Thursday, 17 January 2008

Book review ANDREW FEINSTEIN: THE CASE AGAINST MBEKI

Paul Trewhela
After the party, the hangover

If there is a single book to read to get an understanding of contemporary South Africa, it must be Andrew Feinstein's After the Party. A Personal and Political Journey inside the ANC (Jonathan Ball, Johannesburg, 2007). The African National Congress - party and government, under President Thabo Mbeki - has never been written about before with such intimacy, such candour, such extensive first-hand personal and professional experience. Still in his mid-forties, Feinstein was an ANC MP for seven years and head of the ANC group in the Special Committee on Public Accounts in 2000-2001 when Scopa acted to carry out its parliamentary mandate to examine government finances, and found itself confronted with corruption at top of government over the grotesque arms deal of 1998/99. He was forced out of his position on Scopa by his enemies in government and their stooges in January 2001 and resigned as an MP the following August, though he remains a member of the ANC while resident with his family in Britain. He presents unchallengeable evidence that President Mbeki, Deputy President Jacob Zuma, relatives of the late Defence Minister Joe Modise, Shamin 'Chippy' Shaik - the Director of Procurement in the Department of Defence at the time of the arms deal and brother of Schabir Shaik, convicted recipient and broker of bribes relating to the arms deal – and others have a case to answer in court, whether relating to corruption for their own material benefit or in the interest of funding of the ANC. His research indicates that the ANC won the general elections in 1999 and 2004 on the basis of secret illegal funding, the first directly as beneficiary of the arms deal. He presents telling clues to the view that Mbeki’s government corruptly and illegally funded the ANC at taxpayers' expense, a bill to be paid for years to come.

How government became an autocratic monster
Feinstein shows how along with arms deal corruption, Mbeki's government became an autocratic monster. With general atrophy of public and private morality from the top down, Mbeki and his inner cabal headed by his colleague from exile and Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad - reported as 'the only person [Mbeki] trusts' (p.175) - removed every shred of personal integrity from ANC MPs by demanding cow-like obedience. Even mildly independent MPs such as the Arts and Culture Minister, Dr Z. Pallo Jordan, and the Communist Party leader, Jeremy Cronin - both re-elected to the party’s National Executive Committee last month - buckled under pressure and proved themselves 'weak-kneed' when required to be compliant. As Feinstein says, 'when push came to shove they were found wanting and Parliament and South Africa’s democracy have been the poorer for it.' (p.216) It was not the first time these luminaries were proved made of clay, and it will not be the last.

No scrutiny of the Executive
Under Mbeki, the legislative assembly crumbled away before the executive, and parliamentary accountability evaporated like sea mist. The Auditor-General censored and revised his report to parliament when ordered by the Boss to do so, the Speaker tyrannised the legislature instead of championing its rights, one Chief Whip was imprisoned (briefly) for corruption and returned a hero to parliament while his successor was removed from office on the grounds of proven sexual harassment. No scrutiny of the executive was permitted. (Tony Yengeni, the jailed former Chief Whip, who entered prison and returned to Parliament a hero to his colleagues, was elected to the NEC last month, along with his wife – a tribute possibly to his four months within four walls, in place of the four years to which he had been sentenced. Yengeni was one of the worst abusers of Feinstein and his few brave, honest colleagues).

The venality of the party list
Feinstein gives also a detailed exposition of the party list system, by which ANC candidates climb the greasy pole to Parliament and are then appointed like imperial pro-consuls to this or that constituency. The electoral law in the Constitution of 1994 enshrines a system of coercion through a system of proportional representation which gives unfettered power to the party bosses in Luthuli House, the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, and guarantees the sycophancy of MPs. [See 'The ANC and the ‘Kenya option', 5 January 2008]. Though elevated into national public life under the PR system, Feinstein honestly becomes its critic and recommends towards the end of his book a revision in the constitution that will set in place a new electoral law.

