Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe during the Africa Oil Week at the Cape Town ICC. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES
Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe during the Africa Oil Week at the Cape Town ICC. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

The traditional definition of fraud is: “The crime involving wilful perversion of the truth made with intent to deceive and resulting in actual or potential prejudice to another”. 

The editors of The Law of SA (LawSA) prefer a more modern version: “Fraud is the unlawful and intentional making of a misrepresentation which causes actual prejudice or which is potentially prejudicial to another.”

It is instructive to examine the recent gyrations of minister of energy and mineral resources Gwede Mantashe, also chair of the ANC, in the light of these definitions.

First, he involves himself in an extramarital escapade that could be triangular or quadrangular (depending on whether Tito Mboweni shares his paramour). Then, he tells the editor of Sunday World he has paid bribes of R70,000 to two of his journalists to hush up the story. Thereafter, he denies having said so. Finally, when confronted with an audio recording that gives the lie to his denial of having said so, he retracts the bribery allegations made by him, admitting they are false.

Meanwhile, lie-detector tests are administered to Sunday World journalists and much indignant ink is spilt in the columns of the media commentariat.

Pulling a disgraceful fraud on the press is hardly compliance with that oath of office

The media, relieved that its members are not bribe-takers, seem to be taking the “thank goodness for that” line and closing the chapter on the story. Not so fast. What Mantashe has done is criminal, whether he had given the bribes (who will ever really know?) or the admission that he lied to the editor of Sunday World is all that sticks, as it must. That lie was made in circumstances in which Mantashe was cornered, and its subsequent retraction does nothing to exonerate him from the consequences of trying to fib his way out of a tight corner.

He has, in effect, admitted to the perpetration of a fraud on the unfortunate editor and his staff, as well as on the press in general. All the elements of the crime are there: a misrepresentation (“I bribed your journalists”) wilfully made (Mantashe was surely sober) causing direct and actual prejudice to the good name and reputation of the journalists employed at Sunday World as well as potential prejudice to Sunday World and the press as a whole.

Consider the activities of the Satchwell panel investigating journalistic ethics and the malpractice involved in “brown-envelope journalism” made famous by the shady activities of Ebrahim Rasool and others.

Even being subjected to the entirely foreseeable lie-detector tests can be regarded as a form of prejudice that flows from the uttering of the fraud by Mantashe.

As a national cabinet minister, Mantashe has sworn an oath of office that obliges him to uphold the law and the constitution. Pulling a disgraceful fraud on the press is hardly compliance with that oath of office.

In all the circumstances, the victims of his fraud should be queuing up at their nearest police station to lay charges against Mantashe. The Hawks should give the matter priority attention and the National Prosecuting Authority should prosecute without delay, and without making excuses about the lack of resources available to it. This is a single-charge simple case and the evidence is readily available.

Resign forthwith

In any society in which accountability is a foundational value, the prosecution of so blatant a fraud, openly admitted by its perpetrator, should be regarded as low-hanging fruit for the criminal justice administration to harvest and present to the courts diligently and without delay, which is the standard expected of those tasked constitutionally with the investigation (the police) and prosecution (NPA) of crime.

As for Mantashe, he should resign forthwith. If he does not, the integrity committee of the ANC should look into the matter and make its recommendations urgently. Mantashe serves in the cabinet at the pleasure of the president. The Sunday World affair ought to give the president no pleasure at all. He should be the first to react to the story, as it is described above, by dismissing Mantashe from the cabinet without delay.

SA escaped junk status by a hair’s breadth on November 1. Keeping on fraudsters in cabinet is no way to encourage the ratings agencies to improve the credit ratings. Indeed, being soft on corruption is one of many factors that have driven the country to the parlous state in which it finds itself. The trust and confidence of investors in our economy cannot be won by turning a blind eye to the fraud Mantashe has perpetrated. He must go.

The president spent the first weekend of November in the company of winners at the Rugby World Cup final in Japan. He shouldn’t come home to losers such as Mantashe, who surely has a glittering alternative career awaiting him mining hazenile.

• Hoffman is an advocate and director of Accountability Now.