Parliament fire: Truth is stranger than fiction


I’m on page 465 of the first volume of the first of three Zondo commission reports into state capture, handed over, officially, to President Cyril Ramaphosa the previous afternoon.

I shouldn’t be.

Zondo’s first report — 800-odd pages devoted mainly to the state owned entities — is somebody else’s gig.

I’m deployed to matters more mundane and less dramatic — but far more pressing — than the report, finally delivered to the head of state by Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo three and a bit years after the commission held its first session in August 2018.

As a result, I’m reading the report as a punter, rather than a practitioner.

This entails stealing time to dive into Zondo’s findings on what was done by whom, and on whose instruction, and what needs to be done to whom, and by which agencies, over the capture of the state and its entities by the Zumas, Guptas and others, when I should be doing what I’m getting paid to do.

I can’t help it.

Like every other punter in this republic, I have a lot — my entire future really — riding on what Zondo has to say, and what is eventually done by the law enforcement agencies about his recommendations. So, page 465 is where I’m at.

Page 465.

It’s a compelling page, for all the stiff legal language and transcribed evidence; uplifting, and at the same time depressing.

Page 465 deals with how Themba Maseko, a former director general of the Government Communication and Information Service (GCIS), “used an expletive” when telling Ajay Gupta that he wouldn’t be meeting the family to discuss how to hand R600-million a year in state advertising — illegally — to The New Age newspaper on former president Jacob Zuma’s instruction.

Maseko, a career civil servant, had earlier resisted attempts by the family to bully him into meeting with them, reporting them to his political principal, former minister in the presidency Collins Chabane.

Maseko’s brave stand cost him his job — Gupta had told him it would — and he was replaced by Mzwanele Manyi, who Zondo described as a “facilitator” of the capture of the GCIS coffers by the Gupta family.

Strangely, the Zindzi Mandela of Our Times has been a little quiet since the report was handed over to Ramaphosa.


I had expected Manyi to come out tweeting furiously about the report; all threats of legal action and accusations of Stellenbosch stitch-ups and White Monopoly Capital calling the shots — the usual enraged online deluge of denials, rebuttals and howls of indignation.

Perhaps — for once — Manyi doesn’t have anything to say.

Perhaps he’s still reading the report — or waiting for Carl Niehaus to provide a precis for him to read — and we’ll still be in for a recorded tirade from the Artist Formerly Known As Jimmy before the day is out.


Zondo’s not the only thing competing with work for my attention. 

The chatter around Zandile Christmas Mafe, the man arrested for allegedly setting parliament on fire on Sunday, has reached something of a crescendo.

There’s all sorts of theories doing the rounds — some plausible, some way less so.

Depending on who one talks to — or which WhatsApp group one belongs to — our man is either a highly trained superspy demolitions expert type, deployed as part of a broader plan to overthrow the state or an unfortunate patsy who found himself in the wrong place and the wrong time. and is being hung out to dry because the cops are unable — or unwilling — to find out what really happened.

An Umkhonto weSizwe Veterans Association super-soldier, or a scapegoat.

From Mafe’s demeanour in the footage of him appearing in court — and the history of the South African Police Service when it comes to tanking investigations — I would veer towards the latter. 

I’m slower than most to bite when it comes to South Africa political conspiracies generally, and alleged reports from the intelligence community in particular, so I’ll sit back and watch for now.

After all, at one time our intelligence agencies were peddling a story that Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa were part of a plot — along with Michael Jackson — to overthrow then-president Thabo Mbeki, who was aiming at a second term in office.

Then again, this is South Africa, where the former head of state told the former head of government communications to break the law and hand over R600-million to his friends..

Perhaps it’s all an innocent mistake.

Perhaps the cops — often the most literal among us — took the fact that Mafe was taking a nap on the pavement outside parliament as evidence that he was a sleeper agent?

Saw Mafe’s possession of a blanket as signalling that he was an undercover operative?


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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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