It all went horribly wrong

“How am I doing?” asked Mac Maharaj during one of the lunch breaks as he walked with his entourage of Mo Shaik, Ranjeni Munusamy and their lawyers at the Hefer commission in Bloemfontein this week.

Their answer to this question should have been: “It’s going badly wrong!”

The commission was essentially set up to investigate Maharaj’s claims that the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, was an apartheid spy. Maharaj’s answer—“I don’t know, ask Mo Shaik.”

At the end of the day Ngcuka’s legal team was beaming, with one commenting: “We are done with Mac, bring Mo.”

Former African National Congress intelligence operative Mo Shaik has backed Maharaj’s claim that Ngcuka was a spy. So far, neither has been able to produce concrete, or even convincing, evidence.
“Mathematically I don’t know, but in the world of intelligence I would think he was,” said Shaik. He added that on the basis of the evidence he had in front of him he could not say Ngcuka was not a spy.

More worryingly, Shaik said he would not reveal his sources, prompting retired Judge Joos Hefer to comment that he would therefore not take that particular information seriously. Worse, evidence leader Kessie Naidu said because Shaik himself could not testify to the authenticity of the documents, his evidence amounted to no more than “gossip”.

Without evidence to back his claims that Ngcuka was a former apartheid spy who was using his office to discredit ANC leaders, Maharaj had to rely on bluster. And—tragically—he ended up pawning his legacy as a leader of the struggle against apartheid, his reputation as one of the ANC’s great strategists and his standing among the bravest of those who took up arms against the oppression of the majority of South Africans.

The only facts he could produce before the commission were that he had co-written the Constitution’s preamble, the pain his family suffered once it became known he was being investigated by the National Prosecuting Authority for corruption, and his struggle tribulations.

But, as the hours droned on and it became obvious that Maharaj was essentially asking the commission to believe the allegations because he made them, his stature diminished. As Judge Hefer asked, “Relevance? Relevance?” Maharaj’s noble past seemed to count for less and less.

His past was further besmirched when this former icon of the struggle against racial oppression revealed that he chose to believe one of the worst leftovers of the apartheid regime, when confronted with the allegations against Ngcuka.

During the hearing Maharaj acknowledged that one of the people who cooperated in a television documentary to back up the spy claims was notorious Eastern Cape policeman Gideon Nieuwoudt. The former security policeman was implicated in most of the high-profile murders of Eastern Cape anti-apartheid activists.

The only time Maharaj seemed threatening was when Ngcuka’s lawyers sought to reveal that he was not completely exonerated by the First Rand inquiry into whether there could have been conflicts of interests in contracts he awarded as a minister. “I knew they would abuse the information and smuggle it in here,” Maharaj said of the Scorpions.

He succeeded in persuading the commission that the report of the investigators into numerous expenses and contracts not be brought before it. But not before Marumo Moerane, senior counsel appearing for Ngcuka, had alluded to the First Rand report, saying Maharaj was not a fit and proper person to hold certain offices.

Much of Maharaj’s initial testimony was about his anger at the way the Scorpions, “who have so much power to arrest and prosecute”, colluded with journalists to reveal information about him and his wife. Sometimes his voice creaked with emotion as he wondered loudly about allegations against himself.

“I could never sacrifice my wife. I would never have sold out anyone in the struggle. To this day my wife has still not been charged. To this day we live with that cloud. If this happens in this office [the National Prosecuting Authority] what honour do we have as a nation?”

Laughed out of court, Maharaj was left with nothing more than empty bravado and empty victories. He told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that he was happy he had highlighted the “abuse” that emanated from Ngcuka’s office—a charge that remains completely unproved.

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane

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