Martin Williams
3 minute read
2 Apr 2014
8:00 am

It really is a steal, Mantashe

Martin Williams

Although he often talks nonsense, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe is no fool.

DA city councillor for Joburg Martin Williams

He holds a B.Com Honours from Unisa and a master’s in industrial sociology from Wits.

Yet, if he is indeed a true supporter of President Jacob Zuma, he is acting foolishly by taking the DA to court over an SMS about Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report.

The offending SMS says: “The Nkandla report shows how Zuma stole your money to build his R246m home …”

Mantashe says the Nkandla report does not say Zuma stole. This makes for an interesting legal argument, revolving around what it means to steal. Zuma’s critics say he abused taxpayers’ money. Indeed, surveys carried out before Madonsela’s report showed negative views about Nkandla. In October a Pondering Panda study among young South Africans found the “vast majority (84%) thought the money should rather be put towards solving major problems in South Africa”.

In January, another survey showed 56% of voters who supported the ANC said Zuma should step down. Clearly a lot of people disapprove of Zuma’s Nkandla behaviour. However, is abusing taxpayers’ money the same as stealing? What does it mean to “steal”?

Let’s use the Oxford online definition: “Take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.” Our money has been used at Nkandla. Was it used without permission or legal right? Well, Madonsela said Zuma and his immediate family benefited improperly from various upgrades and he should make arrangements to repay. Surely the implication therefore is that proper permission or legal right for these upgrades did not exist.

Does Zuma intend returning the improper benefits? Hell no. He says he’s done nothing wrong. GuptaTV quoted him saying: “I did not use the public’s money in Nkandla. What I’m saying is I’m not guilty.” He also said the work was done “without telling me, so why should I pay for something I did not ask for?”

Deny, deny, deny. Yet it would seem Zuma may indeed fulfil the Oxford definition of theft; taking without permission, with no intention of paying back. Of course lawyers are much cleverer than we are. They will make all sorts of other points. And, from experience, I have limited faith in the political impartiality of our courts, especially since the Zuma faction started tilting the process by which judges are chosen.

Our courts could indeed find it is defamatory to say that Zuma stole.

However, one court has already passed its verdict. If you exclude vast numbers of rural poor who do not know when they are being ripped off, and all those whose jobs depend on being nice to Zuma, the court of public opinion has found him guilty. He stole our money, millions will say. And if we apply the Oxford definition to Madonsela’s findings, it’s a steal.

Yet Mantashe, with all his degrees, can’t see that he’s drawing more attention to Zuma’s errant ways by going to court. Or perhaps he can.

Perhaps he has a double agenda, appearing to be fiercely loyal but in effect highlighting Number One’s flaws. Re-examine his edgy performance at Monday’s press conference and you too might think there’s another game being played. After all, Mantashe is no fool….