/ 17 March 2016

Battle-lines drawn in the ANC

Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas
Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas says the Hawks tried to kill the investigation into claims the Gupta family tried to bribe him. (Davis Harrison/M&G)

Battle lines have emerged ahead of a weekend meeting where the ANC’s top structure is set to discuss explosive revelations that the politically-connected Gupta family interfered with ministerial appointments.

It is expected to be one of the most polarised national executive committee (NEC) meetings since the 2007 bruising battle between President Jacob Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki. 

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and the SA Communist Party were at the forefront of an anti-Gupta charge within the ANC against what’s been termed “state capture”, while the ANC Youth League came out in defense of Zuma. 

Several ANC branch members have declared in public and on Twitter and Facebook that they would take to the streets or march to St George’s Hotel near Pretoria – where the party’s national executive committee is expected to meet from Friday onwards – to ask for the removal of Zuma.

Revelations this week by Finance Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas that he was approached by the Gupta family with a job offer to become finance minister have led to calls outside and within the ANC that Zuma should be recalled. Zuma might, however, live politically to fight another day as any any action to recall him was only likely to take place after the elections or after the Constitutional Court’s judgement on Nkandla.

The Guptas are close friends with Zuma and in business with his family.

An increasing number of senior ANC leaders have publicly spoken out about their support for Jonas.

The SACP congratulated Jonas for speaking out, saying this vindicated the party’s call for a full judicial commission of inquiry into state capture.

“The SACP congratulates Comrade Mcebisi Jonas for refusing the offer, and for coming out against the malady of corporate state capture,” spokesperson Alex Mashilo said in a statement.

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom tweeted for hours after Jonas’s revelation on Wednesday: “Mcebisi Jonas is a person of great integrity and there is no reason to doubt his version of events.”

Public Service and Administration Minister Ngoako Ramathlodi also admitted that he was invited to the Guptas’ house while he was minister of mining, but he was too busy to accept.

Before Jonas’s official statement, former ANC MP and caucus chair Vytjie Mentor alleged in a Facebook post that she was offered the ministry of public enterprises in 2010, when party stalwart Barbara Hogan was sacked. By Thursday afternoon, Mentor’s Facebook page was closed.

Hogan told John Robbie on 702 Radio yesterday morning: “The rotten forces are on the back foot. I would appeal to those people who believe that they still have to defend Zuma and who have benefitted from a close relationship with the Guptas, to now stand back and move on. They are not going to win this battle.”

Even though by yesterday afternoon the ANC hadn’t issued an official statement, Mantashe spoke out in favour of Jonas, saying he was “heartened” that people came forward, and warned of a “mafia state”.

Mantashe also hinted that Zuma’s recall from office could be discussed in the ANC. “He’s not untouchable, he’s the president,” Mantashe told Reuters. “Why should we see this as a crisis instead of a positive? It will embolden people to come to the fore … so we can find the business people who are tampering within the ANC,” he said.

Mantashe has been critical of the Gupta family for some time – at least since their personal plane was irregularly given permission to land at the Waterkloof air force base back in 2013.

Party spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the ANC viewed the “inappropriate and undue influence by the Gupta family over the appointment of members of the cabinet .. in an extremely serious light”.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula in 2012 complained that the Guptas knew about his appointment to his current portfolio before he did, but this week he refused to elaborate further on the matter in a Twitter war with Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema.

Former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi also came out, guns blazing, calling for a march and claimed that he was purged because he refused to follow orders from the Guptas.

“I knew about this thing even before Mbalula came out in public in 2012 that people are being approached by the Guptas and ministers are being woken up early in the morning to be told that they’ll receive this call at 10 o’clock,” Vavi said. He said as the “purged people” were beginning to speak out, “the chickens are coming home to roost”.

On the other side, those defending Zuma were less vocal in public his week. The ANC Youth League led the charge from within the party, with its leader, Collin Maine, telling journalists at a press conference in the Northern Cape on Thursday that Jonas should resign.

He also questioned the manner in which Jonas made his allegations public.

“If he can’t take the person who appointed him into his confidence, then there is no relationship, he must resign,” Maine said.

He said Jonas’s actions “amount to bringing the organisation into disrepute”.

Maine said Zuma was not responsible for the claims made by the Gupta family.

The ANC Women’s League – which is largely sympathetic to Zuma – reacted late to the storm, issuing a statement saying it disapproved of those who publicly raised allegations against the Guptas. “We think these allegations are serious,” secretary general Meokgo Matuba said in the statement. “They provide an opportunity for the organisation to take leadership and guide how the matters need to be handled, and also deal head-on with the root issues.”

She said it should not be “left to surprises in the media”.

Efforts by the ANC to deal internally with the matter has, however, so far apparently not improved the situation.

“We implore the NEC to give proper guidance and engage properly with the affected parties, and take leadership of the alliance and society, not the other way around,” she said.

The Gupta-owned The New Age newspaper placed ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte in Zuma’s camp, claiming she was part of the same “plot” that was aimed at removing Zuma at the weekend NEC meeting.

A member of the Young Communist League national committee, however, said Duarte had support from both lobbies and she leaned more towards being neutral.

Zuma attempted to defend himself this week by denying that he knew Mentor. He also did not react directly to Jonas’s revelations, but told Parliament on Friday that nobody but him was responsible for appointing ministers.

“I appoint ministers here,” he said in response to a question by DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane on who was involved in a decision to remove former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene.

He referred questions on the various allegations that the Guptas interfered with appointments to the Guptas themselves, as well as those who made the allegations.