/ 20 February 2009

DA is using apartheid tactics, says Mashatile

Gauteng Premier Paul Mashatile accused the Democratic Alliance (DA) on Friday of using apartheid tactics in what is fast becoming a war of words between the DA and African National Congress (ANC).

Speaking from the floor of the Gauteng legislature, Mashatile responded to DA provincial legislature leader Jack Bloom’s filing of a complaint against him related to the alleged fraud and corruption of Carl Niehaus while he was the chief executive of the Gauteng Economic Development Agency (Geda).

The basis of the complaint, which Bloom filed at the Johannesburg Central police station on Tuesday, was that Mashatile, having known about Niehaus’s alleged fraud, was required to report it.

”I don’t think we should play games because an election is coming. We know it’s a DA strategy, when [the DA] doesn’t have anything, make them [the ANC] look corrupt,” said Mashatile.

Niehaus admitted to the Mail & Guardian last week that he had forged signatures while he was chief executive of Geda before resigning in December 2005. He also said he had borrowed money over a six-year period from some of the brightest stars of the ANC and business galaxy, much of which he has not paid back.

The DA on Thursday hit out at Mashatile over the appointment of Niehaus. Bloom said Niehaus was hired as the Geda head without the post being advertised.

”Premier Mashatile himself must take personal responsibility,” Bloom said.

Bloom said Mashatile then appointed ”his Alexandra friend Keith Khoza” as the agency head while he remained acting chairperson of the Geda board.

”… [this] was an outrageous conflict of interest,” he said.

”This isn’t free competitive capitalism that can uplift the people. I call it ‘comrade capitalism’, where you look after your buddies at the expense of the poor.”

Mashatile said the police station where Bloom filed his complaint was the same one he had been held in for ANC activities during apartheid.

”[During apartheid] they put me there because they thought by taking me away from society they will silence me,” said Mashatile.

He accused Bloom of filing a complaint against him so that he would be removed as a leader.

”I was not surprised to see you doing the same. If you can’t defeat your political opponents put them in jail. ‘Put Mashatile in jail so he can’t lead the election campaign’,” said Mashatile.

He accused the DA of using the issue of Niehaus as an election ploy, because they lacked their own ideas.

Responding later, Bloom told the South African Press Association: ”It’s absolutely ridiculous to accuse me of apartheid tactics. I’m just exercising my rights under the Constitution.

”I think he’s evading the issue.”

”Made to look like a criminal”
Mashatile also complained of his treatment in the media.

”Not only is the charge made against me, but in the newspapers … I am made to look like a criminal,” said Mashatile.

He said that he acted swiftly against Niehaus when allegations of fraud arose.

On Wednesday Mashatile said he had previously warned the ANC leadership about Niehaus. ”I informed the [ANC] secretary general [Gwede Mantashe] last year that this is the kind of person you are employing,” Mashatile told reporters at the Gauteng legislature.

He added that by this time Niehaus had already been hired by the ANC.

ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte confirmed this, saying Mantashe had been warned ”there were behavioural problems at [Geda] that weren’t professional”.

She said that this message from Mashatile resulted in a meeting between Niehaus, Mantashe and ANC national executive committee member Pallo Jordan.

”[They] talked about his behavioural problems related to debt,” said Duarte.

She added that the leadership was concerned that there could be ”repercussions” regarding his personal debt.

Speaking in the Gauteng legislature on Friday, Mashatile also cited incidents when he had sacked officials for improprieties, including those he’d worked closely with in the ANC. ”Now who’s not dealing with corruption here?” he asked.

Mashatile is no stranger to controversy. He made news headlines in 2006 when he spent nearly R100 000 on a dinner at the posh Auberge Michel restaurant in Sandton. He allegedly used his government credit card to entertain colleagues from the economics and treasury departments and the Gauteng Shared Services Centre.

However, his office dismissed suggestions that there was anything untoward about his R96 000 post-budget speech dinner bill.

Mashatile reportedly spent more than R250 000 on restaurant bills in the five months from February to June in 2006. — Sapa