Mathews Phosa: too little, too late
While the issues raised by Mathews Phosa are critical, they unfortunately come belatedly from a wrong mouth, says Piet Rampedi.
Johannesburg - In his book, Machiavelli: The Elements of Power, Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli emphasised “fascination with power” while writing extensively about political morality.
According to his 15th century political doctrine, known as Machiavellism, morality is not relevant in political affairs and deceit is justified in pursuing and maintaining power.
“He (the leader of the state) must stick to the good so long as he can, but, being compelled by necessity, he must be ready to take the way of the evil,” Machiavelli wrote.
In short, he argues, the end justifies the means in the arena of power. Interestingly, Machiavelli penned his guide book, The Prince, to help promote his own prince, Lorenzo de Medici, ascend to power in Italy.
Listening to former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa lecturing his audience about how the ANC, the party he led at senior level for many years, had failed to fight corruption and transform South Africa reminded me of Machiavelli’s writings.
The former ANC national executive committee (NEC) member, who was part of a slate that lost to President Jacob Zuma’s faction in Mangaung, said many South Africans were disgruntled with the pace of transformation because the ruling party had failed to deal decisively with cadres implicated in corruption.
Delivering the Ahmed Kathrada “Lost in Transformation 2013” annual lecture in Sandton last week, Phosa said that unless the ruling party addressed this scourge urgently, it would lead to its decline and subsequently erode its proud history as a liberation movement.
He maintained that while the ANC-led government had made progress in the provision of food security, housing, sanitation and the development of constitutional rights, the cancer of corruption and non-service delivery remained.
“Many in the ANC have faced charges of corruption and brought the party into disrepute in a devastating and shocking fashion,” said Phosa, imploring the government to stop blaming apartheid for its failure to deliver services.
“It has never been ANC policy for anyone to steal public money… The bulk of tenders that come out have a name on them. It isn’t helping to root out corruption.”
And the good advocate was not done. He went on to tell Gauteng talk radio station 702 that there had been a government cover-up over the R200 million upgrade to Zuma’s Nkandla home.
“I don’t think anybody has tried to justify Nkandla. I think there is a bit of a cover-up and I think we need to know the truth, and the sooner we know the truth the better,” Phosa said.
While the issues raised by the businessman are critical, they unfortunately come belatedly from a wrong mouth.
It’s also interesting that he barely raised these issues when he still wielded enormous power and influence in the ANC. He sat for years in all of the ruling party’s top leadership structures which decided government policy.
As treasurer between 2007 and last year, he was one of the party’s top six officials and served on the national working and national executive committees.
While Phosa was part of the ANC leadership, several of his comrades were found on the wrong side of the law, or were implicated or found guilty of corruption.
This included the arms deal scandal, for which former ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni was jailed for accepting kickbacks from arms suppliers; Nkandla; allegations that the ANC’s investment company, Chancellor House, benefited from the government multibillion-rand Medupi power station; ANC MPs being found guilty of abusing travel allowances; former police commissioner Jackie Selebi being in the pocket of criminals; and former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema being accused of money laundering and racketeering in connection with a R52m roads tender.
In addition, more than 3 000 service delivery protests reportedly took place across the country since 2009, when Phosa was still influential.
In Limpopo, ANC cadres caused the government to collapse after a R2.billion cash flow crisis in 2011.
The crisis was blamed on tender corruption and young tenderpreneurs who looted the public purse.
According to Transparency International’s corruption perception index for 2012, South Africa now ranks 69 out of 176 countries. This means the country has fallen 31 places since 2001, when it was 38 out of 91 countries.
To begin with, the story of the Nkandla splurge broke in October last year. The cover-up was clear from the start when Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi chose to probe journalists who exposed the scandal rather than investigate and punish those who abused taxpayers’ money. Interestingly, Phosa never uttered a single word.
When young criminals and thugs burnt property and threatened their fellow citizens in the name of service delivery, Phosa remained tight-lipped.
He also left office without shutting down Chancellor House as promised.
He could also not find the courage of his conviction to open his mouth when the Travelgate scandal broke, nor did he condemn Selebi, Yengeni and Malema. Most importantly, he barely condemned ANC politicians and officials who manipulated tenders for the benefit of their fellow comrades. Instead, he publicly defended some.
He defended the Limpopo government under former premier Cassel Mathale and threw his weight behind Malema.
To his credit, Phosa did occasionally condemn wrongdoing while wearing a different hat.
In December last year, in his capacity as Unisa Council chairman, Phosa told a National Anti-Corruption Forum gathering at Unisa that corruption had to be fought and defeated.
Sharing the stage with forum chairman Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on International Anti-Corruption Day, Phosa said Unisa had been “fair but fearless” in advancing its value proposition of zero tolerance to fraud, corruption and other irregularities.
Phosa said the fight against corruption should not be dictated by position, age, gender or race.
“Corruption is a distasteful scourge that we, the right-minded and integrity-focused, must take the lead to destroy. I am pained when I read, on the one hand, of the abuses of power for unwarranted financial gain that seem to have become the order of the day in some circles,” he said.
It’s easy for many to say Phosa could not say what he’s saying now because he was constrained by his position and ANC rules.
But that argument holds no water because, by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s admission, NEC members like Joel Netshitenzhe continue to speak their minds during party meetings.
Referring to Netshitenzhe, Mantashe told a media briefing in August “that man will tell you what he thinks – whether you take it, it’s up to you”.
Mantashe was talking about an uncomfortable question Netshitenzhe had asked the NEC in relation to the need to modernise and change tactics.
He had apparently asked the party what its role would be if it woke up and found all services had been delivered in the country and all challenges dealt with.
The point here is that, unlike Phosa, some ANC leaders continue to raise unpopular issues while still part of the leadership.
In the absence of evidence that he also did the same before the Mangaung conference, the only conclusion I can reach is that he is rediscovering his political morality because he’s lost his leadership positions.
As Machiavelli would say, Phosa’s utterance is a sign of a man who is fascinated with power.
* Piet Rampedi is political editor of Independent Newspapers.