ANALYSIS: No accountability as Mantashe, Presidency dodge bribery statements

2019-10-29 12:15
Then ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe addresses the media ahead of the party's elective conference held in Nasrec in December 2017. (Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24)

Then ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe addresses the media ahead of the party's elective conference held in Nasrec in December 2017. (Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24)

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In September last year News24 reported about Gwede Mantashe's Bosasa bonanza.

Gavin Watson's company had been spreading the largesse far and wide, and Mantashe, the ANC's secretary general for a decade and then the recently elected ANC chairperson, was no exception.

We reported that Bosasa, via company director Papa Leshabane, had installed security equipment at Mantashe's homes on the East Rand and in the Eastern Cape – gratis.

Mantashe, bombastic and blustery, denied the report out of hand. But days later he took a group of journalists to his homestead to explain that he wasn't gifted electric fences, only CCTV recording systems, including top-end Hikvision cameras and perimeter lights.

OPINION | Mantashe betrayed the public trust. Why he must be charged

"But, Mr Mantashe, what was the arrangement with Bosasa? Nomvula Mokonyane demanded chicken and booze from Gavin Watson's outfit, why did you demand security equipment? Did you pay for it? Or dit Bosasa?" we asked.

"It's not a valid question," he thundered and shut down any questioning.

Nothing happened. No one demanded accountability from Mantashe. Not President Cyril Ramaphosa, or the ANC. The story, never challenged in the courts or at the Press Ombudsman, sunk without trace.

On Tuesday Mantashe's office issued a half-hearted denial of a story in the Sunday World, in which Mantashe is quoted admitting that he paid bribes to two journalists not to write a story about his relationship with a young woman, Lerato Makgatho.

"So, you are the third person to call me about the story. Do you also want money?" he is quoted as saying. "I paid them and now you are calling about the same story. I begged them not to write the story, I paid two journalists at your publication…"

Mantashe's denial that this was what he said was rather flat: "The statement attributed to him 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."

Well, no, the quotes attributed to Mantashe – and which Sunday World editor Makhudu Sefara says they have recorded – are pretty clear and can't just be waved away. Mantashe admitted to paying a bribe to journalists to make an unflattering story go away.

There are very serious and enormous repercussions for everyone involved, not least for Mantashe, who like the Bosasa incident illustrates, has a history of sidestepping accountability.

The Sunday World story is a high hurdle to overcome for Mantashe. He is quoted in full in the report. His comments aren't paraphrased, or extrapolations and assumptions from something he might or could have said.

And Sefara told News24 he checked his reporter's quotes with Mantashe, who again confirmed what he said about bribing a reporter.

"We reject the claim by the minister that he never said he paid two journalists. Not only did he say this to the reporter; I as the editor also called him to verify the claims that were in the article before me. Mr Mantashe, in very clear terms, told me that he paid the reporter's colleagues," Sefara told News24.

Ramaphosa, not known for acting with conviction or speed, has been missing in action since the report emerged.

The issue at hand, of course, isn't about who is sleeping with who. It's about a sitting Cabinet minister admitting he pays bribes. The same sitting Cabinet minister who earlier denied receiving gifts from a corruption tainted company, but then later admitting that he did, in fact, receive the said gifts.

The Presidency's spokesperson refuses to engage on the matter and has referred News24 to the minister's spokesperson, who has already tried to spin his boss's comments.

The inference is that the president seems to be content to entrust a vital government department to someone receiving gifts from Bosasa and who has admitted to paying bribes. This will put his other dealings, as the member of the executive responsible for energy and mines, under scrutiny. Is he susceptible to pay or receive bribes under other circumstances?

Ramaphosa needs to move to clean up this mess, just like Sefara must move to identify and dismiss the reporters who took Mantashe's money. If the Sunday World incorrectly quoted Mantashe, or indeed made up the quotes, then there will be serious consequences for both editor and newspaper. Mantashe would need to approach the Press Ombudsman or prepare a defamation suit, because his reputation is suffering with every passing minute.

But there has been nothing of the sort from Mantashe – no urgent demands for a retraction, correction or threats of legal action.

Ramaphosa should put him on special leave and conduct a proper investigation. This country cannot afford a minister brazenly admitting to paying bribes.

Read more on:    sunday world  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  gwede ­mantashe
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