MBETE, A CRIME SCENE CLEANER

CityPress - - Front Page - BY MONDLI MAKHANYA

This news­pa­per’s pre­vi­ous edi­tion pre­dicted a week from hell for Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma. Which is ex­actly how it panned out. What we did not do was pre­dict a sim­i­lar week for Na­tional As­sem­bly Speaker Baleka Mbete, whose week ac­tu­ally turned out worse than that of our dearly beloved pres­i­dent. If there was a week this as­pi­rant pres­i­dent of the re­pub­lic would want to erase from his­tory, it would be this one. Not the sharpest of political minds, Mbete – as usual – lurched from one self-made predica­ment to the next.

Tues­day’s de­ba­cle at the Con­sti­tu­tional Court was one such self-made prob­lem. Mbete, who dou­bles as na­tional chair­per­son of the ANC, has spent the first 20 months or so of her se­cond stint as Speaker do­ing ev­ery­thing in her power to pro­tect her party pres­i­dent from ac­count­abil­ity for his role in the Nkandla scan­dal. She flouted rules she should have been the cus­to­dian of; she took short cuts on pro­ce­dure; she ex­hib­ited open bias; she mis­read the law; and ul­ti­mately, she placed her party po­si­tion above her con­sti­tu­tional role.

Poor Lindi Nkosi-Thomas, the ad­vo­cate who will for­ever be re­mem­bered as “Mbete’s bum­bling lawyer”, had no case to fight when she walked into court on Tues­day. Even the late John­nie Cochran could not have res­cued Mbete.

The bot­tom line is, Nkandla is one of the great­est day­light rob­beries in demo­cratic South Africa, and the pres­i­dent’s fin­ger­prints are all over the crime scene. To cover up ev­i­dence, Mbete was pre­pared to use Par­lia­ment to fur­ther com­mit the “crime” of shoot­ing a con­sti­tu­tional body in the kneecaps.

The tac­tics Mbete and the ANC’s par­lia­men­tary man­age­ment used to clean up af­ter their don were am­a­teur­ish and in­sult­ing to the in­tel­li­gence of or­di­nary South Africans. How they were so con­fi­dent they could get away with such an ob­vi­ous cover-up in a ro­bust, open, con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy like ours de­fies logic. They were al­ways go­ing to be caught out and, as we learnt from Water­gate and other epic scan­dals, the cover-up is of­ten more dam­ag­ing than the ac­tual crime.

How­ever, it would be hard to imag­ine any­thing more dam­ag­ing to one’s stand­ing than the need to spend R246 mil­lion on thatched ron­dav­els and a blue pond in a re­mote vil­lage. (I know some will blame some poor Makhanya ar­chi­tect – no re­la­tion! – for this, but let’s leave that for an­other day.)

Af­ter Tues­day’s hu­mil­i­a­tion, Mbete came to Par­lia­ment on Thurs­day ready for a fight. The Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) had made no bones about the fact that they would be pick­ing up from where they had left off last year in terms of giv­ing the pres­i­dent hell and, in the process, frus­trat­ing the hell out of the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers.

Hav­ing had nearly two years of prac­tice in deal­ing with the EFF’s dis­rup­tions, Mbete and the ANC should by now have re­fined their tac­tics. No such luck.

The red berets al­ways seem to be five steps ahead and, what’s more, they know ex­actly where and how to nee­dle Mbete to get that high-pitched Os­car Pis­to­rius scream out of her. She com­plied with the needling and be­haved as ir­ra­tionally as she has since be­ing sworn into the po­si­tion in May 2014. She played into ev­ery line of the EFF’s script, buy­ing them air­time and guar­an­tee­ing them dom­i­nance on so­cial me­dia and in the next day’s news­pa­pers.

When the EFF left the House, the ANC clapped its good rid­dance. Mbete and Na­tional Coun­cil of Provinces chair­per­son Thandi Modise were vis­i­bly re­lieved. But they knew this was not a vic­tory. Julius Malema and his troops would be back next week to tor­ment them and the pres­i­dent, and they still would have no an­swers to the ques­tions.

If truth be told, Mbete is as much to blame for the de­struc­tion of Par­lia­ment’s deco­rum as the red brigade. She has been an ap­palling Speaker, worse than she was dur­ing her first stint be­tween 2004 and 2009. Her term has been as in­glo­ri­ous as the pres­i­dency of the man she is try­ing to pro­tect.

Her weak­ness is not that she is a leader of the ANC. Other se­nior ANC mem­bers, such as Frene Gin­wala and Max Sisulu, per­formed the job ex­cel­lently while serv­ing on the ANC’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee. They knew when not to put on their party hat. They did from time to time sub­tly err on the side of their party, but that hap­pens in all democ­ra­cies. It is why the ma­jor­ity party picks the Speaker. But with Mbete, the bias is as bla­tant as some ref­er­ees who favoured the blackand-gold team from Phe­feni in the 1980s.

The irony of it all is that Mbete’s de­ter­mined ef­forts to tie a rope around her neck are ac­tu­ally about writ­ing a CV for the pres­i­dency of the party and the re­pub­lic. She still be­lieves, as does the blind Zim­bab­wean beg­gar at the cor­ner of Jan Smuts and Jel­li­coe in Jo­han­nes­burg, that she has a shot at the pres­i­dency. So she goes out of her way to prove her­self “a loyal and dis­ci­plined cadre of the glo­ri­ous move­ment” – in the process ty­ing the noose ever tighter around her neck.

With more com­pro­mis­ing per­for­mances like the ones of the past two years, Mbete should be low­er­ing her am­bi­tions. But then one just has to look at the cal­i­bre of per­son she will be re­plac­ing if she gets the job to re­alise why she thinks she has a shot.

I’d be s**ting my­self, know­ing I’m the cause of the cri­sis that’s gone down in the past year...

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