Fallen hero

2009-02-17 00:00

DESPITE being part of a privileged minority in apartheid South Africa, Carl Niehaus took a principled stand against racial discrimination, which made him a pariah in the Afrikaans nationalist culture from which he sprang. He was expelled from the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) for having put up posters on the campus calling for equal, non-racial education and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. Like Beyers Naudé he resigned from the Dutch Reformed Church (NGK) in protest at the racist theology of apartheid. He joined the ANC and worked in its underground until he was arrested in 1983. He was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to 15 years in prison, of which he served seven- and-a-half years, until he was released in terms of the agreement that the ANC negotiated with the National Party government for the release of political prisoners.

These impeccable struggle credentials, however, have been utterly undermined by the recent revelations. Niehaus the idealistic activist has been replaced by Niehaus the corrupt fat cat wedded to the good life. Afrikanerdom’s prodigal son has become the ANC’s dishonest son. The owner of the luxury Tuscan-style mansion in Midrand in which he has been living is having to go to court to evict him over R300 000 unpaid rent. The publication in the weekend press of the SMSes between Niehaus and his landlord show Niehaus to have become a pathological liar.

When he was appointed an ANC spokesperson, Niehaus’s declining ethical standards were known to party insiders. He had to leave a top job at Deloitte and Touche in 2003 after his financial woes become embarrassing. He owed the Rhema Church R700 000 (which he had spent on luxury vehicles) when he was asked to resign from his post as chief executive in 2004. The following year, while working as chief executive of the Gauteng Economic Development Agency, he forged the signatures of top Gauteng government officials and he was forced to resign.

How is it that the ANC, with its loudly-proclaimed intentions of being tough on corruption, could appoint such a man as one of its spokespeople? Even more astonishing is that ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe can say, after all the public revelations, that Niehaus is a valued cadre and that the organisation will find another role for him. And Niehaus is not the only corrupt ANC member to receive kind treatment from the party. What about all the ANC MPs involved in the Travelgate fraud against whom no action has been taken? Indeed, what about ANC president Jacob Zuma who faces scores of charges of fraud? Is there to be one ethical standard for the population at large and another, lower one for ANC cadres?

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