The ANC and the presidency appear unwilling to act against Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe over his claim that he bribed journalists and his subsequent assertion that this claim was a lie.
Although the ANC’s integrity committee says it will probably deal with the matter, sparked by claims that Mantashe paid two Sunday World journalists R70 000 to kill a story about his sex life, the party appears to be happy with Mantashe’s subsequent version —that he lied to the newspaper’s editor.
The presidency has also refrained from commenting — or acting — on the matter, instead saying it was also satisfied with Mantashe’s about-turn on paying off two journalists, and his agreement to co-operate with an inquiry called for by the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef).
After two days of silence, ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said on Tuesday that the party “welcomed” the statement by Mantashe that he had not paid the bribe.
Mabe made no mention of the implications of Mantashe lying to the newspaper editor in a bid to ensure the story did not see the light of day. Instead, he said: “The ANC is heartened by the fact that comrade Mantashe has assured the nation that he was never involved in such an unethical and criminal conduct with journalists. Bribing journalists is not only criminal and unethical, it is also inconsistent with the values of the ANC.”
The presidency has also soft-pedalled the matter, with spokesperson Khusela Diko saying in a television interview on Tuesday that the president had not made a determination on the matter. She said Mantashe had recanted the bribe claims and had undertaken to co-operate with an inquiry by Sanef, and that the outcome should be awaited.
Mantashe, who is the ANC national chairperson, made headlines at the weekend over claims that he paid two Sunday World journalists to kill a story about his involvement in a love triangle with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and a younger woman, Lerato Habiba Makgatho.
Mantashe later recanted the bribery claim, with his ministerial spokesperson saying his statement “seems to have created an impression of him being involved in the act of bribery. Mr Mantashe is clear that none of the sort occurred.”
ANC integrity committee chairperson George Mashamba told the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday that the committee, which sits twice monthly, would “most likely deal with it” when it meets again.
Mashamba said that no complaint about Mantashe’s conduct had been lodgedwith the integrity committee, but that the structure “might raise it ourselves”.
The reticence by the presidency to act against Mantashe may be less out of respect for Mantashe’s privacy and more about his relevance to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s aim to complete his term.
Ramaphosa faces a potential onslaught from his opponents in the governing party when its national general council meeting sits next year. Mantashe, who backed Ramaphosa’s bid for the ANC presidency at Nasrec in December 2017, will be central to the president’s ability to survive any attempt to oust him at the mid-term party review.
Allowing Mantashe to be removed — or even suspended — for party or government office would weaken Ramaphosa’s position.
Opposition MPs want Mantashe to resign and have called for an investigation into the bribery claims.
Democratic Alliance MP Kevin Mileham has laid a complaint with Parliament’s joint committee on ethics and members’ interests that Mantashe had violated the integrity of Parliament, of which he is a member, by admitting to having bribed the journalists.
Mantashe was flagged in an ANC integrity commission report ahead of the May general elections, along with 21 other ANC members who had been nominated as part of the party list process.
He had been identified as potentially being a source of disrepute for the party over allegations made at the Zondo inquiry into state capture. A former employee at corruption-tainted Bosasa said the company had upgraded security at Mantashe’s home in the Eastern Cape.
Mantashe provided the commission with his side of the story and was subsequently appointed to Ramaphosa’s Cabinet.