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Rein in the snipers

Amid all the confusing tales of treachery, corruption and abuse of power of the past few weeks a few things are beyond dispute: when the Hefer Commission of Inquiry makes its findings Schabir Shaik will still be facing charges of fraud and corruption; Deputy President Jacob Zuma will still be tainted by allegations that he was involved in corruption in the arms deal; Roger and Brett Kebble will still have to answer to fraud charges in a court of law; and Mac Maharaj will still be facing an investigation into alleged corruption.

Those realities will survive the sideshow that is the Hefer commission. There will no doubt be many casualties, among them possibly National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka himself — if the commission finds that he abused his power.

When the inquiry is done, he will either be confirmed as an apartheid spy, in which case South Africa’s martyrs will spit on him from their graves, or his accusers will be deemed deceivers, in which case the living will spit on them.

But there will still be a National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that will be compelled by the South African statute to proceed with its investigations and prosecutions without fear or favour.

That is why, as tasteless and unseemly as its proceedings might be, the inquiry is welcome. It will allow us as a nation to remove the red herrings and diversions that powerful individuals have placed in the way of legitimate investigations into their affairs.

Even 10 years after the dawn of liberation, having the NPA tainted by allegations that it is headed by an apartheid spy would have wrecked it politically and left it without popular support.

So President Thabo Mbeki was correct to appoint the commission. And he has, so far correctly, publicly maintained his distance from the investigation. Getting involved in any way — either by endorsing the correctness of the investigation or dismissing the claims — would have led to charges of interference and mumblings of conspiracy.

But his silence has not stopped his organisation, the African National Congress, from embroiling itself in the battle. The ruling party has thrown its weight behind those who are being investigated and has declared in no uncertain terms that it views the investigators as enemies.

Senior party figures have been instrumental in turning public opinion against the NPA by claiming that behind the investigations lie dark intentions.

Rather than use his grip on the ANC machinery to rein in those that are using the organisation to undermine the principles of good governance, Mbeki has encouraged them with vague sniping at murky targets in his weekly newsletter, ANC Today.

In so doing he has opened the way for other dubious individuals to try and brush the NPA from their trail by suddenly prattling on about their noble commitment to right.

Mbeki should use his undoubted authority in the organisation to get the ANC to respect the legal and political process he has put in place in word and deed. He has in the past not been one to shy away from exercising this power to rein in opponents and quell dissention.

The public brawl between powerful individuals has left many South Africans confused about the meanings of right and wrong at an important moment in the country’s political history. Mbeki is head of state and should explain to the nation — not only the readers of ANC Today — the processes he has put in place and commit his government and his organisation to clean government.

Never again

We will be among the first to concede that black economic empowerment is an absolute essential in the transformation of our country. We would also lead the chorus that maintains that empowerment should not be necessary, and should certainly not be achieved by showing contempt for those who died in the fight against colonialism and racism.

We are naturally delighted that the Constitutional Court has, in the matter between state-owned diamond mining company Alexkor and the Richtersveld community, upheld the claim of the indigenous community to their ancestral land and to the mineral rights that lie beneath it. This development vindicates South Africans’ belief in the centrality of the Constitution to our body politic.

But we question the government’s haste and disingenuous argument that the indigenous people were not removed from their land as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices.

We expected better from a government that says it takes seriously its mandate from the poor and the historically dispossessed than to claim that annexation of African soil by the British Crown amounted to an innocent appropriation that could have happened to anyone.

But an even greater concern is that, with its spurious and historically fallacious argument, the government may have sent a message that it cares more for the interest of the burgeoning black middle class, who were jostling for the on-sale Alexkor stake, than it does for a better life for the dirt poor. The poor must never again have to approach the courts for the vindication of historical rights.

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