Ralph Mathekga | The VBS saga that won't go away

Towns in the Vhembe district, whose local authority lost R369 million due to the collapse of VBS Bank. This meant it couldn’t pay for repairs and maintenance of water pipes and boreholes, which resulted in water interruptions. (Sarel van der Walt)
Towns in the Vhembe district, whose local authority lost R369 million due to the collapse of VBS Bank. This meant it couldn’t pay for repairs and maintenance of water pipes and boreholes, which resulted in water interruptions. (Sarel van der Walt)

While the ANC and EFF  have taken a stance on the VBS saga, it is likely to have a crippling impact on both parties, writes Ralph Mathekga.

South Africa's anti-corruption drive has just hit a speed hump due to the country's politics which is not aligned to support a meaningful anti-corruption drive in society. This is despite all the noise by ANC leaders, including President Ramaphosa, that the party prioritises good governance as a foundation for development.

After the party's decision to reinstate senior party members implicated in the VBS looting, the ANC has nailed its colours to the mast.

The message is clear: the ANC is not a platform for anti-corruption.

Some might have not been surprised by the ANC's decision to reinstate its embattled members.

The mere fact that the VBS issue, which speaks for itself, had to be placed on the party's agenda for deliberation simply shows that the ANC is out of touch with society.

Lift suspension

Those who argued for the reinstatement of the senior members are said to have insisted that since no formal charges have been levelled against the two members, the suspension should be lifted. This should be seen against the context of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) arresting those implicated in the VBS matter.

By reinstating Limpopo's Danny Msiza and Florence Radzilani, the ANC has effectively undermined efforts by the NPA to ensure that justice is seen to be served in relation to the VBS matter.

The reasoning said to have been put forward in justifying the reinstatement of the duo is quite worrying.

It is not about refuting the allegations that the two have played a role in the saga, but rather about why should they be the only ones facing consequences while other party members facing similar allegations be allowed to go about their lives as free citizens.

Of course, the principle of fairness is important when it comes to how power ought to be exercised in an open democratic system. The genius of some of the ANC members led them to the conclusion that it would be very unfair and damaging to society if the two officials were sanctioned while some within the party are left alone.

It makes sense when one comes to think of it.

If the current Parliamentary Portfolio Chair Bongani Bongo can continue not only as an MP but as a chair of portfolio committee while facing corruption charges in court, what is the worst that could happen?

The whole VBS thing begins to then look like a misdemeanour. It is not about asking whether one is involved in wrongdoing, it is rather about the scale of how big the theft is and whether we can pursue the matter seriously, depending on the scale.

In his response to the question about the role of his business associates in collapsing the Limpopo budget in relation to On Point Engineering company, EFF leader Julius Malema stated that he was puzzled that the entire province could be collapsed by losing R50 million.

Malema was right, but for worrying reasons.

Difficult prosecution to pursue

Indeed, it is unfair to blame a small-time thief for the collapse of the province if the big wigs can walk free. But the challenge with this type of reasoning is that it give the impression that pursuing small fry shouldn't happen when there are bigger and better things to chase. 

As for the NPA, the VBS prosecution will prove even more difficult to pursue as the saga has united two big political parties.

Within days of the NPA charging those involved in the VBS scandal, the ANC and EFF took a position on the matter and there certainly was no inkling of support for the NPA from both parties.

Within the ANC, the VBS matter will play a bigger role in shaping internal politics toward the elective conference of the party in 2022. The ANC has been here before.

The Zuma corruption matter weakened the ANC by fuelling factionalism and keeping the party preoccupied with corruption.

The VBS matter, however, is much broader in that two parties are implicated but it is likely to have the same result in that it will leave not just the ANC weakened, but the EFF too.

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn. 

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