Mandy Wiener

Ramaphosa's message to corrupt politicians could be problematic

2018-10-10 11:03
Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene.

Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. (Photo: Netwerk24)

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Nhlanhla Nene may have lied to the country, but he subsequently did the right thing. He came clean, apologised and then asked to be relieved of his position as Minister of Finance.

Of course it cannot be ignored that there are still lingering questions around his son's business dealings with the Public Investment Corporation and just what was discussed over tea in Saxonwold. But ultimately, Nene took the moral high ground and acted as we should expect office bearers to act – with accountability and consequence. After all, he did lie and that is unacceptable.

The overwhelming concern however, is at what broader cost his mea culpa has come. We always knew there would be collateral damage when the smallanyana skeletons came tumbling out at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.

But the principle the president seems to be demonstrating to the country here is that if one does the right thing, come clean and then ask to resign, you will lose your job in Cabinet and all the perks that come with it. But what about all those tainted, lying ministers who have dug in their heels and denied all allegations against them involving the Gupta family and other shady captors of power, despite mounting evidence against them.

The message to those corrupt politicians who are still in office is don't be honest, keep lying and you keep your job and the blue light cavalcade.

I'm not suggesting for one moment that Nene should not have gone. In many other democracies in the world, ministers have been axed for far less and rightly so. In the UK, a home secretary resigned because he was accused of allegedly fast-tracking a visa for his ex-lover's nanny. But what of Nene's colleagues who have also lied or worse, been corrupted.

They too must go and not be protected for political reasons. Some have admitted meeting the Guptas. Others have even hitched a ride on their plane.

The Constitutional Court found that the minister responsible for the most vulnerable in our society was "reckless and grossly negligent" and failed to disclose information to an inquiry about her role in the social grants debacle.

If you're ranking levels of deceit, I don't see how what Bathabile Dlamini did is not at a Nene level of job loss. The president had an opportunity to announce a broader Cabinet reshuffle and he didn't do it, most likely because he did not have the political capital and confidence to make it happen. Ironically, by not doing so, he expanded his weakness and showed that he didn't have the leverage to act against those ministers who so obviously should go.

Those who have been intensely watching the Zondo Commission and mulling over whether or not to step up and take the country into their confidence, will consider the events of the past few days and resolutely say: "Hell, no, I won't go." It's career suicide.

There is nothing to gain except perhaps absolution and a clear conscience. It's far more beneficial to sit tight, stay on message and deny, deny, deny. The impact this may have on the effectiveness and the integrity of the commission is concerning as those who were wavering could now stay safely in the shadows instead of laying it all out in the interests of transparency. 

On the flipside, what the Nene saga has shown us is that the skeletons will not stay buried forever, so those who are reluctant to come forward may have no choice ultimately.

This could be the game changer for the former finance minister. The man who achieved notoriety for falling off his chair may have had no choice but to fall on his sword in this instance. It is an excellent illustration of an open society, a functioning democracy where the media is free and holds power to account.

Nene knew that at the end of the day, the entrails, the guts of his Gupta association, would come spilling out. We can only hope that others have the same epiphany too and choose to have their own mea culpa moments, regardless of the consequence. The concern is that Nene's fate will cause them to bunker down, keep lying and stay ensconced in power.

- Wiener is an investigative reporter for News24.

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