Nkandla Watch

Nkandla back as yet another cover-up falters

Nkandla rushing back centre stage

As yet another apparent ANC government cover-up and deflection manoeuvre appears to be coming apart, the Nkandla affair seems set to roar back to the centre stage of South African politics after the holiday lull. (Read more)

Towards the end of last year, with President Jacob Zuma claiming that several investigations had found him personally blameless, it was clear that the ANC was deploying a strategy to shift all blame to officials. With the media initially barred from the disciplinary hearings of 12 officials of the Department of Public Works (DPW), it seemed as if the attempt to shield Mr Zuma and his cabinet from the fall-out of the R246 million upgrades to his private residence could largely be successful.

Then in November news came that the former surgeon-general, Lt Gen Vejay Ramlakan, implicated in the construction of a military clinic, helicopter landing pad and military quarters within the Nkandla property’s perimeter, is going on early retirement. It came in the wake of the launch of a Defence Force (SANDF) probe into spending as part of the Nkandla upgrade.

According to a SANDF spokesperson Gen Ramlakan refused to testify before the department’s investigating team, scuppering a full and proper investigation.

In December came news that one of the 12 DPW officials in that department’s disciplinary hearings, director of projects Itumeleng Molosi, has entered into what appears to be a plea bargain agreement. In return for pleading guilty to irregular appointments of contractors he was suspended for two months without pay and with a “final” written warning, but retained his employment with benefits.

Molosi, who reportedly was a member of the department’s bid adjudication committee accused by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) of financial misconduct and irregular expenditure, served a brief spell as DPW’s KZN director towards the end of the Nkandla construction project. He will now also undergo some training in Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) procurement processes before resuming his duties.

Immediately in the wake of the Molosi news there was speculation that the remaining DPW officials would follow his example and it would seem that the strategy being followed to deflect blame away from Mr. Zuma was working well.

But such hopes were dashed in the first week of the new year when the Public Servants Association, which represents the remaining officials in the hearings due to resume next month, announced they will plead not guilty. “Our members are determined to let the internal disciplinary hearings go ahead,” the association’s KZN manager, Claude Naiker, reportedly said.

In the meantime it is still not final that these hearings will be taking place behind closed doors with the media excluded. A court application by Media24 to gain access to the process is still pending.

Some details of the charges against the officials have already started leaking out. Be it via direct media access or leaks, at least some details of the officials’ defence and the interaction between them and political functionaries during the Nkandla upgrade process are sure to enter the public domain during the coming weeks.

Then there is also the pending civil claim against Mr Zuma’s private architect, Minenhle Makhanya, whose lawyers have already been granted access to his confidential submission to the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) in preparation of his case. It is likely to contain some embarrassing details.

Parliamentary battleground

The most spectacular battleground surrounding the Nkandla affairs, as has been the case during the second half of 2014, will remain parliament. The drama is set to kick off right at the start of the 2015 parliamentary year.

Parliament opens officially on 12 February with President Zuma delivering his State of the Nation Address (SONA) that evening. Both occasions are traditionally telecasted live on TV.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have already declared their intentions to spoil the occasion for Mr Zuma for his lack of answering questions in parliament on the Nkandla affair. Both the ANC and Mr Zuma personally have declared their intentions not to allow the occasion to be disrupted.

Judged by what happened during the previous occasion of such disruption in parliament, with a public order policing unit invading the floor of the National Assembly, it has all the potential of turning into a highly embarrassing occasion for the country.

As Stephen Grootes rightly points out in an article in the Daily Maverick on Monday it could also put to the test the coalition on the affair, forged last year between opposition parties.

It also poses some challenges for the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), which is pursuing court actions against the Zuma administration on Nkandla and the infamous arms deal.

It is a tricky strategic and tactical terrain for the opposition. A big tactical mistake was probably already made last year by the opposition deciding to withdraw from the parliamentary committee considering the Public Prosecutor’s report on Nkandla. It robbed them of the opportunity to get a “minority report” onto the official records of parliament, making it a formal part of the debate on the matter.

Be that as it may, it is clear that despite all the ANC efforts to deflect and settle the Nkandla matter once and for all, it is set to dominate the political agenda in the country for some time to come. To date the strategies it has been following proved to be counterproductive.

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by Piet Coetzer

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