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.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

2019: The ones who left us

From Uyinene Mrwetyana, Oliver Mtukudzi to Xolani Gwala, Mail & Guardian remembers those who have passed on

More battles ahead for domestic worker unions

Florence Sosiba, speaks to the Mail & Guardian about how important domestic workers are and exclusion in the COIDA

“Life has been good to me, considering where I come from” – Xolani Gwala

Just over a year ago, veteran radio presenter Xolani Gwala’s cancer was in remission. He spoke to the Mail & Guardian once he was back on air.

Kanya Cekeshe’s lawyer appeals decision not to grant him bail to the high court

Kanya Cekeshe’s legal team filed an urgent appeal at the Johannesburg high court on Tuesday against Monday’s judgment by magistrate Theunis Carstens.

Leader’s principal aim to build IFP

Gravitas: Velenkosini Hlabisa brings his experience to his new post as leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Police Minister Bheke Cele addresses Jeppestown

Police minister Bheki Cele visited Jeppestown on Tuesday to speak to business owners and community leaders.

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Why anti-corruption campaigns are bad for democracy

Such campaigns can draw attention to the widespread presence of the very behaviour they are trying to stamp out — and subconsciously encourage people to view it as appropriate

Tax, wage bill, debt, pandemic: Mboweni’s tightrope budget policy statement

The finance minister has to close the jaws of the hippo and he’s likely to do this by tightening the country’s belt, again.

SA justice delays extradition of paedophile to UK

Efforts to bring Lee Nigel Tucker to justice have spanned 16 years and his alleged victims have waited for 30 years

Former state security minister Bongo back in court

Bongo and his co-accused will appear in the Nelspruit magistrate’s court in Mpumalanga over charges of fraud, corruption and theft

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday