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In 2017 there was a constant buzz about a possible breakaway party being formed if the Zuma faction won at the Nasrec conference. Everyone was debating the possibility, not just Derek Hanekom, writes Melanie Verwoerd.
I have never heard so much ado about nothing as in the case of the Derek Hanekom accusations last week.
A quick refresher, in case you missed it: Julius Malema, undoubtedly sensing that the EFF and Public Protector were going to lose their case against Pravin Gordhan, stood outside the High Court in Johannesburg and in his oh-so-Julius way announced that Derek Hanekom had had meetings with members of the EFF in 2017 before the secret no-confidence ballot against Jacob Zuma in Parliament.
When asked about it, Hanekom, in his characteristic straightforward and upfront manner, confirmed that a meeting had taken place. A few hours later Ace Magashule, undoubtedly desperate for some distraction from the Estina dairy project revelations at the Zondo commission, issued a statement.
"The African National Congress is dismayed by its National Executive Committee Member Derik (sic) Hanekom's confession that he did had (sic) several meetings with the opposition EFF," the statement read before it launched into a vicious personal attack on Hanekom.
Spelling and grammar errors aside, (what is it with the ANC press office and spelling?) the statement gave the impression that Hanekom had had some Damascus Road experience and thus "confessed" to some terrible sin – which is of course utter nonsense.
So what if he had met with the EFF? MPs constantly meet with members of opposition parties. They discuss matters on the parliamentary agenda and they strategise how to get matters to pass or not pass. It happens all the time – as it should.
The point of course is not that a discussion took place. It is the fact that they discussed Zuma's removal which got Magashule – or whoever wrote that statement – so riled up. If Malema had said that Hanekom met with them to discuss the removal of Pravin Gordhan, I doubt that a single word would have been uttered.
It is also not as if it is the first time ANC people were having quiet discussions with opposition party members. I was once told that there had been "secret" discussions between a member of the top six and the EFF to stop the nuclear deal years ago. I don't know if it is true, but I wouldn't be surprised.
Shortly after Magashule's late night press statement, Zuma sent out a tweet. Just as an aside: there seems to be a bit of a pattern here that after Magashule's office issues a controversial press statement or tweet, Zuma tweets shortly after in support of his position. (Remember the SARB issue?) Either Zuma has become a social media expert or the people who handle his and Magashule's offices are still very close and coordinate their strategies. Perhaps the NEC should investigate that?
To get back to last week, Zuma (or his handlers) tweeted that Hanekom was "a known enemy agent". No one would be surprised that Zuma would see Hanekom as an enemy given that Derek was one of those who bravely spoke out in the NEC about the need for Zuma to go. But to suggest anything more is totally ridiculous and frankly bizarre given that Zuma appointed Hanekom more than once to serve in his Cabinet.
It is worthwhile to remember that when this coffee meeting between Hanekom and the EFF took place, it was an extraordinary time. ANC MPs who took their oath to honour the Constitution seriously knew that something drastic had to be done. Zuma and his cronies had brought the country to the edge of the abyss. I spend a lot of time observing Parliament and at that time it was clear that numerous discussions amongst members of the governing party and across the aisle were taking place.
Malema also ridiculously suggested that Hanekom mentioned that he was going to form a new party. Hanekom has been a loyal ANC member for decades. He went to jail for being an ANC member. Unlike so many others he didn't resign when he was thrown out of Cabinet. He stayed on as a backbencher, because he believed in serving the country and the ANC.
In 2017 there was a constant buzz about a possible breakaway party being formed if the Zuma faction won at the Nasrec conference. Everyone was debating the possibility. So again, if something in that line had come up, it would not have been strange. However, Hanekom would have known that, were such a party to have been formed, it would have required someone other than himself to have driven the process.
Last week's drama has confirmed a few things, none which has anything to do with Derek Hanekom.
1) The EFF can't be trusted – this is self-evident from this event.
2) The ANC has a big problem with their media office and it is high time that the NEC does something about it. No political party worth its salt would issue a scathing statement about one of their very senior members without first consulting that person and running it past senior party leadership. It is not the first time that this has happened. Remember the Gordhan and Senzo Mchunu "black professionals" drama? Statements seem to be issued left, right and center by people with personal agendas in the ANC's communication department to the detriment of the party.
3) Many of those who are in senior positions in the ANC care very little about the future of this country. Instead of fixing the economy and delivering to the poorest of the poor, they are hell-bent on fighting factional battles.
This drama is clearly not about Hanekom. It is about those who want to distract the press, the country and the ANC from their corrupt and dirty deeds. They know that if they can't get rid of Ramaphosa and his supporters they will almost certainly end up in prison overalls.
- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.
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