Mbalula’s ‘fire pool’ gaffe taints ANC’s renewal talk

ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula’s admission that they lied in order to defend former president Jacob Zuma’s “fire pool” may have further dented the party’s renewal process ahead of the crucial elections.

ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula’s admission that they lied in order to defend former president Jacob Zuma’s “fire pool” may have further dented the party’s renewal process ahead of the crucial elections.

Published Jan 9, 2024


ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula’s admission that they lied in order to defend former president Jacob Zuma’s “fire pool” may have further dented the party’s renewal process ahead of the crucial elections, according to some analysts.

Mbalula’s remarks on Sunday ahead of the party’s 112th anniversary celebrations, have also raised questions about the stance the ANC took when it shot down a parliamentary inquiry report which found against incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa on the Phala Phala farm scandal.

Mbalula confirmed that the ANC lied about the fire pool to protect Zuma in relation to the scandal which concerns R206 million in corrupt tenders for upgrades including the fire pool which the party at the time explained away as being part of security upgrades.

“In defence of our president, we went to Parliament and opened an ad hoc committee and said a swimming pool is a fire pool.”

The party also instructed its members to vote against the establishment of a committee to look into the findings of a Section 89 inquiry which confirmed that Ramaphosa may have violated his oath of office over the Phala Phala scandal.

In his address, Mbalula said Ramaphosa was prepared to resign over the scandal but they convinced him not to, adding that Phala Phala was something the ANC was also dealing with and that Ramaphosa should be given time to lead as his predecessors had been afforded the same opportunity.

“The admission that the ANC defended Zuma when they knew he was wrong is a worrying revelation, as it implies that the party will defend wrong decisions as long as it is one of their own,” said Stellenbosch University professor at the School of Public Leadership, Zwelinzima Ndevu “One is tempted to ask the question, is this the same strategy being used when dealing with the Phala Phala issue, is the report by the Public Protector not reliable?

“Was the parliamentary panel correct when they found that the president (Ramaphosa) has a case to answer?

“This doesn’t put the ANC in good light, especially when it talks renewal, clean governance and building institutions with integrity,” said Ndevu.

Mbalula’s remarks were a reflection of internal frustration within the ANC regarding the Zuma issues, he added.

“The ANC is currently in no position to decisively deal with the matter as elections are around the corner. They are very weak as a party and Zuma seems to be still very popular among certain voters, especially in KZN, which is a province that has a declining ANC vote judging by their performance in previous elections.”

Mbalula was a no-show at the event marking the 112th anniversary celebrations on Monday, with Ramphosa saying the “secretary general is resting” citing a “rough period” in the lead up to the elections.

Speaking at Monday’s gathering, Ramaphosa said while the process of dysfunctionality and disunity had made the party “weak”, Mpumalanga was an example of them regaining their strength, owing to the work of “renewal”.

“Now I can testify the ANC is much stronger than it was a few years ago.

Mpumalanga province has become so much stronger, that is the work of renewal.

“The leadership here is united. We can see that and the same is spreading throughout the country. The lifeblood of the ANC is our people.

“We must, as the ANC, remain rooted in our communities for we were founded to serve our communities. For this reason the ANC will continue to strengthen its efforts to ground our organisation where it truly belongs.

“We will continue to protect and strengthen our democratic institutions in all areas. The ANC government will work harder to strengthen a number of areas that are challenges at the moment, it could be crime and corruption because that is an area where we need to strengthen our resolve and demonstrate to our people indeed we are prepared ... and ready to solve these problems,” said Ramaphosa.

Policy analyst, Nkosikhulule Nyembezi said the ANC would have to play their hand carefully following “the public humiliation of the ruling party by former president Zuma”.

“Last Saturday, Zuma urged ANC members to vote for the newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party in the 2024 national elections, saying his decision not to vote for the ANC was a move to try to rectify the party, which he claims has gone down a wayward path of ill-discipline,” Nyembezi said.

“This appears to be Zuma’s latest move to provoke the ANC to expel him from the party. Zuma announcing that he will not be voting for the ANC in the 2024 national election but that he remains a committed member of the ruling party is a contradiction, a provocation, and an open transgression of party rules.

“The habit of failing to take responsibility appears permanently embedded in the years of strife between the party factions seeking to excise corrupt individuals from influential positions in the party and the government and those resisting progressive changes that could have paved the way for a successful implementation of the election promises.

“The cost of disentangling the ANC from the corrupt individuals has always been a monumental fact grudgingly accepted by advocates of the cause.

“The more it strengthened practical actions, such as implementing the recommendations of several commissions of inquiry, auditors-general reports, and amended policies and legislation, the fiercer its attachment to denial that the party’s entanglement with corruption is rapidly losing its electoral support.”

Nyembezi said, now the public often saw “not genuine leaders but other scoundrels who will do and say anything disreputable, at any cost to democracy, to woo some votes over the short term of the path to the ballot box”.

UWC adjunct political science professor Keith Gottschalk said: “In politics, it is wise to always avoid defending the indefensible. In the end, the ANC intended to bring a vote of no confidence in Zuma, had he not resigned on Valentine’s Day.

“Phala-Phala: Is Ramaphosa a perpetrator -- or the victim of a burglary? What can be said is that he should have set up a blind trust for Phala-Phala and all his other business interests immediately when he became president. He has suffered reputational damage by not doing this.

“Most voters will judge the ANC’s renewal agenda by its success in prosecuting and convicting the corrupt billionaires who looted Eskom, etc; in its future efforts to extradite the Gupta brothers; and in removing from ANC election lists all politicians incriminated by the Zondo Report.”

However, he added that the ANC was the only party to have survived for 112 years in Africa, noting that it was a “remarkable achievement”.

“The corruption which peaked under Zuma hurt its brand. To regain lost trust the ANC needs to get the devastating unemployment numbers halved; to get electricity, the post office, the ports and railways working again,” Gottschalk said.

Cape Times