When our reporters decided to dig deeper into Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s affairs and his interactions with Cricket South Africa this week, they stumbled on a familiar player in our body politic: the Gupta family.
It was a bit of a surprise finding in this unfamiliar terrain, but the information pointed to the family’s interest and influence in the administration of sport and its not-so-great relationship with Mbalula.
But the name was there all right and, suddenly, an inquiry into some cricket administrators who did not want their finances probed had ANC Mangaung 2012 connotations.
Various other instances are leading to the conclusion that everything and anything will henceforth be influenced by politicians with an eye to 2012. But unlike before Polokwane, where we had open hostility between former president Thabo Mbeki and President Jacob Zuma, you now have two coy presidential candidates who are not playing their cards openly, leading to wild speculation, reasonable inferences and conspiracy theories.
In Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, you have a leader who has not played his hand ever since speculation arose that he was being lobbied to challenge Zuma. No one knows exactly where he stands, other than that he will not stand if he is made to challenge Zuma because of his fear that it would rip the ANC apart in the same way that Polokwane did in 2007.
In Zuma, you have a wily fox who has long been in the intelligence game but is inclined to burst out laughing when he is asked tough questions.
The difference is that he has made it clear that he is interested in another term (if ANC branches want him). This is in spite of the fact that ANC veteran Zola Skweyiya told me in an interview in 2007 that Zuma had assured him that he wanted to serve only one term. Independent Newspapers also quoted Zuma as saying that he wanted only one term, but the president has subsequently insisted that he was misquoted by the reporter.
The era of innuendo, hinting and allegations went into overdrive this week when the presidency announced that it would release the findings of the Donen commission of inquiry into the Iraq Oil for Food programme.
The opposition immediately released a statement warning that it hoped the findings were not being released because of the aforementioned ulterior motives. Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Athol Trollip cautioned that “the timing of the presidency’s announcement is, therefore, interesting, given that the report is said to implicate two figures who appear to be opposed to President Zuma’s continued leadership of the ANC. Having fought the release of the report thus far, the question that must be asked of the presidency is: Why now?”
Steps taken by the government to improve the free flow of information must be applauded. But it is crucial that information is released into the public domain for the right reasons and not as a means to fight internal political battles.
The two figures referred to are Motlanthe and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, both regarded as close to Youth League president Julius Malema, who is on a personal and political quest to get rid of Zuma as president. And the presidency itself seems cognisant of how the release could be interpreted, saying it was aware of the potential misuse of the contents of the report.
This is what may well happen. Recently, when National Intelligence Agency head Gibson Njenje had a falling-out with Intelligence Minister Siyabonga Cwele and subsequently announced that he was quitting the agency, it emerged he was uncomfortable that he was being asked to spy on political opponents of the dominant faction of the ruling party.
It also came to light that the people who had complained about him to the president were none other than the Guptas, with whom the Zuma family has close links.
Similarly, Mbeki got rid of his head of intelligence, Billy Masetlha, just before Polokwane when the latter was getting drawn into the political terrain.
When Motlanthe had another plane scare this week, someone suggested he should not take another flight until after the ANC conference in Mangaung in December 2012. This was hilarious at best but it is open season on speculation and conjecture.
As someone asked me this week: Surely if, as the presidency said, public interest is the reason the Donen report was released, soon public interest will dictate that we should get a report on how leaked intelligence tapes ended up in the hands of Zuma’s lawyers, ultimately exonerating him?