‘Everything I wear has been given to me’

2012-01-07 12:00

In 1991 at a no holds-barred national executive committee meeting, the recently unbanned ANC discussed how to curb corruption within an organisation whose leaders, fresh out of prison, were given the suits they stood in.

As a liberation movement unbanned for just over a year, the ANC held a national executive committee (NEC) meeting on March 1 1991 at Koinonia, a Johannesburg conference venue owned by the Catholic Church.

The list of those in attendance reads like an all-star cast: Nelson Mandela, Alfred Nzo, Joe Slovo, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani, Ruth Mompati, Gertrude Shope, Steve Tshwete and Jackie Selebi.

Jacob Zuma sent his apologies – he was “meeting chiefs in Natal”.

Thabo Mbeki was also absent – in Addis Ababa “attending the Council of Ministers meeting of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity)”.

The country’s turbulent political transition was in full throttle as political organisations hammered out a future for South Africa.

The violence gripping KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng’s East Rand had become a major flash point that threatened to derail a peaceful settlement.

But the discussions of that day give us a riveting insight into a recently unbanned ANC grappling with new questions and concerns relating to the organisation’s own ethics.

The NEC’s debates that day raised the need for a code of conduct and a clause to limit corruption in the face of the kind of “gratuities” starting to be proffered. Members also expressed concern about leaks from their confidential meetings.

All in all, the issues on the table that day were not unlike those still doing the rounds in the ruling party.

Here are edited extracts from that day’s meeting. We pick up the discussion at Clause 8 of the Code of Conduct.

Joe Slovo: This is a delicate topic. Originally one thought there should be a provision that people in full time employ of the ANC should have no other source of income. But on careful consideration, it becomes impractical.

There are a number of people who get help from relatives, not necessarily wages, for instance.

Accommodation can and is provided by families and friends.

This [clause] is not intended to cover that kind of assistance.

That is why words used are gratuities, gifts and any form of material assistance offered or given.

This would be from persons or groups construed by the membership or public as being in the nature of an attempt to corrupt or bribe.

For example: if people are offered a free holiday in Miami by the US embassy or even by the Soviet Union … this is basically an anti-corruption clause that should protect NEC members so that when they are offered anything they will advise the NEC … each individual must also judge if they are being approached for insidious purposes.

Pallo Jordan: JS used the word wage-earnings.

Earnings honestly acquired – i.e. publications from which you earn royalties – they would not fall into this category.

Does gratuity mean something you are getting free of charge without any reason? Yes.

Chris Hani: What if people go out to speak, travel, etc, and receive money – does the individual keep that money? We should take the position that such monies should belong to the movement.

Nelson Mandela: You are talking, for instance, of the US, where people are invited to speak and then get paid?

Chris Hani: There is this practice in this country too, where honoraria are paid.

Pallo Jordan: There are categories where you are invited as a representative of the movement, but there are other categories where individuals are invited.

There are ambiguities about approaches to individuals who are [well] known because of their position in the movement. This affects payments.

Nelson Mandela: What is the position in an organisation like the ANC which does not pay proper salaries?

We expect people to live on low wages.

I appreciate the general principle of us knowing what people are getting which may compromise them, but how do we modify it in the light of our concrete situation as the ANC because many members of the NEC are very keen to ensure their allowances are supplemented.

Can we reconcile the two?

Alfred Nzo: We are returning after a long period, and say some organisation offers to build a house, or assist with rent … What is our position then?

Walter Sisulu: I propose that this clause be left as it is.

All it says is that this should be reported. As time goes on we can adjust it.

When I came out, I was offered money and clothing.

I debated the matter on my own, but felt I could not refuse the suit.

I also accepted R500 and donated it anonymously to the ANC as I felt it could not be refused as it would cause insult.

Steve Tshwete: I have serious problems with this paragraph.

The idea being put forward is to curb corruption.

But in ordinary, practical life this cannot work. Reporting [gifts] is not curbing it.

You report what you have already received, so it is not a means of stopping such receipt of goods or assistance.

To give a personal example: everything I wear has been given to me. Even with medical attention, others pay.

We need to adopt a position against corruption, but it should be more explicit.

I propose that the drafters re-formulate …

Nelson Mandela: What would you like the thrust to be?

Steve Tshwete: To state our position against corruption and [make it clear that members] should not engage in activities that would be interpreted as extorting benefits for themselves.

But gifts are a problem: people coming home and from prison, will receive gifts as part of their homecoming.

Mzwai Piliso: (former intelligence chief)It is not possible to live on R2 000.

The movement needs to look into how to make it possible for members to live from day to day, remembering that some of them have decades in the movement without any income and not a penny to back them up.

Thomas Nkobi: (then treasurer-general) The point under discussion is gifts of substantial value.

For instance at the OAU you get $2 000, but this will pay for food, accommodation etc.

What we are discussing here are gifts of cars or substantial items.

These must be given to the movement. Surely such a gift is made because of your contribution.

The movement can then understand what is happening. For instance, if you have a large house, properly furnished, the movement would be interested to know how you have achieved this.

People have been working for years without income. [We] must be responsible for curbing corruption, but we also have to take care of the people who have worked without remuneration all this time and now need assistance.

Nelson Mandela: I support the view that we leave the clause as it is. There are all sorts of allegations circulating as to what the leadership is doing. Charges of corruption abound.

These may not be true, and I believe they are not true. But the allegations are there. It is advantageous for us to have a clause of this nature.

When this document is approved it should be made public.

It will indicate that we are keen to keep the image of the leadership and the organisation intact and are fighting any form of corruption.

Bearing in mind what we are able to pay our people, we must expect members to receive assistance.

We must know [about such assistance] so that we can deal with any questions of corruption.

If this is not satisfactory, we can appoint a small committee to redraft the clause.

Chris Hani: I think we need to examine this further. I am in favour of a small committee.

We should know what constitutes corrupt practice and elaborate on this.

The present formulation is vague. It will be very few who are offered houses.

Nelson Mandela: Agree that the clause

stays as an interim measure, but a sub-committee of Chris and JS [is formed] to formulate it more elaborately.

» Source: Oliver Tambo’s personal papers, National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre, University of Fort Hare

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