Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2003-09-22 Reporter:

Should Ngcuka's Meeting With Group of Editors Have Taken Place At All?



Business Day

Date 2003-09-22

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Last week, editor Peter Bruce commented in his weekly column that a group of black editors had been briefed privately by national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka on his battle with Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

He was miffed he didn't cut it and concluded: "As an excluded white editor, I would feel perfectly free to plunder anything I heard of from an ethnically exclusive briefing for publication."

Well, here it is.

Date: July 24. Place: Hotel in Sandton. Present: Bulelani Ngcuka; Mathatha Tsedu (Sunday Times); Jimmy Sepe and Vusi Mona (City Press); Mondli Makhanya (Mail and Guardian), Jovial Rantao (Sunday Independent and Star); Phalane Motale (Sunday Sun).

Since that select meeting is nearly two months old, it is worth comparing what has occurred with statements made at the time. The information fascinates me as much as it will Bruce when I called Ngcuka at about that time, he refused to discuss anything with me, least of all the allegations made against him.

The purpose of the gathering was to provide deep background on the Zuma investigation with special reference to an anonymous e-mail containing a litany of accusations against Ngcuka.

The e-mail had been given wide circulation. Some editors had already refused to carry any of the accusations it contained. Ngcuka wanted to provide his interpretation as to what the email sought to achieve and why it had been released.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to work out why the e-mail had been sent. Its genesis lay in the investigation he, Ngcuka, was conducting into Zuma's involvement in the arms deal and its purpose was to cover him in sufficient slime to force his withdrawal.

By all accounts, it was a virtuoso performance. Ngcuka spoke with conviction and eloquence. He couldn't have done better if his audience had been the chief justice.

Until, that is, he asked the editors to help him. That's when the red lights started to flash, at least for some of them. It looked, prima facie, that their editorial integrity might be at stake. They were uncomfortable.

According to my informant, the first to object was City Press editor Vusi Mona. He said Ngcuka's request was impossible to fulfil. Sunday Times editor Mathatha Tsedu intervened: "We cannot make any assurances . All we can say is that we shall do the right thing," he said.

Aside from contemplating what the "right thing" might be, Ngcuka's discourse was both wide-ranging and arresting.

He told the editors Zuma had surrounded himself with Indians this, apparently, was why he was now in such hot water. Zuma couldn't meet his monthly outgoings and was being bankrolled by the likes of Schabir Shaik and Vivian Reddy, the Newcastle casino owner.

Zuma's real problem was that Shaik called the shots in the relationship. Ngcuka said he had decided not to prosecute Zuma but he would, instead, adopt a Pontius Pilate approach (he did). In effect, Ngcuka stripped and analysed the deputy president's character before the assembled editors and left them with no doubt that, in his view, Zuma was corrupt and "not fit to be president".

Shaik would be charged, said Ngcuka, with corruption (he has been). Former president Nelson Mandela, who had approached Zuma seeking an "amicable resolution" (though I cannot see how there can be one), was angry, said Ngcuka, because of money allegedly stolen by a close Zuma confidant during African National Congress (ANC) fundraising programmes.

It was clear, says my source, that Ngcuka implied he had Mandela's support because of the alleged malfeasance by Zuma supporters against the party.

The ANC had disappointed him, Ngcuka, because it hadn't closed ranks around him. It was clear, he said, that it was prepared to lend support to dubious business characters. As an example, he cited an approach made to him by Youth League officials who pleaded on behalf of the Kebble family (wealthy white businessmen).

Defending his position in relation to investigations concerning the Kebbles, Ngcuka said they were bankrolling certain ANC officials. According to him, some Youth League officials had received cars bought by these white businessmen.

In fact, there are only two issues of real substance to come out of the meeting with the editors. The first is just how it was possible for the national director of public prosecutions to discuss matters of this kind in any forum, open or closed. At the very least it is an invasion of individual privacy. And what it does to any criminal prosecutions is another matter.

The second is that it doesn't escape notice that some of the editors have maintained their integrity. It is just a pity they have kept silent for so long.

WHAT on earth is going on inside the trade and industry department? It wasn't many weeks ago that the National Liquor Bill was presented to Parliament.

The bill was the result of seven years of talking and it was meant to be the solution to the mess left behind by the apartheid regime.

What the new act was intended to achieve was to separate the regulatory competencies between national and provincial governments.

Two major objectives were set. The first was to unshackle the power of the monopolies. The second was to deal with rampant illegitimacy at the retail level. In its original form, it seemed the bill would achieve those objectives.

As we now know, there was a last-minute change of heart. The shackles were reimposed. If anything, barriers to entry into the wholesale and manufacturing sectors have been raised to insurmountable levels.

Anyone hoping the new liquor industry dispensation would have provided opportunities for rapid black economic empowerment and the creation of many new distribution and manufacturing entrepreneurs can "kusch mein toches" (Yiddish, translation unnecessary) for the foreseeable future.

As far as the second objective is concerned the licensing of retailers by the provinces is underway. But it will be slow and made more difficult as long as the provinces cannot provide any economic incentive.

Having successfully completed the job of the apartheid regime which was to imprison black retailers under the control of the liquor monopolists the department has delivered another bombshell.

This time in the shape of the National Gambling Bill, which is now in the coils of the parliamentary committee.

I have complained repeatedly that every time it looks as though broadbased black business is about to be given a really significant leg up into the mainstream of economic activity, a concoction of inexplicable events conspires to derail the process.

If the new Gambling Bill is approved in its current form it will be very bad news indeed for those who have invested heavily (close to R12bn) in the casino business.

Even more dangerous may be the nasty rumour that strictures against the limited payout machine industry will be slipped in at the last minute. If the attitude of some of the portfolio committee members who believe they have a religious entitlement to prescribe society's mores is anything to go by, this is exactly what will happen.

Low payout machines were meant, by the way, to be one of the means to entice liquor retailers into the formal, regulated, economy.

Fighting a corner for the gambling industry isn't easy. The moral high ground lies elsewhere. However, gambling is a widespread human pursuit. Outlawing it is foolish; becoming overly prescriptive begs an illegal response.

A lot of heat was generated in Cape Town last week when industry groups presented their views to the portfolio committee. But it took Jabu Mabuza, chairman of the Casino Association, to ask why the new bill is necessary at all.

It makes no sense to build in widespread curbs to deal with so-called problem gambling. If this is really causal, it certainly does not deserve a Draconian statutory response. A simple regulation would suffice.

However, maybe there is something in all this none of us can see. The security of the Lotto, perhaps?

With acknowledgement to the Business Day.