[Source: Business Day Live by Gareth van Onselen. Picture: AFP Photo/Filippo Monteforte.]
A story on African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s possible ascent to SA’s presidency (Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma touted as possible president) this week states, among other things, that she has a past more or less absent of controversy or scandal.
“The soft-spoken Dlamini-Zuma is a loyal African National Congress (ANC) member and is seen as relatively scandal-free after being out of domestic politics during the turmoil of recent years,” the AFP story says.
How quickly we forget. Dlamini-Zuma was, of course, the minister at the heart of Sarafina II, arguably the new SA’s defining corruption scandal.
It set the template for so much ANC graft to follow, from crooked tenders and the lack of consequences, to the acquiescence of Parliament before an ANC majority. Ironic too. With the benefit of hindsight the debacle closely mirrors how events around Nkandla have played out, as well as the ANC’s response.
It is worth revisiting them not only in the light of Dlamini-Zuma’s potential candidacy but as a reminder to those who argue so fervently for Jacob Zuma as the primary source of the ANC rot; that its impulse towards a majoritarian disdain for accountability has its roots in behaviour that preceded Nkandla by some considerable time.
In summary, in August 1995 the department of health awarded a R14.27m contract to Mbongeni Ngema to produce a sequel to the musical, Sarafina (R9m of which had been handed over to Ngema by the first performance on December 1 1995). It was to be a play about HIV/AIDS ostensibly designed to resonate with the youth.
The play was the brainchild of the then minister of health, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She was quoted as saying, “Mbongeni Ngema is the best for this job and I challenge anyone here and abroad to attract our youth.”
Ngema himself confirmed the minister’s conviction. In a newspaper interview he said that “when the minister had this idea, it was very clear in her mind that she wanted me to do the play. There is no one else with an international track record and there was no one else who could produce this kind of play and draw in crowds of black people to the theatre.”
With regard to the tender, the story said: “When he was asked to fill in the tender document, he was told he would ‘still have to go through the formalities’ and be accepted by the selection panel.”
Soon afterwards both the nature of the tender and the amount awarded was questioned by the press (a substantial sum in 1995 terms, as the Mail & Guardian pointed out, “equivalent to a fifth of the annual AIDS budget and the total cost of the entire annual provincial AIDS allocations”).
An initial invitation from the portfolio committee to minister Dlamini-Zuma and the relevant officials to explain themselves was cancelled without explanation (it was reported at the behest of the Presidency, although it later denied this). Regardless, both Dlamini-Zuma and director-general Olive Shisana had refused to attend a public hearing, which eventually was held by the committee, after considerable outrage, on February 28 1996.
By this stage a dispute had broken out between the European Union and the department over funding of the play. The EU had allocated R48m to HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns, and the department had claimed this was the source of the money.
But the EU objected. A representative later stated: “We have itemised budgets, listing every project and activity that the EU is supporting. An AIDS theatre project is not among them, nor was Sarafina II ever discussed with us as it would have had to be.”
In response, the department argued that “although the play was not specifically mentioned on the list of projects we submitted to the EU, it was our understanding that we could use it to fund other projects as they came up”.
On the day of the committee hearing a docile ANC majority effectively watched as the minister and the relevant officials attempted to whitewash the whole affair. During the meeting, Dlamini-Zuma said in response to a question whether there was no EU line item for such a play: “That is true. In the contract that was signed between me and the EU in January there was not Sarafina II. The idea of a play called Sarafina 2 had not been decided at that point, but as soon as that was decided the EU was informed.”
Also at the meeting, a list of budget line items for the play was released. They included:
• R520,000 for principals;
• R499,200 for subprincipals;
• R900,000 for “subsistence” at R50 per person, 50 people, 365 days a year;
• R300,000 for four security guards;
• R60,000 for dry cleaning;
• R120,000 for telephones; R32,000 for two cellphones;
• R960,000 for accommodation for the cast and crew;
• R1,070,000 for a luxury air-conditioned bus with toilet;
• R600,000 for a 24-tonne truck tractor and semi-trailer ; and
• R300,000 for a mini luxury 18-seater with air-conditioning.
