/ 1 January 2002

Editorial: Morkelgate

THE media fest over the relationship between the Democratic Alliance’s Western Cape leader, Gerald Morkel, and millionaire fugitive from German justice Jurgen Harksen partly reflects the life and death battle between the DA and the New National Party in the Western Cape.

The signs are that the NNP, which plundered the DA database when the alliance split last year, has leaked the information as part of a broader campaign in readiness for floor-crossing laws.

But this does not mean that the allegations are devoid of truth.

A DA inquiry has to date found no evidence that Harksen paid Morkel’s rent and legal fees and nothing in DA bank accounts to indicate that the German donated $75 000 to the party. Leaving aside the possibility of a snow job, the police may uncover evidence not accessible to the DA.

Harksen’s relationship with Morkel certainly seems more substantial than initially admitted. More importantly, the DA could not probe last week’s damaging reports that a senior Absa official has been suspended,allegedly in relation to a secretive, and possibly irregular, donation of DM99 000 after a fund-raising event addressed by Morkel.

It is important to grasp what is at issue here. If Morkel arranged any donation, he did not breach any law on party funding, as none exists.

Harksen has not been convicted of a crime here or in Germany; and Morkel could not influence his extradition proceedings. Morkel acted foolishly by associating with a man under a large cloud.

But the immensely plausible German seems to have ingratiated himself with half of Cape Town’s professional, political and social elite. He gave money to a range of charities.

According to Noseweek, the African National Congress took a large handout from him. What is centrally at issue in Morkel’s case is the truthfulness of public representatives. He has steadfastly denied all allegations against him.

If the Absa inquiry exposes him as a liar, the DA will have to dump him — whatever the fallout from expelling another coloured NNP leader and the impact on the fragile DA caucus in the Cape Town council. It should be remembered that DA leaders made a huge song and dance about Mpumalanga Premier Ndaweni Mahlangu’s defence of lying politicians.

The Harksen imbroglio has turned the spotlight on the complex question of party funding in South Africa. As the Institute for Democracy in South Africa has argued, public disclosure of private funding along British lines has clear advantages.

For all parties it would lay bare links between funding and policy, and make it harder for society’s undesirables to buy respectability and influence. More critically, it would expose any undue influence on the actions of the governing party, particularly the award of state contracts.

But in a politically polarised country like ours, with high levels of intolerance, it could devastate the opposition. Few corporate donors would risk being branded opposition supporters. These and related issues, including the capping of electoral funding and party donations from abroad, need public debate.

The Mail & Guardian reported recently that the Taiwanese government bought an extension of diplomatic relations by grubstaking the ANC. The public has a right to know that national policy reflects the national interest, not the size of the ANC’s overdraft.

Suffer the children …
Every school year, the same dismal story; and, every year, the same unfulfilled promises of improvement.

When this newspaper asked provincial education departments in December last year about their readiness to supply schools with stationery and textbooks, all nine departments provided a uniformly rosy picture: everything was on track for the 2002 school year.

The Eastern Cape department was emphatic: all learning materials would get to all schools by January 23. Yet, as we report this week, 60 000 pupils in one region of the Eastern Cape are still waiting for stationery and textbooks. Supported by their teachers, parents and teacher unions, they are boycotting classes in an attempt to force the department to act, and their schooling has ground to a halt.

Once again, the system has failed some of South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens – poor, rural children. And, once again, it is provincial government that demonstrates its alarming failure to deliver on its most fundamental obligations.

For years, the late delivery of learning materials has hamstrung the annual opening of schools and denied our children their full constitutional rights to basic education. Not one province managed full delivery of materials by the end of January 2001.

In September last year Minister of Education Kader Asmal fired a warning shot across provinces’ bows. If they do not solve their own problems, the national government will take action, he said. His weapon is section 100 of the Constitution, which empowers the central government to assume responsibility for executive obligations when a province cannot or does not fulfil them.

Taking his cue from President Thabo Mbeki’s state of the nation address, in which he pledged the government’s commitment to improving the plight of our most disadvantaged children, Asmal should invoke section 100 now. We cannot afford another lost generation of schoolchildren.