Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
5 November 2007

After the Party… (II)

If one of the biggest dangers to any democracy is the silent acquiescence of powerful and influential people to the underhand or illegal machinations of the leader(ship), South Africa’s democracy is in a spot of trouble.

Having just finished reading After the Party, Andrew Feinstein’s excellent and insightful book on the ANC and the arms deal, I am forcefully struck by how easily the President and other members of the executive managed to quash a vigorous investigation of the corruption around the arms deal.

Feinstein gives a blow by blow account of how everyone involved in the saga first encouraged Scopa to investigate the arms deal corruption before changing their minds after intervention from the Presidency. The list of people who suddenly ceased having any principles in this matter is very long indeed: Frene Ginwala, Mosiuoa Lekota, Alec Irwin, Jacob Zuma, Bulelani Ngcuka and Shauket Fakie all caved in to the Presidency.

What also surprised me from the book is how easily even the good guys were intimated and ended up fearful and nervous. Gavin Woods – the hero of the book, if there is any hero in it – was so scared and worried that “he looked like a broken man”, according to Feinstein.

I must be naïve, but I would have thought if you are Gavin Woods with the media on your side you could afford to tell the Speaker and the ANC lackeys to stuff off. Maybe it is not so easy to defy the majority party – even when it is obviously acting unethically – because of the lingering moral power it wields?

Of course, if someone like Woods – a member of the IFP and thus not part of the ANC family – could feel so intimidated and could end up a nervous wreck, then it might be less surprising that other individuals “deployed” to independent state institutions would cave in to pressure and would fail to investigate the arms deal appropriately.

Yet it is sad to read how the Auditor General and the National Director of Public Prosecutions caved in to the Presidency and how the AG allowed the Executive to make substantial changes to the arms deal report before it was published.

It throws new light on the recent suspension of Vusi Pikoli, the National Director of Public Prosecutions. It is difficult not to conclude that in the past the President had not suspended or fired the National Director because the National Director had followed his orders.

Feinstein states as fact that the initial decision to prosecute Schabir Shaik but not Jacob Zuma was taken on instructions of President Mbeki. He also suggests that the decision not to prosecute the biggest crook in the arms deal scandal, Chippy Shaik, was influenced by political considerations as set out by the President. President Mbeki had argued that there was nothing wrong with the awarding of the main contracts and that to argue otherwise was racist because it suggested that all Africans were corrupt.

It must therefore have come as a rude shock to President Mbeki when he ordered Mr Pikoli (through one of his surrogates) to stop the investigation against Police Commissioner, Jackie Selebi, and Mr Pikoli refused to do so. The bloody check, he must have thought: we deploy this man to the NPA and he starts acting as if he is there on merit and could possibly make decisions based solely on the law.

Mr. Feinstein’s book serves as a devastating indictment of President Mbeki (and the ANC leadership) and suggests that far from the leader who is scrupulously honest and respectful of the law, he would do anything to safeguard the image of the ANC and of course of the government it leads – no matter how much of a cover up is needed to do so.

It is also a brave book. It must have taken some courage to speak out of the ANC family and to write a book that would deeply anger the President and many inside the ANC. Pity so few other ANC cadres have managed to show the same courage. It must be difficult to put the country and ones principles ahead of the party, I suppose.

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