Opinion  :: Columns  :: Jottings from Johannesburg


Blowing the whistle on politicians

Published: 02-JUL-04

That's the reality facing millions of disillusioned South Africans, who have seen all the goodwill of the April general elections ebbing away as the people they voted for get back to behaving like � well, politicians.

Take Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who unilaterally exonerated a South African diplomat found guilty of 22 charges of sexual harassment in two separate hearings.

The decision has sparked outrage. Many commentators are questioning how the most senior woman in a government which has pledged to uphold gender equality can be seen to be protecting a man dubbed a "sex pest" by local and international media.

In his CV, Norman Mashabane, the South African ambassador to Indonesia, is described as a "gallant revolutionary cadre" of the African National Congress (ANC), and says he was responsible for setting up the "non-racial, and non-sexist" democratic general election in the then Northern Transvaal.

Fact is, the ambassador was found guilty in 2001 of 21 workplace sexual harassment charges... He appealed the judgement, and was allowed to continue in his post pending the outcome. In June 2003 another charge was laid against him, and he was again found guilty.

Now one of the women who laid charges against him has described as "nonsense" the reasons why Dlamini-Zuma let the diplomat off the hook, and plans are going ahead to sue him in a civil court and to have the minister's findings overturned in the high court.

The case is also being probed by both the public protector and the Commission on Gender Equality. Dlamini-Zuma's former husband, Deputy President Jacob Zuma, is another politician who is showing exactly what he thinks of democracy and good governance.

He is considered extremely lucky to have held onto his post after becoming embroiled in the machinations behind South Africa's murky arms deal, but instead of keeping a low profile, he is playing fast and loose with parliamentary procedure.

The current furore has its roots in a report last year by National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, suggesting that there was prima facie evidence that suggested Zuma was tainted by corruption in the country's multi-billion dollar arms deal, but that he would not be prosecuted. This report then became the subject of an investigation by Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana, who found that Zuma's dignity had been compromised by Ngcuka's investigation.

Mushwana's report recommends that Parliament take "urgent steps" to hold Ngcuka and the National Prosecuting Authority to account. If the report is accepted, there are several ways to deal with Mushwana's recommendations, including removing Ngcuka from office.

First, however, the report must be approved by a special parliamentary committee, the members of which were chosen after a meeting by the ruling ANC, which was chaired by - yes, none other than Zuma himself. Talk about a conflict of interest. Talk about choosing your own jury.

So will anybody be surprised when the special committee comes out against Ngcuka? Not likely. But the ANC has done precious little to contain any fallout around the arms deal, and there's no reason to imagine why they would start doing so now.

Some ANC MPs approached by the Mail & Guardian newspaper described Zuma's chairing of the committee as a failure of governance by the party. "There should have been a wall between himself and the decision," said an ANC MP.

Another move raising eyebrows was the emergence of a match-fixing scandal which has rocked South African soccer to the foundations. Nine top soccer referees have already been arrested on charges of bribery and corruption, and insiders say it's just the tip of the iceberg. The timing was poor, to say the least, coming a month after South Africa had won the bid to host the 2010 World Cup.

Will government step in to clean up the sport? Perhaps they should make sure their own noses are squeaky clean before they get involved in yet another scandal.

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