Parliamentary unacccountability
Despite lapses - an 'admirable constitution' (p.86), 'arguably the world's most progressive' (p.239), he says, in unfortunate reversion to the illusions of his younger self - Feinstein shows how the electoral law of 1994 establishes a slavish partiinost (Russian for 'party spirit') almost as thorough-going as under the great Vozhd (or Leader) himself. He gives the best available exposition of how this system of parliamentary unaccountability works, moving upwards from the democratic to the despotic. Selection of ANC candidates is as follows: local party branches nominate members to the regional party structure, regional conferences then finalise a regional list of candidates to go to the Provincial Legislature and national Parliament, these names are then submitted to a Provincial List Conference made up of representatives of all the branches in the province and the ANC’s constituent organisations (i.e.Youth League, Women’s League), with the provincial lists finally being submitted to a National List Conference. As Feinstein says, up to this point the selection process - though 'unwieldy and cumbersome' - is ‘profoundly democratic'. Everything now gets murky. After the National List Conference, 'the national leadership then deliberates on the final lists for submission to the Electoral Commission. At this point the process loses its democratic character and falls hostage to the whims and internecine battles of the leadership of the ANC'. (p.81). In other words, candidates for election to Parliament or Provincial Legislatures on the ANC slate are the hostage of the party bosses, who in terms of the electoral law can also remove and replace them by whim.

The undermining of Parliament
Only the na├»ve will consider it a surprise, then, that Feinstein finds 'the party leadership undermining the parliamentary system'. While in theory ‘the Legislature is intended to hold the Executive to account’, the reality is that under 'South Africa’s proportional representation system, a dissenting voice is easily removed from the party lists', leading to what he delicately terms a 'weakness in the accountability cycle' (p.86) and the 'subservience of the ANC backbench' (p.90). This, and the accusation by the Mbeki grouping that political rivals were plotting against the President, had an obvious result. 'People were too frightened to lobby or promote anti-Mbeki nominees'. (p.122) With the assistance especially of the 'rude, 'abrasive' and 'fearsome' Essop Pahad, an 'uncouth enforcer of limited principle' (pp.175, 241, 15, 116), Mbeki for several years 'silenced dissent within the party.' (p.138) Known in the media as the ANC’s 'Mr Clean' before his own removal, Feinstein is engagingly open about his own fears, doubts and shaming silences in this scary bear pit, before finding the courage to act according to his conscience. The PR system gave him no protection. He had no constituents to endorse his bravery and integrity. He either jumped or was pushed, and chose to jump.

The need for constituency MPs
Among measures which are 'desperately needed' given 'the ANC’s moral decline' (p.249), he argues that South Africa should change to a 'mixed constituency/PR system, so that MPs are able to have an independent voice either as non-party constituency MPs or as representatives of a party directly elected by people from a specific geographical area, so that they are not beholden exclusively to their party leaders.' Feinstein argues that a mixed electoral system is essential for two reasons. 'An element of proportional representation allows minorities to be represented in Parliament', while constituencies would provide the 'direct link between representatives and the voters…as well as diluting the power of the party leadership to get rid of independent MPs.' This would create an environment in which MPs would be more likely to be 'driven by principle and the needs of their constituents rather than the narrow loyalty required to remain in favour with the party leadership' (pp. 260-61). This proposal preceded by several weeks a similar call by the mother of President Mbeki, the widow of Nelson Mandela's Robben Island colleague, Govan Mbeki. (See 'Mbeki’s mother calls for ANC HQ to be disbanded', 5 January 2008). The involuntary coming together of Epainette Mbeki and Andrew Feinstein - two people with such opposite experiences of the ANC - shows that reform of the electoral law is an idea whose time has come.

