Herbst: It was worse under apartheid… ANC soft on corruption

It’s a staggering amount of money, despite it not all falling under government. In 2015, the Internal Institute of Auditors calculated that South Africa had lost around R700 billion to corruption since 1994. Off the back of this Ed Herbst winds back the clock, and looks at how internal government criminal activity was dealt with by the National Party and now the ANC. The examples pre-1994 are numerous but when looking at post 1994 convictions, Herbst can only find two. And if one’s leadership is soft on corruption, don’t expect things to be any better on the ground. Do as you want others to do. – Stuart Lowman

By Ed Herbst*

Well, yes…

… if you were a National Party politician involved in criminal activity.

Here’s a brief timeline to prove the point

  • 1988: Hennie van der Walt, deputy minister of co-operation and development and MP for Schweizer-Reinecke. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, five suspended, for 15 counts of theft involving trust monies of R800 000
  • 1989: Leon de Beer, former National Party MP for Hillbrow. Jailed for two years for 70 counts of electoral fraud.
  • 1993: Pietie du Plessis, former National Party cabinet minister, sentenced to nine years in jail for 17 counts of fraud involving R300m.

Tony Leon wrote a thoughtful article, “When crooked politicians were not tolerated” about this in Business Day three years ago and its prescient concluding paragraph sums up the current status quo: “We should hardly mourn the loss of that political system. But in celebrating the democracy which replaced it, we should not avert our gaze from the undertow that came in its wake: the rapaciousness of public life and the lack of consequences for leading transgressors. Unaddressed, these might soon capsize the ship of state itself.”

Systemically corrupt

So, given that the ANC has repeatedly acknowledged in position papers and from countless political platforms that it is pervasively, indeed systemically corrupt, how many of its politicians has it sent to jail in its 21 years in power?

I can think of two and they both provide fascinating case studies.

The obvious one that comes to mind is Tony Yengeni but as I wrote in a Media Online article, “The Leak Wars” there was a disturbing factor in his case and this section from that article sums up my concern:

“Thirty three people, most with links to the ANC and none of them poor, benefited from the Mercedes discounted to them by one of the companies that benefited from the Arms Deal, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS).

“In fact the first beneficiary was the then head of the SANDF, Siphiwe Nyanda and who, according to newspaper reports, got not one but two Mercs discounted at 17 and 15 percent.

“Later, billionaire Tokyo Sexwale issued a statement acknowledging that he was also one of the recipients of these discounted vehicles.

“Yengeni got his Merc which retailed at the time for R349 950 for R182 563 – a 50% discount – but why was he, then, the only one to be relentlessly investigated by the Scorpions, prosecuted and sent to jail?”

Supporters of South Africa's ruling ANC party cheer as South Africa's President and party leader Jacob Zuma (not seen) arrives for the launch of the party's election manifesto at the Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit, January 11, 2014. REUTERS/Ihsaan Haffejee (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)Supporters of South Africa’s ruling ANC party.

Yengeni spent only four congenial months of his four year sentence in jail and my conclusion was that he was made an example of by the Mbeki faction for making it clear very early on that he was switching his allegiance to Jacob Zuma.

In short, rightly or wrongly, my subjective perception was that his incarceration, albeit brief, was because the ruling faction of the governing party wanted to make an example of him in its bitter internecine war with Zuma.

I would argue that exactly the same motivation – making an example of someone – pertained in the second case of an ANC politician being jailed for criminality.

Read also: Corruption at highest level: Will ANC vote of confidence translate into election support?

Feral looting

Cynthia Maropeng, who stole a paltry million, was sentenced in 2001 to seven years in jail after an investigation lasting little more than year – whether she served the full term is moot. In her defence she truthfully testified under oath that she was small fry, a rank amateur, a junior trough snouter whose ill-gotten gains – a “minor irregularity” as she put it – literally paled into insignificance when compared with the feral looting of her fellow ANC comrades.

It availed her little but, unlike Allan Boesak and Tony Yengeni, she was not borne aloft by rapturous compatriots when she presented herself for incarceration. The difference between her and your average, common-or-garden ANC tenderpreneur, comprador and rent seeker – the bottom feeders in what Zwelinzima Vavi has called the “Hyena State” – was that she did not steal from the tax payer-funded trough which seems – de facto if not de jure – acceptable to the ruling party. No – she stole from the ANC itself!

“The theft was first revealed by the Ngobeni commission, which traced leads indicating that Maropeng (36) had misused money allocated for ANC constituency offices.”

The ANC needed to send out a very swift and clear message that while it has a laissez-faire attitude to stealing from the fiscus – i.e. the Travelgate MPs – stealing from the ANC itself would be swiftly and harshly punished.

Credible defence

Accordingly, her robust and entirely credible defence availed her nothing.

“Maropeng told the court during the trial that Mpumalanga’s administration and its ruling ANC government were so corrupt that she should not be singled-out and blamed for ‘minor’ irregularities.

“Insisting she was being victimised for falling out of political favour with powerful ANC colleagues, Maropeng alleged that far more serious crimes were being committed with impunity by far more important politicians.

“She also insisted that she was merely emulating techniques used by political colleagues for setting up front companies and winning government tenders.”

Read also: Africa’s #1 challenge: corruption. But words sans deeds lets evil flourish.

After a comparatively brief investigation and trial, Maropeng was jailed for seven years.

To make sure the party’s deployed cadres got the message, her house was auctioned by the Asset Forfeiture Unit and in June 2003 Justice Minister Penuell Maduna and public prosecutions director Bulelani Ngcuka flew to Nelspruit to hand to provincial authorities the R177 000 realised from the auction. This took place at a press conference to ensure maximum publicity.

And that, as the saying goes, was that.

Five years ago Willie Hofmeyr, then head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) told parliament that corruption cost the country between R25bn and R30bn annually.

Despite this, Maropeng was the last ANC politician to go to jail.

Sordid revelation

Not a day goes past that we are not battered by yet another sordid revelation in what I have given the nicely alliterative title of the ANC’s “Tsunami of Sleaze”.

The ANC’s “Broad Church” has morphed into a whitened sepulchre where the contemporary versions of the biblical moneylenders are not only welcome in the temple they actually run the place. They choose the Pharisees and try to suborn the tax collector.

Twenty years ago Mark Gevisser wrote “Portraits of Power – Profiles in a Changing South Africa” and it is fascinating, with the wisdom of hindsight, to revisit its 41 interviews with the movers and shakers of that era.

One of them was Eugene Nyati and here’s an extract: “‘Gravy Train’ scandal hit the broadsheets in September 1995, when it was alleged that Eugene Nyati – a consultant with the Mpumalanga Government – had pocketed R1.2 million’s worth of state money. Nyati, whom I went to see in Nelspruit shortly thereafter, was not an easy interview. In fact, he so infuriated my good natured colleague, Henner Frankenfeld, that I found myself physically having to separate them. Following the publication of my interview Tribute published allegations that he was not even South African, that his real name was Albert Nina, that all his qualifications were false and that he had been expelled from the University of Zimbabwe for political reasons.”

You have to shake your head in retrospective bemusement. He chowed little more than a million – today the average tenderpreneur would regard that as small change.

To paraphrase Justice Malala: “What a loser!”

Hennie van der Walt, Leon de Beer and Pietie du Plessis clearly got a bum rap – but things were different back then.

  • Ed Herbst is a pensioner and former reporter who writes in his own capacity.

* For more in-depth business news, visit biznews.com or simply sign up for the daily newsletter.

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