Re-elected Northern Cape ANC chairman John Block is not worried about the two pending fraud and corruption cases against him set to return to court early next year.
“I’m not worried about it. The courts will decide on the facts,” he told The Sunday Independent on the sidelines of this week’s provincial conference.
He was not needed in court every day for six months, for example – a situation that would require him to step aside – but would have to spend half a day in court on occasion.
It was expected that both criminal cases revolving around the acquisition of water purification units, and involving Cape Town-based Uruguayan businessman Gaston Savoi and his company Intaka, would again be postponed in January and April 2013 respectively.
However, Block’s assets worth R30 million – including five houses, 18 cars and business interests, according to the National Prosecuting Authority – were seized soon after his arrest in November 2010.
Previous court appearances became rallying points for Block supporters, who mounted a “Hands off Block” campaign, which included branded cars and posters.
Block, whose re-election for a third term as chairman with a 496-to-32 vote means he is the second-longest-serving such official after Free State premier Ace Magashule, hinted that this could well be his last term.
“Hopefully (it’s) the last time. We have reached a point where we need to step aside… At the right time I will make a decision.
“Politics is not everything. You grow in life,” Block said. He added that his hectic schedule meant he could not give his daughters as much attention as required.
But there was no hint as to what future direction he was considering.
Block’s comments came in the wake of President Jacob Zuma’s emphasis during his Thursday keynote address the need for a second transition – ANC-speak for stepping up socio-economic transformation following political change in 1994. However, the ANC’s discussion document also talks of the party regaining the moral high ground through disciplined members giving “political, moral and intellectual leadership”.
It contrasts with harsh criticism of “tenderpreneurism”, even from within the tripartite alliance, including Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi slamming “political hyenas” who enrich themselves through political connectivity.
At this week’s congress of metalworkers’ union Numsa, Vavi – in a clear reference but without naming names – took a dig at ANC leaders Block and Gauteng Local Government MEC Humphrey Mmemezi, who stands accused of abusing his government credit card.
“If we don’t change here, so that a person like that can know he’s guaranteed of no support… knows that he must resign and stops us all the pain of committees of inquiry and months of bringing the name of (the) organisation down, if he can leave on his own – if we can’t do that, then we will continue to face own goals,” said Vavi.
And DA Northern Cape leader Andrew Louw did not miss the opportunity to point out not only the criminal charges against Block, but also allegations of abuse of office against the other re-elected officials.
This included the “guilty verdict” from Parliament’s joint ethics committee against provincial treasurer and National Assembly social development committee chairwoman Yolanda Botha for failing to declare substantial benefits from developer Trifecta during her stint as the head of the provincial Social Development Department.
“The ANC voted for corruption, cronyism and the continued failure of delivery from provincial government,” Louw said.
Earlier in Upington, Zuma, who found himself warmly received even if Block was perceived to be opposed to his bid for a second term as party president, punted himself as a leader of a united, broad-church ANC which would not disappear because it had the protection of the ancestors.
“You are blessed when you are in it (the ANC).
“When you break away, the ancestors will turn away. You will not succeed. Many years ago, a PAC emerged. Where is it now?” Zuma said, adding in reference to Cope: “(More recently) another organisation emerged. I forget its name. Where is it now?”
Earlier, he had emphasised the need to steer clear of slates, or election candidate lists.
“We are not like a little political party formed because of grievances… We cannot disappear… It (the ANC) has always known it belongs to the people. It doesn’t belong to itself; it doesn’t belong to a few. It can’t break. If you try it, you break yourself and move off.”
With an upcoming policy conference at the end of the month, Zuma urged delegates to focus on policy.
“We don’t move in a manner that you can’t see. We are not casual (about policy). No one can come with better policies than the ANC. That is why the overwhelming majority of the country votes ANC.”
And the president took a step towards heading off vocal calls for the nationalisation of mines, as demanded by Numsa, which, like the ANC Youth League, also wants the nationalisation of banks and even retailers.
“We remain committed to a mixed economy,” he said, adding that this also applied to mining: “We have adopted a mixed approach as well.”
For Block the attendance of Zuma was a chance to lobby for the relocation of the state diamond trader to where it belonged – Kimberley, the capital of the diamond province.
Later Block told The Sunday Independent: “We are known as the diamond province, yet we have nothing to show for it.”
Block has come through the ranks of the ANC and its youth league, which he headed in the Northern Cape from 1991 to 1996. He was Northern Cape ANC secretary from 1996 to 1998, then deputy chairman and, since 2004, chairman.
Largely seen as part of the anti-Zuma campaign, Block has the support of the vocal provincial ANC Youth League, which made a public call to delegates to retain the same top five officials and to support the nationalisation of mines.
While Deputy Mineral Resources Minister Godfrey Oliphant’s challenge failed to fire – observers said it came very late and was hampered by uncertainty despite a pro-change group making much of Block’s criminal charges – it did reflect tensions in the province between those based in Kimberley and those from Upington, Block’s home turf.
This week’s conference stood in stark contrast to the chaotic meeting at Moshaweng in 2008.
According to the organisational report by provincial secretary Zamani Saul – he beat Archie Lucas, a former Education MEC by 500 votes to 28, with three abstentions – the chaos of that conference sparked a concerted drive for unity in the Northern Cape.
Initiatives to ensure unity included the participation of Premier Hazel Jenkins in provincial executive meetings to build closer ties between the government and the ANC and holding provincial executive committee meetings alternatively in each of the regions.
However, the province admitted failing to get to the 90 000 membership target set for it. In November 2011 its membership count stood at 45 462, according to the organisational report.
Reasons for this failure included a lack of resources for the membership drive, lack of co-ordination and “political fatigue” as the membership drive followed “a difficult local government election”.
While the ANC was dismissive in public of challenges by the DA, which has set its sights on clinching the province in 2014, and Cope, the impact of a political party that lured many from its ranks remains a political headache.