New minister is a JZ loyalist

President Jacob Zuma with freshly sworn in minister of state security Bongani Bongo. (Jan Gerber, News24)
President Jacob Zuma with freshly sworn in minister of state security Bongani Bongo. (Jan Gerber, News24)

Newly appointed Minister of State Security Bongani Bongo has an interesting history in Parliament.

In 2014, the then relatively unknown MP, from Siyabuswa in Mpumalanga, was catapulted into the national spotlight during a heated parliamentary debate. Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs, led by Julius Malema, embarrassingly referred to him as “mkhwenyana” (son-in-law), as Bongo delivered his speech.

EFF MPs later alleged this was because Bongo was dating an EFF MP.

At the time, Bongo had only been in Parliament for six months, but he went on to establish himself over the next three years. Bongo took positions in two parliamentary oversight committees – justice and correctional services and defence. In the House, he raised countless points of order in defence of President Jacob Zuma’s dignity.

A former parliamentary journalist who covered the justice committee in 2015 and 2016, this week described Bongo as “party-line all the way, no compromise”.

“He just never seemed original,” observed the journalist.

While Bongo may not appear “original” to some, he was the ANC’s point man, particularly in the justice committee. If you wanted to know the party’s position on a matter, Bongo was the man to listen to, and he would not hold back.

Bongo led the group of ANC MPs who blocked proposals that the then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela be invited to address the justice committee before her departure from office in October 2016.

Bongo didn’t like Madonsela. In several meetings over three years he repeatedly harassed her. He asked her the same questions, about the state-owned car her son Wanda crashed in February 2012, her overseas trips, her international awards and whether these came with monetary rewards and whether she disclosed this.

A year after her departure from office, he still questions some of her work.

While Bongo couldn’t stand Madonsela, he appears to be a fan of her successor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

Earlier this month, as opposition MPs criticised Mkhwebane for her controversial recommendation to Parliament to amend the Constitution and bring changes to the mandate of the SA Reserve Bank (Sarb), Bongo heaped praise on her.

“The Reserve Bank is an issue that still needs to be pursued. Don’t be deterred by the issue that you instructed Parliament and allow people to make that a big problem,” he said. He applauded Mkhwebane for “an intelligent move” in withdrawing her remedial action after receiving widespread criticism. It was contained in her report, released in June, on Absa’s bailout of Bankorp in 1992.

While his admiration for Mkhwebane’s work is obvious, it pales into insignificance when compared to his devotion to Zuma. Bongo is always ready to rise in the House in Zuma’s defence and leap up to object to MPs who omit the honorifics when referring to the president.

Last month, when the justice committee sought to implement a recommendation Madonsela made in April 2010, to tighten the laws governing the acceptance of gifts by members of the executive, Bongo led the charge to stonewall the process.

Previously, Madonsela found Zuma to be in breach of the Executive Ethics Code for his failure to declare his interests in 2009, as required by law. Seven years later, Bongo didn’t think the matter was a priority.

He wondered why the committee was reacting to the Public Protector’s remedial action against the “executive ethics what-what” and not addressing Mkhwebane’s remedial action about the Sarb.

He clashed with EFF MP Floyd Shivambu in August last year, during the interview process to find a replacement for Madonsela. Shivambu asked one of the candidates, National Prosecuting Authority advocate Willie Hofmeyr, why he charged Schabir Shaik and not Zuma with corruption. Bongo objected, saying the question was sub judice.

Bongo is a former director of legal services of the department of human settlements in Mpumalanga. He is an advocate by profession.

Bongo said the priority matter for the cluster (justice, crime prevention and security) is the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill, which he worked on as part of the justice committee.

“I was very close to it. We want to see it finalised,” he said.

“Ours in the main is about protecting the sovereignty of the state and promoting national security,” said Bongo.


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