Lebo Keswa says the ANC operates like the mafia – where is the proof?

2015-01-10 20:15

The recent events in France, while farfetched to many South Africans, should remind us of the value of freedom of press. A free press is an indispensable institution in a constitutional democracy. However, the foundational nature of the institution creates a collateral duty on the media to inform the public.

Politicians and fundamentalist terrorists are not the only threats to freedom of press. Journalists and columnists that publish spurious and unsubstantiated allegations also compromise the institution by eroding public trust or fuelling misinformation.

In South Africa, like in most democracies around the world, the right to a free press is hard-earned. For this reason, we should be vigilant and call out the media when it abdicates its responsibility to inform. Lebo Keswa’s recent column on Daily Maverick is perhaps the most recent example of this abdication.

The allegations made by Keswa in the column are an indictment of our democracy (as a whole) in a scale we have not experienced before. We can all see that the ship is treading rough waters. If the allegations are true, then the ship is sinking!

Keswa’s column is a maze and I will try here to restate the allegations, hopefully not misstating or misrepresenting what she says.

The allegations relate to business tycoon Robert Gumede. In 2010, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and the State Information Technology Agency awarded Gumede’s company, GijimaAST, a R360 million tender to convert 500 million pages of deeds records in deeds offices across the country into microfilms.

On December 21, 2014, the Sunday Independent reported a court bid by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to have the ward declared irregular and scrapped.

The court bid, the Independent reported, raises questions about the tender process and Gijima’s performance after the reward. The SIU alleges that the Gijima inflated the pricing by more than R100 million. Moreover, the deal is the second Gijima tender award to collapse after performance issues.

Keswa, however, asks the public not to “fooled”. She says Gumede’s company is subjected to “SIU scrutiny” because “[Gumede] no longer enjoys the blind protection that many other ANC funders seem to enjoy.” She warns that, “[the public] should not be fed internal conflict propaganda of the ANC at the expense of the credibility of state apparatus”.

Keswa then makes a startling allegation: “This [presumably the Gumede saga] is sadly linked to its horrible habit of consuming services and then not paying suppliers, making many businesses go into liquidation or else forcing them into ugly or expensive legal spats.” More, she questions whether the SIU would have investigated Gijima if it “were in the good books of the powers that be today within the ANC”.

Keswa does more than just suggest a pattern of criminality involving the ANC and the private sector. First, business people “[start] off as ‘part sponsors’ or funders, with the hope of accessing state tenders in return.” Second, those who fund the ANC are presumably awarded tenders fraudulently and are protected from criminal prosecution in return for more funds. Third, when the funders fall out of favour with the ANC, “previous arrangements are conveniently forgotten or blatantly ignored.” [Her words.]

These are serious allegations. We, as the public, should not take them lightly. Unfortunately, Keswa gives us more questions than answers. If we take our democratic responsibilities seriously, we must pose questions back.

We, as citizens in a constitutional democracy, must be alarmed by the allegation that democratic institutions are captured or beholden to the ruling party. More so when the ruling party is allegedly conducting itself like the mafia: demanding money in return for protection from the law.

We must also ask how far the capture goes. Is the NPA involved? Is the judiciary involved? What about those who are shaken down by the ruling party, why won’t they speak up?

Keswa appears to have written her column on the basis of undisclosed information. But, her column is not a blog piece. It is published in one of the country’s top publications. There is a responsibility to provide evidence and to substantiate the allegations.

I read the column from Cambridge, Massachusetts. I imagine that many people around the world did too. Without evidence, the column is merely a tirade of damaging allegations not worthy of publication. Damaging not just to the ANC, but also to our democracy and to our values as a nation.

This post must not be perceived as an attack on Lebo Keswa or Daily Maverick (perhaps the only truly independent local publication). However, if they know something we do not, we (I) too want to know.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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