By Karen Breytenbach
A defiant Tony Yengeni, carried shoulder-high on a short walk to jail at Pollsmoor and accompanied by African National Congress leaders and hundreds of ululating supporters, has denounced his incarceration for fraud as "a travesty of justice".
He contends that in the democracy he fought for, jail sentences should be reserved for violent criminals.
His application for leave to appeal against his four-year sentence has been refused, leaving him to serve time behind bars for fraud for failing to declare a discount on a Mercedes-Benz SUV arranged for him, while he was head of parliament's defence committee, by one of the bidders for a multimillion-rand arms contract.
Flanked by premier Ebrahim Rasool and other ANC heavyweights, his wife Lumka, adult daughter Nandi, son Mandla, and aged parents, the ANC's former chief whip spoke to the spirited crowd from the back of a bakkie outside the prison in Tokai.
The provincial leadership of the ANC publicly pledged their solidarity, saying Yengeni had been a leader in the struggle, had "done no crime" and would not lose his position on the ANC's national executive committee.
Also making an appearance at the prison was Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour. He said he had known Yengeni for years, but made light of his own presence at Pollsmoor, saying he "often visited prisons".
As supporters carried Yengeni from his black Range Rover Sport down the road to a makeshift podium, they danced with banners and chanted "Yengeni is a leopard" in Xhosa.
Among the flag-bearing and toyi-toying crowd were a group of cheering prison warders dressed in khaki uniforms.
Blue police lights flashed and bodyguards took up position outside Yengeni's Milnerton home and later, on the road to Pollsmoor, as a stream of cars carrying media members and supporters raced to keep up with Yengeni's Rover and catch a glimpse of the controversial politician making his "long walk to incarceration", as some quipped.
Referring publicly for the first time to his trial, Yengeni said: "I don't think this is the right time or platform to go into the details of my trial, suffice to say that what has happened to me is a great injustice. It is an unfortunate travesty of justice."
Yengeni blamed the media for making him sound like a thief who "broke into parliament and into the safe" - a statement that was greeted with loud cheers and whistles.
"I don't know what the good reason was (for the media to write that).
What was said in my judgment was that I failed to declare a discount. Corruption or the arms deal were not mentioned.
"Normally if you break the rules of parliament... it is taken through a parliamentary process and parliament will come to a central determination."
In fighting spirit, Yengeni said he would walk into prison, serve his term and not ask favours of anyone. "Those who think prison will break me are in for a rude surprise. I will come out stronger," he said.
The struggle veteran also thanked his family for their support, holding the hand of his wife, who stood by him with gelled short hair, dressed in jeans, a white tailored jacket and Louis Vuitton sunglasses.
Yengeni looked equally trendy in a pink and white striped shirt, a black tailored jacket and black shades.
Provincial ANC chairperson James Ngculu said Yengeni's sentence did not match his crime, because he "did not steal from government or take a penny from anyone".
Also speaking from the back of the bakkie, Rasool commended Yengeni for the "dignity" with which he went through the criminal justice system and reminded him that he should go to prison knowing he had the respect of all those present.
He also lashed out at the DA for calling Yengeni a criminal and accusing the ANC of being funded by Brett Kebble, while themselves being funded by Kebble and German millionaire Jurgen Harksen.
"There is a crime worse than fraud and that is hypocrisy. I can't listen to hypocrites."
After Yengeni was led through the prison gates, guarded by warders with dogs and shields, his supporters snapped at the media, and Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour held a short briefing.
"He is going through the normal administrative processes. In less than an hour he will be in uniform and taken to a cell."
Starting early, old and young flocked to the Yengeni home in Milnerton, some in traditional dress, others in leather jackets and stiletto heels.
Journalists packed the street, with photographers snapping at the cars with tinted windows pulling up to the driveway.
Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad, walked in after Social Services and Poverty Alleviation MEC, Koleka Mqulwana and ANC Women's League Provincial Secretary, Zodwa Magwaza.
"It is a very sad day. Tony is an old friend and he suffered a great deal for the constitution. I am here to wish him well as a friend and a member of the NEC of the ANC," said Pahad.