War of words follows Mbeki spat

Moeletsi Mbeki has threatened to sue over the publication of the resignation letter of the forum’s former chief executive, Prince Mashele. (Lisa Skinner, M&G)

Moeletsi Mbeki has threatened to sue over the publication of the resignation letter of the forum’s former chief executive, Prince Mashele. (Lisa Skinner, M&G)

The row between  Moeletsi Mbeki's Forum for Public Dialogue (FPD) and its former chief executive, Prince Mashele, escalated this week, following the publication last week of details of Mashele's resignation letter in the Mail & Guardian.

Mbeki told the M&G he would sue the newspaper over the publication of the letter and the FPD's board has released a statement denying Mashele's allegations that a potentially sensitive research report of the political views of Cosatu shop stewards was suppressed to protect a deal involving Mbeki and the Cosatu metal­workers' affiliate, Numsa.

Now records of a forum board meeting obtained by the Mail & Guardian casts doubt on the foundation's version of events.

At the heart of the dispute is Mashele's planned release of parts of the report before the ANC's Mangaung elective conference last December. Apparently these would have shown that shop-floor officials did not support the re-election of Jacob Zuma as party president.

The board claims in a statement issued by veteran labour journalist and board member Terry Bell that Mashele's moves to publicise the findings were in defiance of its direct instructions not to do so, and that Mashele was suspended for doing so.

However, no such instruction appears to have been issued at the meeting at which Mashele briefed the board about his plans. At that meeting Mashele presented a progress report and plans about releasing the political component of the study before the ANC congress.

Last week, Mbeki refused to respond to the M&G's questions unless the newspaper gave him evidence that Mashele's claims were true.
However, the board came to his defence on Monday.

Sensitive study
Bell, in whose name the statement was issued, said that there was "no agreement that any part of the study would be released at that time [December]. I was the one who said this is a very sensitive study and we don't want to be seen as meddling in politics."

But in the meeting record, Mashele said: "We made a commitment that, before we go public, Cosatu has to see the findings of the survey. And then we will go public. That survey is done."

This means the forum knew that part of the results of the shop stewards survey would be released to the public a week before the ANC's Mangaung congress last December.

Bell's denial is supported by another board member, Steven Sid­ley, who is also the board secretary. "We only kept Cosatu abreast of the progress and the December meeting was part of that," Sidley said.

But records of the meeting, which the Mail & Guardian authenticated, reveal that Mashele gave a full briefing of the plans, mentioning questions related to Mangaung that were posed to shop stewards as part of the survey.

"There's a question that goes, 'if you were to go to Mangaung, who would you vote as president of the ANC'," Mashele told the board in his briefing. "The names are not only Kgalema [Motlanthe, former ANC deputy president] and Jacob Zuma, they go down to Blade [Nzimande, South African Communist Party general secretary], they go down to [Zwelinzima] Vavi [Cosatu general secretary] and all of them. So we'll see what the shop steward thinks about the leadership of the ANC.

"That component we want to release before the conference. We're working frantically to get Cosatu to look at the findings before we go public; we're in touch with them. That's what we want to release this year. The rest of the stuff, which is a bigger part of it, will be released early next year – February, March."

The only questions board members posed to Mashele sought clarity about Cosatu's role.

"We are not going to give [the survey] to them to read and say come back later … no. We will go to Cosatu with CASE [the research company], we sit with them, CASE takes us through [the results]. They ask questions, clarify. Tomorrow there's a press conference. We would like you [Cosatu] to be there so that, when we present to the public, you respond publicly," Mashele told the board.

No confidence in the SACP
The board also claims that Mashele "distorted" findings of the survey in his analysis. The press statement issued by Mashele said the survey found that shop stewards "want nationalisation, they have no confidence in the SACP, and they want Cosatu to form a labour party.

"On leadership in Mangaung, the study found that the majority of Cosatu shop stewards do not support Jacob Zuma's re-election for the position of president of the ANC. Cosatu shop stewards are divided between Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe. This is despite Cosatu's central executive committee's decision to support Zuma's bid for a second term."

Sidley said the part about support for Zuma and the SACP was incorrect.

The board claimed this week that, for more than a month, Mashele refused to explain his actions and ignored written requests to do so – although Bell acknowledges that Mashele was on leave for his wedding and holiday.

"But having released that media statement and knowing that something has happened, you should be available, at least on the phone, even if you made arrangements to be away," Bell said.

Mashele this week challenged the board to produce evidence of original survey figures and the ones they claim he distorted.

Business interest
Bell also confirmed that the board members were aware of Mbeki's pending deal with Numsa, but did not believe there was any possible conflict of interest, even though Mbeki's organisation led a study on shop stewards, including those belonging to Numsa.

However, he said, Mbeki had not formally declared this business interest.

This deal is at the centre of the spat between Mashele and Mbeki.

Bell said the board had "no concern" about Mbeki's business with Numsa or a potential conflict of interest arising from that relationship with one of Cosatu's big affiliates. "The board has got no right to ask the chairman what business he's involved in," Bell said. "The board is only interested in his work at the forum."

Sidley added: "We did hear that he was pursuing a business opportunity but that has got nothing to do with the board. Numsa had no influence on the study or its outcome."

Sidley said, unlike the government, the forum did not require its leaders to declare their business interests.

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice. Read more from Mmanaledi Mataboge

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