ANC bigwigs turn out at Yengeni's send-off

African National Congress national executive committee (NEC) member Tony Yengeni, who was swept to the gates of Pollsmoor prison on a wave of solidarity from party officials, suggested on Thursday that Parliament erred in its handling of his fraud case.

“Now, normally, if you break the rules of Parliament, what happens is that you are taken through a parliamentary process. There is a committee that investigates those breaches of parliamentary rules and then, in the end, Parliament comes to a certain determination.

“Those things were not done. An issue that was blatantly a Parliament issue was hijacked and criminalised,” he said.

Yengeni was addressing a crowd of supporters outside the prison’s gates, where he had to report for his first day of a four-year sentence following a dismissal on Monday of an appeal against the sentence.

In 2003, he was convicted of fraud related to the multibillion-rand arms deal after he accepted a discount on a luxury vehicle from one of the bidders.

On Monday, he lost an application for leave to appeal his four-year jail sentence. In terms of the sentence conditions he is eligible to be out in eight months, possibly four months if a general presidential amnesty is taken into consideration.

Yengeni, speaking for the first time about the matter, said his personal feeling is that the democratic movement and its people should exercise vigilance and ensure that the mistakes of apartheid are not repeated.

“So, I’m saying that even the judiciary ... in exercising its powers, it should be extremely cautious about how they carry out those duties. A citizen of the country should not be easily removed from society and put into a cage,” he said.

Yengeni, who toyi-toyied the last hundred metres of freedom with a phalanx of vocal supporters, said imprisonment should be reserved for very dangerous criminals, for people who are “violently criminal”, and not for the innocent.

He thanked his family for their support and said that those who think his time in jail will break him are in for a surprise. “The English say those who laugh last, laugh best.” He said he will emerge stronger and continue with ANC activities.

Proclaiming his innocence, Yengeni also targeted the media, suggesting that they misinformed the public. “You would think I broke into Parliament and stole the safe and went away with the safe,” he said, adding that his judgement only spoke of him not disclosing a discount in Parliament’s register of member’s interests.

“They don’t say that. They’ll give the arms deal, they’ll talk about corruption, they’ll talk about all sorts of things,” he said, supported throughout by his wife, Lumka, and immediate family.

Pandemonium

There was brief pandemonium at the prison entrance as he was led in, as prison warders used electrically charged shields to push back throngs of supporters. Minister of Housing Lindiwe Sisulu and Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete had to be ushered through the milling crowd and excited dogs.

Yengeni, who was driven to prison in a top-of-the-range, supercharged Range Rover, would have to swap his designer clothes for standard-issue prison garb.

Yengeni was supported by senior ANC officials, including Western Province Premier Ebrahim Rasool, provincial ANC chairperson James Ngculu and ANC chief whip in Parliament Mbulelo Goniwe, among others.

“We are not able to look at the merits or demerits of the case itself, but we can proudly proclaim that Tony Yengeni is one of us. Tony Yengeni is us and we are Tony Yengeni,” said Goniwe.

He warned that the targeting of ANC revolutionary politicians will continue, with the intention being to demonise the ruling party and weaken it. He said the only thing that can save the ANC is the sort of solidarity and unity being shown to Yengeni.

“Let us not be misled by this concerted media campaign that seeks to depict our leaders, time-tested revolutionaries, as criminals today in this country,” said Goniwe.

‘Old friend’

Earlier, outside Yengeni’s Milnerton home, Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad said Yengeni will remain a member of the ANC’s NEC.

“The NEC has not discussed the matter. It would be a matter for the disciplinary committee to make a decision, and as far as I am aware, they have made no such decision,” said Pahad outside Yengeni’s house.

He described Yengeni as “a very old friend” who had fought side by side with him in the liberation struggle for about 20 years. “I am very sad that Tony is going to prison and I am here to wish him well as a friend, but also as a member of the NEC of the ANC,” said Pahad.

Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool, who arrived shortly after Pahad, said it was a “sad day” for Yengeni’s family as well as the ANC. Rasool said the key thing is that Yengeni decided to pay the price for what he did. “But it doesn’t mean that we must deepen the sadness by making him lonely and obliterating the contribution he has made to the struggle.”

Rasool said Yengeni still has a role to play upon his release from prison.

Ngculu said the decision to imprison Yengeni was “harsh”.

“In our own view Tony didn’t steal money. Tony was not found with his hands in any pie or till. He didn’t declare a discount,” said Ngculu outside Yengeni’s Milnerton home in Cape Town. “In my own view, and I think in [that of] many of us, we are of the view that the court could have given a bit of leniency in the way in which the sentence was given.”—Sapa

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