced on Wed­nesday that she would not challenge that ruling. Instead, she said, she would discuss the report with us in an effort to determine a way forward.

Those are welcome remarks. In our view, the court judgment is as much a victory for Madonsela and her office as it is for us, setting out as it does the wide scope of her investigative powers and the importance of her constitutional mandate to operate without “fear, favour or prejudice”, which is exactly what she seems to be doing.

“The public protector must not only discover the truth but must also inspire confidence that the truth has been discovered,” Judge Robert Nugent wrote.

We were also very pleased that the court set the record straight on our journalistic practice, which was rigorous in bringing the scandal to light.

We would like to hear this clearly acknowledged by the public protector too and we look forward to discussing it with her.

Unfortunately, the true scale of the Oilgate affair, painstakingly detailed in the M&G over three years, has largely been forgotten.

The baldest facts of the saga, those surrounding the diversion of cash from PetroSA to the ANC by Sandi Majali, who has since died, are well known. But less so are the apparent connivance of some of our most senior politicians and the touting of our foreign policy to then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in return for oil deals.

The documentary record that we put into the public domain in the course of our reporting and that of our litigation against the public protector is a compelling basis for further investigation. Whatever happens as a result of the current controversy surrounding Madonsela, that investigation should now begin.

For more news on the Oilgate saga click here:

Nic Dawes


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