Subservience and patronage
Feinstein is right to link corruption to Parliament's lack of internal democracy. The proportional representation system, he writes, 'ceded power to the party at the expense of Parliament' and 'removed the backbone of the ANC backbench', leading to its 'wimpishness in the face of Executive authority.' PR created a party leadership that 'demands loyalty and is quick to dispense patronage'. (p.89) He is right to find an earlier source in the nature of the ANC’s exile apparatus. As he says, the 'paranoid style of organisation in exile' of the ANC and the South African Communist Party (to which Feinstein never belonged), and in which 'Mbeki was steeped' (p.150), created the basic conditions for parliamentary sclerosis and corruption in government. He discovered at first hand that 'the exiles were organised in a very hierarchical manner, with information tightly guarded and decision making centralised. Open debate was constrained….The vanguardist, democratic centralist aspects of the organisation in exile betrayed Leninist roots, while an additional Stalinist dimension saw the party as paramount and loyalty as the crucial currency'. (p.21). Its outcome was the 'autocratic, insulated and deaf-to-criticism-or-dissent style of leadership that has marked the Mbeki era'. To protect power, the 'ANC leadership of both the executive and legislative arms of government was prepared to sacrifice the integrity and rigour of Parliament', leaving Parliament today 'an empty vessel.' The ANC had 'lost its moral compass' (p.240).

A lethal bullet aimed at government
Feinstein's book is well-written, easy to read and develops the momentum of a thriller. He emerges as engaging, well-intentioned and trustworthy, recording a journey from innocence to experience in which he has become ultimately more dangerous to his previous masters when outside Parliament than in it. His book is a lethal bullet aimed at the heads of the government and their cronies, all the more because only a few weeks after its publication they lost all power in the ANC. Feinstein is listed as a witness in the forthcoming trial of the Deputy President, Jacob Zuma. A summary of some of the evidence he presents in his book runs as follows:

Thabo Mbeki (President): Discussing 'Thabo Mbeki's involvement in the arms deal', he notes that Mbeki - then Deputy President - met with the three most senior executives of the French arms company, Thomson-CSF, in Paris on 17 December 1998. 'It appears both from court documents and from a source close to South Africa's ambassador to France at the time that this was Mbeki’s third meeting with Thomsons. At the December meeting Mbeki was asked about the bona fides of Schabir Shaik, with whom Thomsons were about to go into partnership. Mbeki supposedly gave Shaik the thumbs down, but the deal went ahead.' Shaik is serving a 15 year sentence arising from his relationship with Thomsons, a matter that forms the basis of the case against Zuma. Mbeki himself has questions to answer in court. Feinstein notes that a South African firm, Futuristic Business Solutions (FBS), was the 'alternative to Shaik that was, at least implicitly, approved by Mbeki'. Directors of FBS included 'two members of Joe Modise’s extended family'. Feinstein notes that Zuma’s defence counsel have announced that they will, in all likelihood, call Mbeki as a witness, as - in their words – 'he is the only one who would know whether the arms deal was corrupt or not'. Feinstein takes this as a 'veiled threat that if Zuma was tried, he would spill the beans on far broader and more substantial ANC benefit from the arms deal'. (p.223)

Joe Modise (Defence Minister: resigned 1999, died 2001): A number of leads point to Modise's corruption, one of them a German investigation into the role of the arms supplier, Thyssen-Krupp, recipient of a contract for frigates for the South African navy. Feinstein reports a 'source close to the German investigation' as telling him the prosecutors were 'confident of linking additional millions directly to Joe Modise and a portion of the balance to the ANC for party purposes…The German authorities have submitted requests for assistance to their South African counterparts, as well as UK and Swiss investigators.' (p.227) According to Feinstein, there is evidence of Modise's role in the deal with the British arms company, BAe. He reports that a 'very senior Defence Force leader at the time' has claimed to have 'flight records showing Chippy Shaik and Joe Modise flying to London to meet with the Chairman of BAe clandestinely.' (p.231) BAe Systems plc has 'admitted to funding the MK Veterans Association of which Joe Modise was Life President…' (p.235) A representative of a tendering company told Feinstein following the Scopa hearings that Chippy Shaik had told him that 'to stand a chance of winning the contract we get in touch with one Tsepo Molai….We didn’t know that Molai was linked to Joe Modise. When we met him Molai proposed that the bidding company hire him as a consultant, suggesting a $ 250,000 start-up fee and $ 25,000 a month retainer. We declined the offer. Clearly this was the death knell for our bid.' (p.168) The French firm Thomson-CSF owned a South African company, African Defence Systems (ADS), which had a major role in the deal. South African directors of ADS included Schabir Shaik as well as Joe Modise's brother-in-law, Lt General (Retired) Lambert Moloi, and General Moloi's son-in-law, Tshepo Maloi. Chippy Shaik’s wife worked for the marketing department of ADS at the time. There is other incriminating material relating to Modise.

