EFF leaders Floyd Shivambu (left) and Julius Malema. Picture: REUTERS
EFF leaders Floyd Shivambu (left) and Julius Malema. Picture: REUTERS

A deluge of condemnation has rained down on Economic Freedom Fighters chief whip Floyd Shivambu for his attack on a senior Treasury official on the grounds that he undermined African leadership.

At Tuesday’s meeting of Parliament’s finance committee, Shivambu questioned the presence of Treasury deputy director general Ismail Momoniat. He asked why Momoniat, who is of Indian decent, repeatedly appeared before the committee on a whole range of issues when there were senior African officials who could attend on behalf of Treasury, including director general Dondo Mogajane. This, according to Shivambu, undermined Africans.

Condemnation of his comments and support for Momoniat came from Mogajane, African National Congress chief whip Jackson Mthembu, the finance committee and both Reserve Bank deputy governor Kuben Naidoo and Banking Association of SA MD Cas Coovadia in their personal capacities.

Mogajane said in a TV interview on the Karima Brown Show that he did not agree with Shivambu’s "unfortunate" comments and fully supported Momoniat. He said he had been unable to attend the finance committee as he was attending a meeting of the standing committee on public accounts on the same day. Momoniat acted on his direct authority and instruction, he said, and had played a major role in building Treasury to what it was today. He was a professional and not a racist, said Mogajane.

Mogajane also said Momoniat frequently attended finance committee meetings because the committee was dealing with a lot of reforms which fell under his responsibility. Other senior Treasury officials attended other committees’ meetings.

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu condemned Shivambu’s utterances saying they "border on racism and are highly derogatory towards the South African Indian community." According to Mthembu: "Mr Shivambu’s erratic behaviour towards non-Africans is cause for grave concern. Earlier this year, Mr Shivambu physically assaulted a white journalist for taking photos of him on the Parliament precinct. This behaviour is utterly despicable from a Member of Parliament.

"Comrade Ishmail Momoniat is a tried and tested cadre of the congress movement, who earned his stripes in the struggle for liberation of our people when it was not fashionable to do so. Comrade Momoniat has always conducted himself as a consummate professional dedicated to serving his country through his work as the head of tax and financial sector policy at National Treasury," Mthembu said.

In a rare tweet Naidoo said the attack on Momoniat had to be countered. He said Momoniat "is one of the finest civil servants that this country has produced. I challenge those attacking him to subject themselves to lifestyle audits. His critics have something to hide."

Coovadia was concerned that Shivambu’s racist comments would feed into social divisions. He stressed that both he and Momoniat considered themselves to be African. Momoniat had made a tremendous contribution to the country and continued to do so.

The finance committee unanimously condemned Shivambu’s attack on Momoniat on racial grounds. Chairman Yunus Carrim said in a statement that Shivambu’s "crude attack on Mr Momoniat was unwarranted and not consistent with the non-racial principles necessary for a transformative agenda that addresses race, class and gender inequalities in our country.

"Of course, you can’t have non-racialism without African leadership, but you also cannot exclude non-Africans simply on the basis of their race. What next? Are we going to dismiss the contribution of Ahmed Kathrada, Joe Slovo, Helen Joseph and Dulcie September simply on the grounds of race? We don’t have to compromise one iota on the need for African leadership, while accepting the role of outstanding public servants like Mr Momoniat," Carrim said.

The committee said it had persistently raised with Treasury the need to ensure that its senior officials were more representative of the racial and gender demographics of the country and consistently called for the entire financial sector to also be more demographically representative.

The committee said that it had no evidence that Momoniat was corrupt, as Shivambu has claimed, knowing him to be "an extremely hardworking, honest, skilled and very experienced official who has served both the anti-apartheid struggle and our new democracy selflessly." It reaffirmed its confidence in Momoniat at Wednesday’s meeting.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za