/ 6 November 2009

Ozinsky: ‘I can’t stay silent’

I'm a political activist. I joined the ANC in 1983 when I was 20 and shortly afterwards Umkhonto weSizwe.

I’m a political activist. I joined the ANC in 1983 when I was 20 and shortly afterwards Umkhonto weSizwe. I was young and passionate and wanted to liberate our country.

In 1987 I was forced to leave the country but returned to Cape Town as part of Operation Vula in 1989. Since then I have served in various leadership structures of the ANC in the Western Cape.

Some say I’m a hard man. Some say the ANC made me hard. I have witnessed many things in the service of our movement. I even had the misfortune to stand next to my provincial secretary, Mcebisi Skwatsha, as so-called ANC members stabbed and attempted to murder him.

At all times I have tried to act in a manner that upholds the traditions of honesty, volunteerism and sacrifice that mark the ANC.
I know I’ve made some mistakes. Nevertheless, despite my shortcomings, I have twice been elected by the ANC branches as regional secretary and later twice as deputy provincial secretary.

Since 1994 I’ve seen many good comrades corrupted by power in government, business or both. Because of this, I took a decision that while I was a public representative I wouldn’t get involved in business or be beholden to any interests.

My pursuit over the years as an ANC public representative was and is simple: ensuring effective oversight of government and ensuring that the programmes of the ANC are implemented.

It was in trying to do my job that I was confronted by serious misuses of power by comrade Ebrahim Rasool.

Rasool says that Skwatsha and I destroyed him and his premiership, that we gave information to the DA. The SACP provincial secretary implied that we are impimpis.

Rasool also says I stopped the building of a hospital in Mitchells Plain, leaving the impression that I had something to do with depriving coloured people of a much-needed amenity.

Rasool made this accusation because I opposed his government’s selling its most valuable asset, Somerset Hospital, prime real-estate valued at more than R1-billion.

He has left me no choice but to defend myself. Unless we are honest about the real problems facing the ANC in the province, the ANC will never be able to regain the trust of the people of the Western Cape.

The decision to release the funds for the construction of the hospital was the prerogative of the national treasury. I had no influence over it.

My questioning of the sale was an attempt to ensure that there was no corruption. For halting the transaction the ANC’s provincial leadership received widespread praise. It is something of which I am proud, believing that in the process I have helped to look after the best interests of the province and its people.

As for Rasool’s allegations about leaks to the DA, for which he has provided no evidence, it is as well to consider his own record. Rasool’s term as premier can be understood only if you understand his relationship with the media.

In the run-up to the 2003 ANC’s list process to prepare for the 2004 national and provincial elections, then community and safety MEC Leonard Ramatlakane, who was a close ally of Rasool, got his department to produce an ”intelligence report”. This was leaked to the press as an official document. It said there were three factions in the ANC in the Western Cape and that I, a white, was a leader of the ”Africanist” faction.

The Cape Argus ran a series of libellous articles based on this document in an apparent campaign to undermine potential rivals to Rasool. Eventually he became premier after an election campaign coordinated by Skwatsha and myself.

Rasool became intimately involved in briefing journalists, and at least one senior journalist from the Cape Argus, but I believe more, benefited financially from their proximity to a web of companies contracted by the province. I don’t make this allegation lightly; there is proof. The journalist was compelled to resign because of it.

Rasool also met with representatives of companies that were aggrieved by the outcome of a tender process in the then ANC-controlled City of Cape Town. He then leaked information to The Voice and the Cape Argus, which wrote false stories that Skwatsha was involved in a R40-million fraud.

At the time Rasool was provincial chairperson of the ANC. Instead of raising the issue with his provincial secretary, Skwatsha, Rasool instructed South African Police Service Captain Piet Viljoen to raid the city council offices. The ANC and its mayor, Nomaindia Mfeketo, were deeply embarrassed by this action. The National Prosecuting Authority declined to prosecute the case.

Although Rasool denied in a press conference that it was he who briefed the police to obtain the search warrant, he confessed doing so in a meeting with the national officials of the ANC.

Skwatsha’s traffic fines, which he had already paid, were also leaked to The Voice.

In 2007 a document from the forensic investigation unit of Rasool’s office was leaked to the Mail & Guardian in an attempt to accuse Skwatsha of corruption in the sale of state land. Skwatsha’s actions were vindicated by the high court even though Rasool refused him legal assistance.

Out of loyalty to the ANC I’ve not commented on these matters. I now believe that my silence has allowed the damage to continue for too long.

While I deny ever giving documents to the DA, I want to confess to giving documents to the Cape Argus that helped expose the Rasool government’s relationship with senior journalists.

In 2006 the ANC was asked by the lawyers for the newspaper to provide them with evidence for the allegations that journalists were paid to write stories. A formal decision was taken by the provincial leadership of the ANC that, to protect the best interests of the party, documents in our possession should be handed over. We provided the same evidence to the national leadership of the ANC.
A disciplinary process was undertaken at the paper that led to the quiet resignation of one journalist, but I do not believe that the full story of this extraordinary scandal was ever told. Comrade Rasool, and those media institutions that worked with him, must come clean about who really campaigned to destroy the ANC in the province, and how.

Max Ozinsky is the ANC’s chief whip in the Western Cape legislature. He writes on his own behalf