Shamin 'Chippy' Shaik (Director of Procurement at the time of the arms deal, currently in Australia): Feinstein is blunt: Chippy Shaik 'lied to Parliament', an indictable offence for which he remains untouched. (p.210) 'Chippy Shaik had a massive conflict of interest and didn’t recuse himself from relevant meetings.' Shaik told Scopa he had recused himself from meetings in which the company of his brother, Schabir Shaik, was discussed; Feinstein shows this was false. He presents information that an Italian arms company, Fincantiere, had a meeting with Chippy Shaik at which he 'suggested his brother Schabir as an appropriate empowerment partner, implying that failure to follow his advice would hinder their efforts to secure a contract.' (p.168) (Fincantiere did not get the contract). Feinstein shows that Alec Erwin (Minister for Trade and Industry) inaccurately and misleadingly told Scopa that during arms deal negotiations involving a 'company that his [Chippy Shaik's] brother was involved in, we took specific steps to ensure that the person [Chippy Shaik] recused himself….We were satisfied that we had taken sufficient precautions to deal with that.' (quoted, p.199) Feinstein notes that Erwin was 'particularly aggressive and enthusiastic in defence of Chippy Shaik', and that he, the current Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and the Finance Minister Trevor Manuel had been 'belligerent and arrogant in their responses'. (p.199) He cites information reported in the South African press that the Auditor-General, Shauket Fakie, had 'shown a copy of his final draft report to Chippy Shaik before submitting it to Parliament, and that Shaik had meaningfully changed a part of the report that referred directly to his brother’s interests'.

Capitulation of the Auditor-General
Feinstein's courageous colleague and chairman of Scopa, Dr Gavin Woods, had sight of a 'letter from Chippy to the AG insisting on the removal of a paragraph on conflicts of interest that referred to him. This was yet another indication of the power and authority that Chippy wielded over the process and its cover-up'. Feinstein notes that the AG had 'kowtowed to the Executive' and had been 'found by the High Court to be in contempt of court and threatened with a jail term before he would make the original draft reports available. It was soon clear why: the original draft report contained handwritten instructions indicating what was to be removed, amended or added.…Without fail these instructions were followed in the final report, starting with the first sentence, which completely exonerates the Executive from any wrongdoing. The most significant change concerned Joe Modise….' (p.213)

After Polokwane
There is a good deal more in this valuable book, but this is enough for a review. Mbeki, Pahad, Erwin and Lekota were removed from any position of power in the ANC at its national conference at Polokwane last month. Their efforts to perpetuate a cover-up by deflection of prosecution towards Zuma, who was not a member of the national government at the time of the arms deal but was later involved in the cover-up after being appointed Deputy President in 1999, has brought about their downfall by vote of ordinary members of the ANC, who have held the Executive to account when Parliament failed. Feinstein has added honest witness. The new NEC at its first formal meeting on 7 January has gone some distance to endorsing his stand by establishing a committee to investigate the arms deal. His book is an essential guide to the immediate past, the present and the future of South Africa. It records a history, and will play its part in the making of it.

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