The ANC has said that the comments made by the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) chairperson about public protector Thuli Madonsela being a spy for the CIA were unfortunate.
In a statement released on Monday, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said: “The ANC believes that the exchange is extremely unfortunate. However the ANC has no information at its disposal to comment further on the matter.”
“As the ANC, we reaffirm our support and confidence in the institutions established to promote and safeguard our democracy, notably the office of the public protector.”
He said the ANC believed that people who led such institutions should be able to conduct their work without fear or favour. Earlier on Monday, MKMVA chairperson Kebby Maphatsoe had accused Madonsela of being a CIA plant.
Maphatsoe’s special adviser Ike Moroe told reporters in Johannesburg: “He did make reference to the possibility of a CIA machination in an attempt to destabilise the country. [However] nothing is impossible … from the international intelligence community.”
In a peculiar press conference on Monday morning, Maphatsoe seemed to be indirectly rolling back on the accusation. He then effectively made it again, then tried to frame it more delicately, and ultimately said that Madonsela was doing the work of the CIA, even if she was not actually its agent.
Maphatsoe did the strange dance as the chairperson of the MKMVA, making the point that he was not acting on an “official” platform.
In a written media statement under Maphatsoe’s name, the MKMVA did not directly accuse Madonsela of anything, but hinted that she worked in intelligence. “If Advocate Thuli Madonsela [sic] feels more powerful and above the constitution, she should tell the country, who her handlers are,” the statement read.
Likewise, the statement did not accuse Madonsela of having falsely claimed she had been an MK fighter, as Maphatsoe reportedly said on Saturday, but made general points about “peacetime freedom fighters” who “besmirch the name of MK [Umkhonto weSizwe] and ANC”, while expressing interest in proof that Madonsela had been active in the armed struggle.
Pushed on the allegations, the panel of MKMVA officials hardened the allegation on Madonsela’s MK history, saying investigation had showed “she was never ever a member” of MK. On her status as a traitor in the pay of a foreign government, however, it was far more coy.
Maphatsoe initially referred questions on the CIA allegation to another official, who vouchsafed that Maphatsoe had not, in fact, made such an allegation – but that “nothing is impossible” when it comes to the mechanisms used by intelligence agencies, even though proof that a spy is a spy is hard to come by.
Pushed again on the matter, Maphatsoe himself ventured a careful phrasing, not mentioning Madonsela by name. “We know how foreign intelligence works,” he said. “They create their own person and popularise him or her. That’s how they work. They create you, including in the media … That’s what they’ve created now.”
Later Maphatsoe allowed that such a person might be unaware that they were “working for the enemy”. Ultimately, he settled on proof by way of action, saying Madonsela’s actions were “actions of an enemy agent”.
Madonsela has come under attack from the ANC and some alliance structures since sending a letter to President Jacob Zuma last month asking him for details about when he will respond to recommendations in her report on the upgrades to his home at Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal.
Opposition parties condemn remarks
The Democratic Alliance (DA) demanded that Maphatsoe, who is also the deputy minister of defence, withdraw his comments and apologise. “I will … request the chairperson of the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, Mathole Motshekga, to summon the deputy minister before the committee to provide substantiation for these serious allegations,” DA MP Werner Horn said in a statement.
“If the deputy minister fails to provide proof to support his claims, swift action must be taken against him to prevent these kinds of fabrications from happening in future.”
The United Democratic Movement (UDM) said Maphatsoe’s comments were “distasteful”.
“The sounds coming from the peanut gallery are a desperate attempt at discrediting a constitutional body that is doing its job properly,” UDM secretary general Bongani Msomi said in a statement. It was unbecoming of Maphatsoe to make such a comment, especially because he was a deputy minister, Msomi said.
The Congress of the People (Cope) said Maphatsoe’s comments were dangerous and called on him to provide proof. “Cope is calling upon him to come forward with evidence and proof of his allegations on the public protector,” spokesperson Dennis Bloem said. “If he can’t, then we will call upon the president to remove him from his position immediately.”
The party said if Maphatsoe was not stopped he would cause more harm to the country’s already dented image.
US ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard said he would lodge a formal diplomatic complaint about the comments.
“How can a [government] minister make such scurrilous and political comments at an official event?” asked Gaspard on his official Twitter account.
Madonsela has reportedly threatened legal action unless he retracts the claim and apologises, or provides irrefutable proof of it.
Her office issued a short statement saying: “The public protector has decided not to fully comment for now, except to say that a letter is being prepared to ask Mr Kebby Maphatsoe to retract his accusation in 72 hours and apologise or provide incontrovertible evidence on his accusations.
“Failing which, the public protector will be left with no choice but to invoke contempt of the public protector powers. The letter has already been sent.”
The Act that created Madonsela’s office makes provision for criminal charges of contempt to be brought for any insult to her or her deputy, or for actions that inhibit her ability to conduct investigations, with jail time or a fine stipulated as punishment. Madonsela has never invoked those powers, saying she prefers not to take matters of her office to the courts. – Sapa, staff reporter