Not fair to call us Zuma ministers, says Bongani Bongo

Bongani Bongo. Picture: Tebogo Letsie
Bongani Bongo. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

So says new home affairs committee chair Bongani Bongo of his return as MP, along with that of other tainted names, in a move that has raised public ire.

The labelling of recently appointed heads of parliamentary portfolio committees as “Zuma ministers” – suggesting that they are not befitting of their new deployments – has been criticised as “disingenuous, unfair and unwarranted”.

These were the sentiments expressed by recent appointee Bongani Bongo, who was appointed this week as the new chairperson of the home affairs portfolio committee.

Bongo, a former state security minister, has been accused of bribery.

He and a host of other former MPs who were seen as close allies of former president Jacob Zuma, and have been implicated in wrongdoing, are now the subjects of criticism after their appointments to be chairpersons of parliamentary committees on Wednesday.

Eyebrows were raised when ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule announced that former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson – who was implicated in overseeing the selling off of the country’s strategic fuel reserves during her tenure under Zuma – will chair the police portfolio committee.

Former controversial mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane has been appointed chairperson of the portfolio committee on transport.

And former premier of North West, Supra Mahumapelo, who is also mired in controversy, is now chairperson of the portfolio committee on tourism, while alleged Gupta acolyte Faith Muthambi is another former Cabinet minister is the new chairperson of the committee on cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

Speaking to City Press on Friday, Bongo said that, after the announcement of the new chairs, there had been an “unjustified” rush to “unfairly” label the appointees as Zuma ministers – a term that he says comes with negative connotations.

“We are not necessarily Zuma ministers; we are members of the ANC and have been elected as such,” said Bongo.

“So, when President Cyril Ramaphosa was making a choice, he chose individuals who are members of the ANC. It is unfair to point out certain people from among the host of ANC members and say: ‘These are former Zuma ministers.’ It is unfair to label anyone a so-and-so minister.”

Bongo said that most of the MPs being “reduced to just Zuma ministers” had served under various leaders.

“Some of us have served under more than one president, from Thabo Mbeki to the incumbent, Ramaphosa. There are some among us who have even served under Nelson Mandela, then Mbeki, Zuma and now Ramaphosa. How should they be referred to? By which president should they be called?

“This is just the media’s way of driving a wedge and creating factions within the governing party.”

Bongo added that the link with Zuma “was a way of implying some nonexistent wrongdoing” on his part and that of the other ministers, “which is misleading”.

In 2017, Bongo was accused of trying to bribe a parliamentary employee.

“I have appeared before the subcommittee of the joint committee on ethics and members’ interests, and I have been awaiting the findings,” he said.

“And, recently, after I had not been told of the outcome, I took it upon myself to approach the courts because this thing is still lingering over my head.

“I requested the court to force Parliament to tell me the outcome. The court said it could not interfere with the work of Parliament.”

The subcommittee was looking into claims that Bongo had tried to bribe Ntuthuzelo Vanara, the evidence leader of the parliamentary inquiry into the capture of Eskom, Transnet and Denel.

In October 2017, Vanara submitted a sworn statement to the ethics committee that Bongo had offered him a “blank cheque” if he would suppress the investigation.

Claiming that he had subjected himself to the ANC’s integrity commission regarding the matter, Bongo said: “It found nothing untoward, hence the reason I and the other former ministers have now been redeployed into the new portfolios.”

Bongo was one of 22 individuals “singled out”, he said, from the party’s elections list for an ethics interview.

But despite his protestations of innocence, many – including labour federation Cosatu – are unconvinced.

The ANC alliance partner’s parliamentary coordinator, Matthew Parks, told City Press that Cosatu was “quite concerned about some of the persons who have been appointed as chairpersons”.

“Those [the majority of the portfolio committee chairs] are the people who have been named in inquiries into corruption and state capture. It will be difficult for the public to take such people’s credibility seriously. You have four people who failed as ministers; how do we expect them to hold the state to account? It reflects the quality of the ANC’s list of MPs and it reflects the internal decisions of the ANC,” said Parks.

Referring to Bongo, Parks said: “The fact that you can have someone whom Parliament itself accused of having bribed officials shows that the ANC does not have the power to manage the integrity of its own public representatives.”

Bongo said he was not the one dragging his feet on the matter as he “wants to know the outcome just as eagerly as everyone else”, and urged South Africans to rally behind all the newly appointed committee chairs.

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