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
22 February 2010

Julius: So many questions and so few answers

The ANC is correct to point out that in principle, it is not illegal or in contravention of any code of conduct for a company in which Julius Malema is involved, to receive government tenders. Malema is not an elected member of any legislature and neither is he a member of the executive. He is “merely” the President of the ANC Youth League and if he happens to be a director of a company that has been awarded lucrative government tenders, so be it. It might be unwise, but it is not illegal.

As Malema has often pointed out, some of the criticism aimed at him and other black South Africans who have become rich overnight, must surely be based on envy and on a racially-based double standard which holds that black people are not entitled to the same ostentatious lifestyle and love of bling than white people.

One hardly reads any negative comments about the manner in which rich white South Africans splurge money on cars, holidays and designer labels and nights of drinking at hip hotspots. Nor does one hear anyone questions being posed about where this money comes from and whether it was made with the help of an old school tie network of friends and family (which, after all, is a kind of affirmative action for whites).

However, recognising this fact does not mean that we should ignore allegations that Malema has been involved in a company that has received more than R130  million in tenders from impoverished Limpopo municipalities. First, if this is true, it would expose Julius as a blatant liar. He told Debora Patta in a recent interview that he had no business interests. “I am not even rich,” he said “I am poor. I am paid by the ANC… I do not have any business interests.” When Patta asked him “Do you only get money from ANC?” he answered “yes.” The video is on You Tube, so one might want to check it out.

If Julius is indeed involved in a company who has received such lucrative tenders from Limpopo municipalities, a second set of questions arise. Were these contracts legally awarded after an open and transparent tendering process? On what basis was the company Julius is allegedly involved in awarded the tenders and did his Presidency of the ANC Youth League play any role in the awarding of the contracts?

Were these contracts competitively priced or were prices inflated and already impoverished municipalities required to pay far more for the work than they ought to have done? Was the quality of the work up to scratch and did the contractors actually do what they were contracted to do? Did the company and Julius pay taxes on the profits?

Today Julius said that he had resigned from all companies he was involved in when he assumed his position as president of the ANCYL in 2008, and has not been involved in any illegal tender processes. He did not say that he does not receive money from these companies or from anyone else. Someone should ask him.

However, if it is correct that he has resigned from the companies and do not benefit financially from them or from any other payments, another set of questions arise. If he is merely paid by the ANC, how can he afford a R250 000 watch and R50 000 repayments to the bank? Surely the ANC cannot pay him more than we pay the President of the country? If it does, why would it pay him so much?

Clearly, there are still far more questions than answers.

Another set of questions comes to mind. How did the newspapers get hold of the information about his lifestyle? Who tipped them off and why? Do they have anything to hide or are they gunning for Julius because of principled reasons?

Julius has now dared the journalists to find some answers to these questions. Could it be the beginning of the end for him?

PS: The important point here is not that Julius might be rich, that he lives a lavish lifestyle and wears expensive clothes. In a capitalist country such things are allowed and even celebrated. The issue is whether his money comes from crooked contracts. Such contracts – while upsetting members of the chattering classes – are really a kind of theft from the poor. This is because where government contracts are inflated and handed out to people without expertise it leads to a lack of service delivery.

While many people might therefore think that there is not that much wrong with corruption because it is a victimless crime, they are dead wrong. The victims of corruption are the citizens of the country – especially the poor – who rely on the state to provide it with basic services and to help improve their lives. Where a contract is given to a crony at inflated prices that crony in effect steals from the poor. Roads are not built; houses leak or fall down, water is never purified, pavements are not upgraded, refuse not removed: and our quality of life suffer. All while well-connected individuals drive around in expensive cars, wearing R250 000 watches, while living in huge houses where they throw lavish parties for their friends.

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