Comrade Carl's get-out-of-jail theology

2009-02-21 00:00

Religious belief is doubtless a fine thing, a spur to attaining the best in the human condition. Equally, there is also nothing more revolting than unctuous believers, those smarmy-pants holy-rollers who think that their faith gives them some kind of free pass that is denied the rest of us.

No matter what their transgressions, they believe that their good Lord will forgive them, so the smugly cast challenge is: “Who are you to judge?” A prime example is Carl Niehaus, who was so adept at parlaying his twin theologies — God and comradeship — into nice little earners.

Niehaus cultivated a heart-wrenching mythology: the young Afrikaner theology student who went to jail for seven years because his morality led him to choose the liberation movement over tribe. Despite an emotionally shattering prison rape, Niehaus studied while in custody and graduated summa cum laude with two degrees in theology.

After his release and with the arrival of democracy he became an African National Congress MP, then ambassador to the Netherlands, during which time he completed his masters and doctorate, again summa cum laude. Since his return he has been further honoured with various board appointments and recently became the ANC’s media spokesperson.

Unfortunately, however admirable it all might sound, investigations by the Mail & Guardian and Beeld found much of it to be lies and the ANC’s spin doctor has been forced to resign.

The only real summa cum laude that Niehaus can claim is a masters in bullshitting — he never finished any of the degrees that adorn his curriculum vitae. He is not on the board of the President’s Awards for Young Achievers. In fact that organisation does not exist.

He is not dying of leukaemia, as he told a softhearted travel agent to chisel loose a free family holiday to Mauritius. He admits to forging the signatures of four MECs to get a loan while employed by the Gauteng Development Agency.

He doesn’t pay the rental on his luxury mansion, nor does he pay the debts he has incurred while living a lavish life of expensive cars and revolving-door wives with high-maintenance socialite aspirations. Even the prison rape, it seems, might have been a figment of his rich and self-serving imagination.

Not only is Niehaus an odious little lowlife, the ANC has known all along about his various shady deals. However, as ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe pointed out before the bad publicity prior to an election became just too much, the organisation doesn’t ditch a comrade. It is, of course, not unique to the ANC that morality becomes skewed and that public probity takes a back seat to internal loyalties. It happens all the time in political parties and in business.

What makes the Niehaus situation remarkable is that the ANC genuinely appears not to understand that to protect a comrade who is attempting to defraud a government institution is to betray the trust of the voters that put it in power. If this is not understood at cabinet level, it is hardly surprising that corruption by thieving comrades is both rife and tolerated at all levels of government.

The opposition outrage has been directed at the ANC but corporate South Africa doesn’t fare any better when it comes to ethical tackiness.

Auditors Deloitte & Touche cheerfully admitted that it had employed Niehaus at a huge salary — prior to getting rid of him because of his profligate ways — because it hoped that his political connections would pay dividends.

Another crooked Afrikaner, disgraced cricketer Hansie Cronjé, memorably claimed that the devil made him do it. Comrade Carl’s excuse? Apartheid trauma made him do it. Thank goodness for apartheid, the ultimate get-out-of-jail card.

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