Ranjeni Munusamy: Government's iron fist
There is one reason why the security cluster ministers are taking the Public Protector's Nkandla report on judicial review. Because they can. Who can stop them? Certainly not Citizen Voter. In five years when people get to vote again, this action will be long forgotten. The opposition parties in the new Parliament do not have sufficient seats to give the ANC any real trouble. Civil society? How? This is what 62.15% of the vote has delivered: invincibility for the political elite, once more. Enter Numsa and its new working class movement. It might take a while, but the ground is already rumbling.
It came like a bolt out of the blue. The announcement by the security cluster ministers that they have "resolved" to take Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report on the Nkandla upgrades on judicial review by the high court was unexpected this week. In effect, the "security cluster" does not even exist at present as the new president has yet to be elected in Parliament and to appoint a new Cabinet. It would seem, however, that the security ministers are quite confident that they will be able to undertake the review, even before they have been sworn in for the new term.
The review of the Public Protector's report is the second crafty move by government while public attention was averted. On 5 May, changes to the Farlam Commission of Inquiry's terms of reference were published in the Government Gazette. The clause relating to the role of government departments in the Marikana massacre was deleted from the scope of the inquiry, meaning that high-profile people in the state could escape having to testify before the commission.
It was surprising that the security cluster reintroduced the Nkandla scandal into national discourse after the ANC and government had worked hard to bury the issue ahead of the 7 May elections. The finding by Madonsela that President Jacob Zuma and his family had unduly benefitted from the R246 million upgrades at his Nkandla estate cast a shadow over the ANC's entire campaign. Still, the issue was successfully deflected from being dealt with by the last Parliament and the Presidency used the probe by the Special Investigating Unit to put the matter on ice.
At an ANC media briefing on Sunday to respond to the election results, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the Nkandla issue should be left to state institutions to deal with and conclude.
At an ANC security briefing in March, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa was non-committal about how government intended to respond to Madonsela's report and when. All he would say was: "Quite clearly there are inaccuracies in that report", without saying how government intended to remedy these. Asked about the supposed threats to the president's security, which led to the security cluster trying to interdict the release of Madonsela's provisional report, Mthethwa said these had been excised from the final report. This included issues relating to the security detail, the description of the safe haven (bunker) and the bulletproof windows.
But there was always going to be a challenge.
Daily Maverick reported ahead of the release of the Nkandla report in March that Zuma had written to Madonsela querying whether she was acting within her powers to conduct the investigation. This led to an exchange of correspondence between the presidency and the Public Protector's office, which has up to now not been disclosed.
In Zuma's letter to the Speaker of Parliament, Max Sisulu, responding to Madonsela's report, he noted the "stark differences" between the Public Protector's report and the government task team's report in respect of the findings and remedial actions. "In my experience in government I have not encountered such an anomaly," Zuma stated.
It is highly unlikely that the president and his ministers would have highlighted all these issues and then let it lie. Furthermore, at an ANC victory party on Saturday night, Zuma boldly stated: "There's nothing wrong with Nkandla." It is quite clear that Zuma does not believe he benefitted improperly and that he should pay back a percentage of the cost of the upgrades, as recommended by Madonsela.
The reasons provided by government for the review is that Madonsela's findings were "irrational, contradictory and… informed by material errors of law". Acting government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said the grounds for the review would be fully canvassed in the court papers.
"It is the Ministers' view that the Public Protector's report and the investigation she conducted trespass on the separation of powers doctrine and offend against section 198(d) of the Constitution which vests national security in Parliament and national executive," Williams said.
Madonsela said the move for a review of her report was premature as the matter needed to be debated by Parliament first. If there was a failure to reach common understanding, the matter could then be taken to court, Madonsela said, adding that she could not imagine any court finding in the ministers' favour.
The Democratic Alliance (DA), now minus its chief spokesperson on Nkandla, Lindiwe Mazibuko, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the new voice in Parliament, both condemned the move by the security cluster.
The DA said: "We will not hesitate to approach a court to become an intervening party if needs be. We will do everything possible to ensure that this latest attempt to bury the Nkandla scandal does not go unanswered without a fight."
The EFF was more threatening, saying they were prepared to take the matter to the highest court and embark on public protest. "President Zuma and his cronies are doing everything in their power to stay in government in order to continue their kleptocratic activities. This must be fought and the EFF will ensure that their ultimate destiny is jail."