The EU responded to the departments claims afterwards: “Sarafina II was not included as such in the contract.… This contract requires agreement in advance, particularly on changes on budget allocations. Specific tendering and other procedures have also to be followed. In the case of Sarafina 2 no prior request was received by the commission.”
Subsequently, various further details about a sham tender process emerged in the press, including evidence that one applicant had been given just 24 hours to apply and that the lowest competing bid was in fact just R600,000.
By this stage the Democratic Party (DP), which had led the charge on the matter from a political perspective, had set down a motion in Parliament calling for a judicial commission of inquiry to be appointed, and for Ms Dlamini-Zuma to be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
The weekly ANC caucus meeting elected to vote it down, and instead endorse its own motion noting “the commendable work that the minister has done in the transformation of the health sector and the determined endeavours of the ministry to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic”.
The motion also said the minister had given “a “satisfactory and detailed report” before the portfolio committee and that the ANC “expresses its confidence in the minister of health and in the mechanisms that the minister has put in place to address this issue”.
Later, the Presidency would weigh in. President Nelson Mandela expressed his confidence in Dlamini-Zuma over the affair, saying “she has fully explained to me and I fully support her”. And, in complementing the president, then deputy president Thabo Mbeki said there was no misuse of public funds in Sarafina II.
After the DP’s motion was voted down, opposition parties released a joint press statement asking why, “If the ANC are so confident about the honesty of the minister’s assertions … are they so afraid of a parliamentary committee testing the veracity of her statements?”
The DP then approached the public protector, Selby Baqwa. After a three month investigation the public protector recommended that the department of health terminate the Sarafina II contract. “Mr Ngema’s company had not adhered fully to the spirit and terms of the contract, and it appeared they had tendered a defective service,” the report said. It was a vindication for the opposition and press and an indictment of the ANC’s denialist attitude to the whole affair.
Significantly, the report also refuted the claim that the play was being funded by the EU.
Ms Dlamini-Zuma remained unapologetic and, in a statement issued by Mr Mbeki’s office, Mandela commended “the minister for the steps she has taken and will take to rectify errors identified in the report”. It argued that the report and Dlamini-Zuma’s swift response to it “reinforces the confidence the president has in the minister and her efforts to transform the health system in our country”.
The government terminated its involvement and stated the play would continue with the support of a mystery private donor. That donor then withdrew and the taxpayer was ultimately left to foot the bill. There followed a series of typical smears from the ANC, many directed at the DP, which was accused of being in league with big pharmaceuticals, as well as the “racist” media.
The similarities with the Nkandla affair are eerie. There’s the same, significant abuse of public money. The same poor tender processes. The same stonewalling and refusal to account before Parliament. The same smears of the opposition and the media. The same blind political support. The same kind of adverse finding from the public protector that led to no meaningful consequence. Ultimately, the same warping of Parliament to the ANC’s will.
In Sarafina II, the historical groundwork for the ANC’s contemporary contempt for constitutionalism was laid in the concrete in which it has been trapped every since.
And at the heart of it all was Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Of her many failures in the Sarafina II matter, perhaps the most egregious was Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s misleading of Parliament. As the public protector’s report pointed out, the information given to Parliament and released to the public through press statements, was often false, exaggerated or misleading. But there were no meaningful political consequences for her.
All of these things are worth bearing in mind when weighing up not just Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s potential candidacy but the nature of the ANC’s contemporary majoritarianism.
Many people today are gobsmacked by the ANC’s disdain for Parliament and the Constitution, and rightly so, for it has surely been exaggerated under Jacob Zuma, but don’t think for a moment he was its creator — he just perfected it.
No, for its roots you have to go back to 1995, Sarafina II and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. That is the moment when the ANC first revealed its true attitude towards accountability and consequence.
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