Cabinet ministers: why are these rogues still in office?
If Nhlanhla Nene fell on his sword in the interests of propriety, what are these cabinet ministers waiting for?
Nhlanhla Nene did a rare thing for a serving SA cabinet minister this month when he asked to be relieved of his duties as finance minister. He took this step following disclosures about private meetings with the Guptas — after previous denials — and questions arising around his time as chair of the Public Investment Corp.
We have, after all, become accustomed to our politicians clinging doggedly to their positions, even when they’re mired in controversy.
But Nene’s request threw this into sharp relief. So while President Cyril Ramaphosa mulled his options, many began to question why it was that Nene should go when other ministers with much darker clouds over their heads are still in cabinet — ministers who have been accused of lying under oath, enabling the state capture project, looting the departments they run, and accepting bribes.
When, in February, Ramaphosa reshuffled the cabinet he had inherited from Jacob Zuma, there was disbelief that these ministers had retained their seats. The president has since made it clear that he will reconfigure and cut down the executive, though this is only likely to happen after next year’s elections.
Meanwhile, the FM has rounded up the rogues — those ministers who, in a perfect world, would have done the honourable thing and left with Nene, if not long before.
Bathabile Dlamini: minister for women in the presidency
Former social development minister Dlamini is credited with the SA Social Security Agency fiasco, in which 17-million of the most vulnerable members of society were denied their social grants in an astounding display of ineptitude. Dlamini denied responsibility for the affair — and, in doing so, is thought to have lied to the highest court in the land.
Last month the Constitutional Court ordered Dlamini to pay, out of her own pocket, 20% of the legal costs incurred by the Black Sash Trust and Freedom Under Law. The court also ordered that the findings from an inquiry into whether she should be held personally liable, as well as the recent judgment, be handed to the National Prosecuting Authority so it could decide whether she should be prosecuted for perjury.
Yet she remains a member of the executive, having been moved, in February, from social development to the ministry for women in the presidency.
The controversial minister is also president of the ANC Women’s League, which has done very little for women’s issues. The league’s delegation to the ANC’s policy conference last year included men – something Dlamini deemed necessary because women, she said, can be too emotional. "Sometimes we lose debates because we become emotional, so now we want experts to argue," she told the Sunday Times.
But Dlamini is perhaps best known for her "smallanyana skeletons". In 2016, when deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas revealed that the Guptas had offered him the job of finance minister, she told the SABC: "If one starts throwing dirty linen outside, the others are going to say you have done this and this and that ... all of us there in the [national executive committee] have our smallanyana skeletons, and we don’t want to take all our skeletons out because hell will break loose."
Malusi Gigaba: minister of home affairs
Serial portfolio-hopper Gigaba has found himself at the centre of state-capture accusations — both for opening the door to the Guptas during his tenure as public enterprises minister (he allegedly littered the boards of state-owned entities with Gupta family associates), and for giving the Guptas preferential treatment while minister of tourism.
Gigaba also served a brief stint as finance minister, replacing Pravin Gordhan after Zuma’s late-night reshuffle last year. His appointment sparked fears that he had been put in the critical portfolio to push projects favouring the Guptas and to "capture" the National Treasury.
Between serving as public enterprises and finance minister, Gigaba kicked back at home affairs, where he tinkered with travel regulations and allegedly pushed through the Guptas’ SA citizenship — something he vehemently denied. Last June he told parliament he did this because of the family’s contribution to the economy.
Since Ramaphosa returned Gigaba to his post at home affairs in February, he has appeared before parliament again, this time to explain how the Guptas were granted citizenship when they did not meet the requirements.
Gigaba has, of course, denied that he had a corrupt relationship with the Guptas and that he was a key player in the state-capture project. "As a public representative I attend many functions and interact with many stakeholders. It does not follow that I am beholden to them," he told parliament. "I have done no favours for the Guptas; neither have I received any gratification from them."
Senzeni Zokwana: minister of agriculture, forestry & fisheries
The chair of the SACP, Zokwana joined Zuma’s executive in 2014 as minister of agriculture, forestry & fisheries — a position he retains in Ramaphosa’s administration.
His tenure hasn’t been without controversy. Earlier this year, it emerged that the Hawks were probing allegations that Zuma had accepted a R1m bribe from a Western Cape abalone dealer in exchange for keeping Zokwana in his cabinet.
City Press reported that businessman Chaile Seretse further alleged in an affidavit that Zokwana, then Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini and agriculture deputy director-general Siphokazi Ndudane had each received a R300,000 bribe from the same businessman.
Zokwana has denied the allegations, and it is unclear if the Hawks are still investigating the matter.
But Zokwana’s department is also in the public protector’s sights, for alleged financial irregularities. And in May, members of the National Education Health & Allied Workers’ Union reportedly stormed Zokwana’s office in a bid to have him removed from his post, accusing him of fuelling the illegal abalone trade.
Nomvula Mokonyane: minister of communications
"Mama Action" Mokonyane is no stranger to controversy — most notably because of the financial trouble she left behind at the department of water & sanitation. The crisis has largely been attributed to poor leadership, deviations over the years including duplicate payments, spending on projects that were not budgeted for and payments for incomplete projects.
There were even calls to place the department under administration.
In 2017, allegations surfaced that Luvo Makasi, now Central Energy Fund chair, was influencing contracts in the water department. The year before, City Press reported that Mokonyane was in hot water after then public protector Thuli Madonsela asked the auditor-general’s office to investigate "irregularities and improprieties" in relation to the expansion of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
The Special Investigating Unit is also probing suspected wrongdoing in the awarding of tenders by the department.
Mokonyane, a staunch Zuma supporter, was the ANC’s head of elections in the run-up to the 2016 local government elections. Last year, when the rand took a dive after Zuma removed Gordhan from the post of finance minister, Mokonyane made headlines by telling an ANC Youth League rally: "Let the rand fall, we will pick it up."
What it means
Elsewhere in the world, the mere whiff of impropriety is enough to push politicians to tender their resignations
On the margins
Never mind outright mismanagement or ineptitude — in many other countries the mere whiff of impropriety is sufficient to push politicians to tender their resignations. If that were the case in SA, deputy president David Mabuza, public works minister Thulas Nxesi, and arts & culture minister Nathi Mthethwa would also probably be out.
A recent New York Times article detailed the alleged dodgy deals that propelled Mabuza to the second-most powerful office in SA. The article set out his chequered history, including claims of cash being siphoned from schools for his personal benefit.
Opposition parties have since grilled Mabuza in parliament over the allegations. He maintains his innocence, saying he is prepared to prove it in court and subject himself to a lifestyle audit.
In another world, the Nkandla saga could have been the political swansong for Nxesi and Mthethwa (formerly police minister). In her report on the multimillion-rand security upgrades to Zuma’s personal residence, Madonsela stipulated that the two ministers should be "reprimanded".
What followed was sheer farce. After the Constitutional Court ruled that the public protector’s recommendations were binding, Zuma sent letters to the two ministers, stating: "The Constitutional Court has affirmed the direction by the public protector, among others, that I am required to reprimand the ministers involved in the Nkandla project, for what the public protector termed ‘the appalling manner in which the Nkandla project was handled and state funds were abused, … Pursuant to the latter, I hereby deliver the reprimand required." Done.