The party also said that all ministers implicated in Madonsela's report, some of whom are in the security cluster, should not be reappointed to the new Cabinet.
But clearly the ANC government is not daunted by the opposition parties, and believes that for as long as it commands the overwhelming majority of the vote and dominates in Parliament, it faces no serious challenge.
There was another strong voice on Nkandla on Thursday, even before the security cluster ministers made their announcement. Metalworkers' union Numsa held a central committee meeting this week and one of its decisions was that Zuma should resign following the Nkandla scandal. Numsa also called for the resignation of the ministers "who scandalously defended the president and who misled the public on Nkandla".
Numsa also analysed the outcome of the elections and presented figures to the media showing "the glaring diminishing support for the ANC in the voting trends since 1994".
"While the ANC celebrates their 62 percent victory and lays claims that their support base has not shifted below 60 percent, this is both misleading and in fact completely fallacious," Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said. "Combined, out of the total potential and actually registered voters in South Africa today, analysis of election statistics confirms that the ANC has been, this year, elected into government by a mere 36 percent of all those who were eligible to vote."
On the back of these statistics, Numsa is now more definitive about its intentions to establish a working class political movement, dubbed for now as the "United Front". The number of potential voters who did not vote showed that the working class was looking for an alternative to the ruling party, Jim said.
"The 10 percent loss of votes in Gauteng and a mere 48 percent of votes in Nelson Mandela Bay spells a disaster for all progressive forces," he said. "The working class needs its own political party."
"The [central committee] was clear that building the Front and the movement for Socialism is not a project to improve the ANC, to carry on doing useless cardiac pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the ANC and SACP, nor to resuscitate another neoliberal discourse. This engagement is about nothing else but the working class organising itself as a class for itself, for the war to win socialism."
Numsa does not want to transform itself into a political party but seeks to be the catalyst to mobilise left-leaning political parties, trade unions and civil society organisations to come together under an umbrella of a working class movement. It wants to hold a consultative conference for all such organisations by the end of this year and work towards the establishment of a worker party by March next year. The party could contest the 2016 local government elections.
While Jim had words of praise for the EFF and its "significant achievement" of 1.1 million votes in the elections, he would not say whether some of the common perspectives and constituencies would lead to any joining of forces. However, the EFF would be invited to participate in the consultative conference he said.
Numsa deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said when the workers' party participated in the 2016 municipal elections and the 2019 national elections, "we want to capture political power in the state". The intention was not to be in opposition, he said.
Numsa has now made it clear that it wants to "break" the alliance, but wants to remain within the trade union federation Cosatu. But it also wants to "begin the conversation" with other trade union federations Fedusa and Nactu, and unions, towards the establishment of a united, independent labour federation.
The metalworkers' union is looking to cause a seismic shift in the political landscape in the next year. It has identified the ANC's weaknesses and knows where to aim its missiles. While the DA, EFF and other opposition parties will have to concentrate their challenges through the processes in Parliament, Numsa is setting itself up to fight on several fronts.
It may be some time before government is made to think twice before undertaking controversial moves, like the consistently shocking approach to the Nkandla matter. However, it will be foolish to underestimate the power of an organised formation that is able to marshal the working class, disgruntled communities engaged in protest action, the youth, the unemployed and the millions of apathetic people who did not vote in last week's elections.
As commentator Moeletsi Mbeki pointed out on the John Robbie Show on Talk Radio 702 last Thursday, organised unions could be a serious threat to the government - as in other parts of Southern Africa. In Zambia, President Kenneth Kaunda lost to Frederick Chiluba's unions; in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe had to use force to claw back the elections he and his party lost to Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change a few years back.
A political party launched by a union as tightly controlled as Numsa is bound to present significant challenges to the ANC and its government. An organisation backed by Numsa is bound to be well-organised and resourced, disciplined and ideologically resolute - not a political opponent the ruling party will enjoy fighting against.
Cosatu itself would have to undergo massive internal surgery to survive the pressure it is under, and the new onslaught from Numsa. It is not at all likely that the resulting organisation would be as slavishly devoted to ANC's triumph as it was in the years since 1994. Or friendly at all.
The ground is shifting noticeably; the ANC might feel pretty invincible and comfortable right now - even arrogant. If last week's elections were anything to go by, unfettered power will soon be a thing of the past.
This column appeared on _ Daily Maverick._