A national debate to curry favour with the voters

2013-05-27 10:00

Trailing in a whiff of jet fuel, curry and confetti, Elections Campaign 2014 has arrived at our doorstep about a year before we go to the polls.

Pity accountability quietly made for the back door too.

During Wednesday’s National Assembly debate on the landing of a private jet at Waterkloof Air Force Base with Gupta wedding guests, we got a taste of the clownery waiting for us.

For an hour and a half, there were more bananas in the House than in the zoo and the opposition seemed as clueless as monkeys.

What made it even more comical was that the actual report on the Waterkloof saga that the MPs were supposed to be debating was only released about an hour into the debate.

MPs, therefore, had only the summarised press statement and media reports to go on – as well as some common sense, also in short supply at times.

Somewhere on Twitter one of the many people watching the debate on TV wanted to know if this could result in a commission of inquiry, as some speakers demanded.

Formally, though, the House was under no obligation to come to any conclusion. It turned out to be more of a debating society to impress – or depress – voters.

The lack of information made accountability difficult.

Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota said Waterkloof Air Force Base was not a port of entry – and as former defence minister he should know – and special clearance notes from either the Home Affairs director-general or the minister herself were needed.

Minister Naledi Pandor said Waterkloof was in fact a national port of entry, but she didn’t explain why it’s not listed on her department’s website as such.

Her director-general, Mkuseli Apleni, told City Press that Waterkloof was not listed anywhere because it was run by the military, but gave the assurances that it’s the only one of its kind.

Clear as mud then.

The national key point issue ran into similar problems. DA MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard said nobody would know if Waterkloof was a national key point because the minister of police won’t release the list of keypoints.

Turns out it is a military defence base, but the definitions are neither here nor there because this still means the security breach was pretty bad. About this issue, politicians again had to grasp at straws in the dark.

One or two speakers pointed out that the government report blamed officials, while the buck is supposed to stop at the top – the executive.

What is the point of accountability if, like Lekota said, some people the electorate didn’t vote for get to carry the blame? Same thing happened with the exorbitant spend on Nkandla.

A few opposition speakers said the ANC and Zuma should be voted out of power – great for electioneering, but not something that will bring the public any closer to getting answers.

The money, love and power in this soapy has grabbed our collective imagination. It also exposes the folly of a president we love to hate.

The ANC government has realised that this matter could cause trouble at the polling booths.

The report noted that, in a strange reputation-management exercise, our spooks listened to the radio, particularly phone-in programmes, soon after news of the landing broke and calculated that 55% of the reporting was negative.

So they discouraged ministers – and probably also the president – from attending the wedding at Sun City. They also tried to do some damage control by releasing a report on an investigation with many holes.

Sadly though, the sycophants in the ANC’s national executive committee who are hoping to retain their Cabinet seats next year, went no further.

There have been no reports about the ANC trying to convince Zuma to disentangle his family’s business interests from the Gupta’s or to distance himself from the family.

This is the elephant in the room.

Even if Zuma were as innocent and as hopping mad about the incident as his spin doctors want us to believe, the perception is still that his relationship with the Guptas is the problem – and in politics, perception is everything.

The ANC would be blind not to see that the party and its president look like the drunk uncle who came to the wedding without his pants.

Not really the kind of party you’d vote for with a happy heart.

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