The Thick End of the Wedge
An Editor's Notebook
I am sure that Andile Nkuhlu is a perfectly nice young man. He certainly looks like it, and by the accounts of many people I respect he is a terrific guy.
Until a week ago, Andile was chief director of restructuring at a public enterprise department.
In other words, in the huge privatisation programme that government is running, Andile Nkuhlu was a very big deal.
Then the Sunday Times ran a story detailing how the CEO of a company, Zama Resources, just before it finally won a handsome slice of the state's forestry assets in a "restructuring" process managed by Nkuhlu, had paid R55 000 towards Nkuhlu's wedding costs, allegedly using Zama funds.
The young chief director has now been suspended. This is, potentially, the end of his career in government. It is, at the very least, the end of his innocence. He says he didn't know who financed his wedding, and that is a bit plausible. These matters are handled by family.
Mcebisi Mlonzi, the CEO of Zama, has also been suspended and here, at least, the picture is clearer. Mlonzi must be a very rich man. Or he must think a great deal of Nkuhlu. Because R55 000 is a great deal of money to most humans.
It was Mlonzi who last year spent R240 000 buying full-page ads in the Sunday papers protesting Tony Yengeni's innocence (before Yengeni was charged with corruption) also using other people's money, so at least we have a pattern here.
Now why would Mlonzi pay R55 000 (of his own money or Zama's into Nkuhlu's wedding funeral fund if not as a bribe or a thank you payment?
Are they just extremely good friends? If they are, surely Nkuhlu should have recused himself from anything to do with the deal under which Zama won the forestry assets? If they are friends, presumably the family committee organising the festivities would have been surprised at a R55 000 gift from a relative stranger. It would have been news, Nkuhlu would almost certainly have gotten to hear about a gift that large.
I am genuinely puzzled. Surely people don't actually agree to do things this crass?
I wonder how far this will go? Nkuhlu must, I assume, have friends at the SABC, which at the time of writing (a week after the Sunday Times scoop) has not yet reported the story. Barney Mthombothi's departure is having the desired effect, it would seem.
I hope that people who ask straight questions in this messy affair will not be rebuffed/or criticised on the grounds that they are culturally challenged on the matter. I have asked a number of friends familiar with African wedding tradition and they all say it is almost impossible to hide a gift of magnitude.
Apparently Nkuhlu and Mlonzi exchanged an inordinate number of telephone calls in the month just before Zama won the bid. Just business, perhaps.
But if tradition dictates that your friends come first, and that you look after them, then it is tradition that will have to bend where the public purse meets the private sector. We do not want to get to the point where the wedding gifts of public servants are made public. But we do not need the Mlonzis of this world surreptitiously filling up the pockets of the powerful either.
Here is an old rule I give anybody in public office or with a public profile anywhere in SA.
This is a small country and a vindictive one. If you are thinking of doing something and you are unsure about whether it is the right thing to do, just ask yourself whether you would mind it appearing in the media.
If the answer is No, then don't do it.
With acknowledgements to Peter Bruce and Business Day.