The crater-sized pothole at the corner of Jan Smuts and Seventh Avenue, Parktown North, that was only fixed two weeks ago. Picture: Toby Shapshak
The crater-sized pothole at the corner of Jan Smuts and Seventh Avenue, Parktown North, that was only fixed two weeks ago. Picture: Toby Shapshak

Hell will freeze over before I vote for Herman Mashaba again.  I say again because I foolishly threw away a perfectly good vote in the 2016 local government election by voting for the DA’s unlikely candidate for Joburg’s mayor. 

I won’t be making the same mistake in October, after Mashaba said he planned to stand for mayor again as the leader of a new party, ActionSA, in the local government election scheduled for October 27.

Back in 2016, I figured the former businessman — who proved his mettle by successfully creating the Black Like Me hair-care business in the 1980s, despite the onerous restrictions of apartheid — was a breath of less stale air. 

However, the kind of mayor and human being that Mashaba revealed himself to be during his stint as mayor, from August 2016 to October 2019, represented the antithesis of leadership: combative, belligerent and bizarrely xenophobic. It was on his watch that the City of Joburg began to crumble.

By the time Mashaba quit the party and as mayor, amid a fit of indignation, the city was already so badly potholed nobody could drive down a road without fearing a burst tyre. 

Perhaps worst of all, as a result of Mashaba’s resignation, we now have Geoff Makhubo as mayor of Joburg. 

Makhubo — a man representing the ANC, otherwise known as the state capture congress, against whom there are myriad allegations of misconduct — allegedly allowed corrupt payments (from technology company EOH) to be made directly into the bank account of his own company, Molelwane Consulting. And he’s arrogant.

Few, not even Carl Niehaus, who, trying to clear a debt, claimed his own mother had died, could top that degree of brazenness.

Yet this is what has been revealed, in devastating detail, at the Zondo commission. Given this evidence, it seems baffling that the National Prosecuting Authority hasn’t yet paid a visit to his mayoral chambers.

You may think that, given its much-touted “renewal”, the ANC would have already asked Makhubo to step aside. But this hasn’t happened, partly because Makhubo hasn’t yet been criminally charged.

Former Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba. Picture: Simphiwe Nkwali
Former Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba. Picture: Simphiwe Nkwali

The party remains frozen. As it stands, the “step aside” resolution of Africa’s oldest liberation movement is so vague that not only is suspended secretary-general Ace Magashule now challenging it in court, the party’s radical economic transformation (RET) faction is trying to use this rule to oust President Cyril Ramaphosa.

From the outside, it’s painful to watch how someone like Magashule —charged with 74 counts of fraud, theft, corruption and money laundering — is trying to equate looting hundreds of millions from the Free State government intended for poor black people with the campaign funding scandal being whipped up around Ramaphosa. And yet, the ANC is so ethically rudderless that many of its members only see this in political terms — that the desire for criminal accountability for theft is somehow an attempt by a “faction” to sideline them.

This group — headed by Magashule, former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo and former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede — evidently see nothing morally impeachable about stealing from state coffers. Instead, they mount the feeble argument that being held to account for corruption amounts to being “targeted”.

Another of their tactics is to play the “nothing to see here — we’ve all heard these allegations before” card. Which is equally wrong. 

As Stephen Grootes writes in the Daily Maverick: “With swirling political dynamics around issues such as the ‘step aside’ resolution in the ANC, the Zondo commission and the local elections in SA reaching ever greater heights, one man may find himself at the confluence of all three. And what happens to him may in fact influence the final outcome in this increasingly mad dance.”

This man is Makhubo, who appeared at the Zondo commission last week, where he tried to explain away a R570,000 payment to his company, Molelwane Consulting — R405,000 of which was paid directly into his own account.

The uncomfortable truth is that soon after these payments, the City of Joburg quite remarkably (though the ANC would prefer the term “coincidentally”) gave EOH a contract worth R404m. “We will submit that these were ultimately corrupt payments,” evidence leader advocate Matthew Chaskalson told Makhubo at the Zondo commission. 

There is much to reflect on here. First, it is worth considering that had Stephen van Coller not taken over as CEO of EOH in 2018, all these payments may have remained hidden. So it speaks volumes about SA’s corporate ethics too.

Second, we ought to also pause and reflect on the fact that the ANC left Makhubo in his position as the mayor of Joburg, the richest city on the continent, for many months after these allegations were first ventilated in 2020.

Even today, the ANC hasn’t fired him. And maybe it fears that if it dares to do so, without a formal criminal charge, the unhinged RET faction will try leverage that exact argument to force Ramaphosa to step down. 

This suggests it’s a political party that is so utterly broken that it can’t tell the difference in severity between criminal charges, apparently corrupt payments reflected on bank statements, and how an internal election is funded. In the ANC’s corrupted synapses, it considers these all to be roughly equivalent ethical breaches.

Not that this would surprise many South Africans. As Bathabile Dlamini (the leader of the ANC Women’s League, who the Constitutional Court found to have been “reckless and grossly negligent” as the cabinet minister responsible for social grants) famously reminded us, everyone in the ANC has “smallanyana skeletons”.

This, as much as the potholes and the wholesale collapse of the Joburg Roads Agency (JRA), is the legacy that Mashaba left us in SA’s economic capital. 

It seems inevitable that SA’s high-calibre investigative journalists, like amaBhungane, will soon uncover more of the dodgy deals that happened during his frankly disastrous time as mayor. He doesn’t deserve another chance.

Shapshak is publisher of Stuff.co.za and Scrolla.Africa

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