Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This week President Thabo Mbeki flatly denied receiving a R30 million bribe to ensure that MAN Ferrostaal won the contract to supply three submarines after readers woke last Sunday to read a sensational expose in the Sunday Times. There must have been, I fancy, some spluttering over the cornflakes and low fat yoghurt across the nation’s breakfast tables and cafes. There were certainly a few raised eyebrows in the Buthelezi household!
Whilst I personally have no reason not to take the President at his word – indeed I believe him to be a man of honour, I am, however, concerned that there is a perception that the government and, by extension, the ruling-party, is tainted by systemic corruption. This, my friends, is bad news when our leaders need to be batting for SA.
I therefore use my online letter to urge the Presidency to crisply refute the allegations by placing all information it has pertaining to this matter in the public realm forthwith.
If the arms deal is not to irrevocably corrode trust in the democratic process further, the Presidency must lay all the cards on the table and allow the arms deal to be subject to the forensic light of an independent judicial enquiry. In addition, the ruling-party must be totally transparent about this matter in order to restore trust and credibility.
I subscribe to the view that greater openness is not just predicted by the constitution, but that there is a constitutional imperative to ensure that there is a level playing field so that the wealthy cannot purchase influence in secret (which is the nub of the arms deal allegations) and eclipse the views and access of the poor to the decision-making process. Would the majority poor support the arms deal? No. No. No. They would not. With the deepest respect, Heaven knows who these submarines are meant to be defending us from: the Brazilians to the West or the Australians to the East? You get my point!
I, for one, am of the view - shared by many - that South Africa could not afford the arms deal and that there were much greater pressing priorities such as the provision of a Basic Income Grant. The time has surely come to cancel the second tranche of the arms deal.
As the leader of the country's largest predominantly black (and very poor) opposition party, this, for me, cuts like a hot knife through butter to the core issue. The question of the arms deal is fundamentally a human rights issue concerning political equality and socio-economic justice. The issue really touches on the essence of representative democracy where the majority still live in hardship.
On this note, I wish to acknowledge the efforts of Parliamentarians and the media to unearth the circumstances surrounding the arms deals over the years, but I would like to appeal to my colleagues across the political spectrum from making knee-jerk reactions and for the media to act responsibly.
In SA, the word ‘opposition' itself is loaded with gladiatorial connotations. Confrontation is inferred. Seizing the initiative often means waiting for the government to stumble or exposing some scandal or irregularity. In other words – trust me on this – opposition is not nice.
But one must salute the courage of the former Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), Dr Gavin Woods (a former IFP MP) who uncovered vital evidence pertaining to the corrupt arms deal. Former DA finance spokesperson Raenette Taljaard and former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein showed the same gritty determination and forensic intelligence in equal measure.
This brilliant trio demonstrated that there are outstanding public servants across the political divide and who are prepared to raise their heads above the parapet and defend constitutional democracy without fear or favour.
Democracy, on the whole, has given the three-way relationship between government, opposition and the media a new, welcome dynamic – but there is a risk that it might still falter on the anvil of the arms deal.
By convention, as I have said before, the ruling party is allocated 70+ percent of media space, it consequently receives 70+ percent of public attention and ultimately monopolises 70+ percent of the truth. The real truth that political and particularly moral issues cannot be fractionalised is seemingly no defence against thinking in terms of zero sums. This truism has been cast in sharp relief by the arms deal controversy.
To be fair, I must mention that the South African media worked hard towards our democratic dispensation. Today the media perhaps feel they need a break. As a result, they are labouring under self-censorship, fearful of disrupting a fragile consensus they helped to create. This attitude has, in turn, helped cement government policies that are arguable at least and downright damaging at most. We are now witnessing the baleful consequences. My message to the media is simple: be fearless, but get all your ducks in a row.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP