Speculation is mounting in ANC circles that Ebrahim Rasool, the former Western Cape premier who is South Africa’s ambassador to the US, could be recalled from Washington.
The rumour mill went into overdrive at the ANC centenary celebrations in Mangaung last weekend, with party members saying they had heard that Rasool would have to return to South Africa to face the music and defend himself after he was implicated in the “brown-envelope” scandal.
Rasool was appointed South Africa’s ambassador to Washington in 2010 under a cloud, amid allegations that he paid journalists to write articles favourable to his administration while he was premier of the Western Cape.
Although the department of international relations and cooperation has strongly denied that Rasool could be recalled, ANC sources have claimed that former ANC youth league secretary general Vuyiswa Tulelo has been earmarked as a possible replacement for Rasool.
However, the director of media relations in the department, Nelson Kgwete, said the rumours were unfounded. “There are no negotiations taking place with ambassador Rasool,” said Kgwete. “He remains in his key post.”
The Cape Argus published an article in July 2010, based on an affidavit by its former political journalist Ashley Smith, in which he alleged that he and the newspaper’s former political editor Joe Aranes were paid through a media company he co-owned to write stories to further Rasool’s political career.
Both Rasool and Aranes have denied the claims.
While Rasool was packing his bags for Washington, calls grew within the provincial ANC and opposition parties for President Jacob Zuma to withdraw his candidacy after ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe confirmed Rasool had been fired because of the allegations.
Rasool is believed to be travelling abroad and attempts to reach him for comment this week were unsuccessful. However, any moves to replace him in Washington might not go down well, as Rasool is considered to be well liked by the Americans, with his presence seen as an important emollient in what is an increasingly testy relationship.
Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela did not respond to a query from the Mail & Guardian about the progress of the police investigation into the scandal.
This week, some ANC sources claimed that Rasool was coming back to face possible criminal charges over the scandal, and others claimed he was being called back to sort out the ANC in the province with his nemesis, Mcebisi Skwatsha.
One source said Rasool’s possible recall could be based on the damaging submission of corruption allegations by Western Cape director general Brent Gerber to the Hawks, and possibly also on the findings of an internal ANC investigation that was conducted some years ago into the matter.
“The ANC is pre-empting the outcome of the criminal process started by the Democratic Alliance (DA) government, a process that could see Rasool facing criminal charges,” said the source. “It would be damaging to the ANC to be seen to be covering up.”
An ANC national executive committee (NEC) member said they had heard about the recall “in Mangaung and not in a formal way”.
“I heard that it was for a relatively good reason that he [Rasool] has to sort out the brown-envelope scandal. The other unconvincing reason was that he has to come and sort out the [ANC in the] province with Skwatsha,” said the NEC member.
On Wednesday, Tulelo denied that she was going to Washington as an ambassador, but said that when she was in Bloemfontein last weekend, people were referring to her as ambassador.
“There is no such thing. I heard it in Bloemfontein, people saying: ‘Hi, ambassador’. I cannot confirm something that has not come to me,” she said. But a former ANC Youth League executive member close to Tulelo said he was positive that she was going to Washington and that she wanted to go.
“Of course she wants to keep it under wraps as Gwede [Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general] can always change his mind on this deployment,” said the source.
In August 2010, the DA-led Western Cape government submitted a report of “alleged corruption against Rasool and others” to the police commercial crimes unit. The dossier related to allegations that journalists were paid to spin stories in Rasool’s favour.
At the time, Western Cape premier Helen Zille said this was the procedure required by the Prevention of Corrupt Activities Act. “The report, which has been compiled by the forensic unit of the provincial administration, deals with the allegations of corruption involving contracts with communications companies during the premiership of Mr Rasool,” she said.
According to Zille, about R80-million was paid to three communications companies over four years, allegedly all linked to one another. “It is also alleged that this money was filtered for various purposes, including the alleged payments to journalists,” she told the provincial parliament. “It is essential to follow the path of the full R80-million and it is for this reason that we call for lifestyle audits of key politicians in high posts during the Rasool era.”