SA Politics 2017

2017, Shaping up to become Sarafina III

Dr Dlamini-Zuma for Sarafina III
Dlamini-Zuma.jpg

In their almost 23 years in power the African National Congress has not moved a single centimetre towards becoming a truly democratic and accountable political party. That’s the only real message from its 8 January statement this last Sunday.

All we are seeing and hearing is a repeat performance of what happened In 1995 with the ANC’s first scandal, barely a year after it came to power as the dominant party in what was then the government of national unity. Even one of the lead players in the corruption drama of 1995 and the years immediately afterwards, is back in a leading role.

The name of the 1995/96/97 drama was Sarafina II, a government-sponsored musical supposed to carry an anti-Aids message to the illiterate and especially to the youth. But it also went to Broadway and cost $4 million or around R60 million in terms of the present exchange rate.

Judging from archive material, Sarafina II looks very much like a template for what happened in more recent history around President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence – from lies by a member of the executive to parliament to a rigged tender process and a negative report by the then Public Protector (PP) Selby Baqwa.

On the government’s side, the central figure was the then minister of health in the Mandela cabinet, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is now also one of the front-running candidates to succeed President Jacob Zuma (her ex-husband) in 2019.

Late in 1995 Dr Dlamini-Zuma and director-general Olive Shisana had refused to attend a public hearing of the relevant parliamentary portfolio committee, which then had to be postponed to early 1996.

In the end, however, the ANC supported the minister, who remained unapologetic – as later in the case of her (by then) ex-husband in the Nkandla matter. Even then President Mandela, after the PP’s report, in a statement issued on his behalf by at the time deputy president Thabo Mbeki, commended the minister “for the steps she has taken and will take to rectify errors identified in the report”. It argued that the report and Dlamini-Zuma’s swift response to it “reinforces the confidence the president has in the minister and her efforts to transform the health system in our country”.

And another lie

The “steps” included an unnamed private donor. This, in the end, turned out to be, at best, misleading – and the taxpayer had to pick up the bill after the European Union withdrew donations to the department, declaring: “We have itemised budgets, listing every project and activity that the EU is supporting. An Aids theatre project is not among them, nor was Sarafina II ever discussed with us as it would have had to be.”

In April this year the website Polotiki News, in an article, wrote: “The similarities with the Nkandla affair are eerie. There’s the same, significant abuse of public money. The same poor tender processes. The same stonewalling and refusal to account before Parliament. The same smears of the opposition and the media. The same blind political support. The same kind of adverse finding from the public protector that led to no meaningful consequence. Ultimately, the same warping of Parliament to the ANC’s will.”

Coming a long way

As far back as October 1996, the New York Times reported that many regarded the Sarafina scandal as “… an example of a disturbing trend: Even some supporters say that after more than two years in office, the African National Congress is developing a poor record on handling charges of corruption and misconduct within its ranks.”

It would seem as if nothing has changed.

If anything, a firm ANC tradition has been established regarding corruption and non-accountability by ANC members of the national executive. During the early days of the Sarafina II affair President Mandela lashed out at the news media for “creating such an uproar” and said Dr Zuma should be left alone to do her job.

Do not expect this tradition to be broken any time soon.

by Piet Coetzer

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