Different Script, Same Old Drama
In theatre, it is called a rendition - essentially an old play performed by new, well almost new, characters with possible minor changes to the script.
But the developments around the Ngcuka/Mushwana/Zuma saga provide little entertainment. In a sense, it is a national political crisis acted out by new people within a slightly different context while the core issues remain the same.
It was Selby Baqwa who in 1997 as Public Protector called upon Parliament to hold former minerals and energy Minister Penuell Maduna "accountable" for his "unacceptable" behaviour in implying that the then Auditor-General Henri Kluever had cooked the books to hide a R170-million loss at the Strategic Fuel Fund.
Andries Nel, now the ANC's deputy chief whip, was then called upon to chair an ad hoc committee following the tabling of Baqwa's report. The report said Maduna's actions were unconstitutional, unacceptable and besmirched the integrity of the office of the A-G and stood in violation of section 41 (fostering co-operation between organs of state and exercising powers in a way that does not encroach each other's powers and functions) and 181 (governing principles for democracy-supporting institutions) of the constitution.
Nel ruled then that it was crucial to listen to and receive information that Baqwa relied on to arrive at his decision - a move that led to the committee hearing evidence and receiving submissions for over a year.
Not so this time round. The ANC majority on the Mushwana committee would have none of it.
Baqwa saw a constitutional weakness in that the country's supreme law imposed no penalties on organs of state, including ministers and cabinet itself, that failed to protect the dignity of constitutional bodies such as the auditor-general and the public protector from unwarranted attacks. He was unaware, of course, that less than 8 years down the line, the very office he led would need such a clause to protect its integrity.
Maduna, again, this time with National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka, and in his capacity as justice minister, stand accused of violating the same constitutional provisions.
In the same way that Baqwa could not provide proper assistance to Kluever, other than recommend that Maduna be held accountable, his successor, Lawrence Mushwana, has hit the same wall: asking parliament to hold Maduna and Ngcuka "accountable".
This time, however, Mushwana needs not to protect the A-G but deputy president Jacob Zuma at a time when holding someone to account depends on who interprets what "account" means and where appropriate sanction could mean a mild rebuke or removal from office - depending on the decision-makers.
The Kluever lesson is drawn from the history folders as the country's second most important politician puts up a fight to salvage some semblance of integrity following a "damaging" public declaration by Ngcuka and Maduna that there was a prima facie case of corruption against him, though it was unwinnable in court.
Zuma appealed for his day in court to clear his name as the announcement left a pungent smell of corruption hovering on his head.
He asked Mushwana to investigate. Mushwana did. But it was not Mushwana's report that got the nation talking.
Rather, it was the responses the report invoked, considered vile by some and a mere miscalculation by others, that grabbed attention.
Interestingly, Mushwana found that Zuma's rights were trampled upon. This was despite, by his own admission, not being exposed to information that had led Ngcuka and Maduna to make the now infamous August 23 statement.
But the manner in which ANC members of a parliamentary committee, chaired by Ismail Vadi, chose to deal with the report provides more questions than answers.
Why was the committee's powers so severely curtailed? Was it because the ruling party was set on closing the matter as quickly as possible?
What chance did the opposition have of influencing what could be considered a pre-determined outcome, with the ANC using its numbers to adopt its positions as committee positions?
One could argue that that is what democracy is about - parties with the numbers, as the supreme representatives of the people, using their numbers to their advantage?
From the outset, it was clear the committee's work would be a struggle of the opposites, with opposition parties seeking to re-open the saga by seeking documents and calling people to appear before the committee with the ANC opposed to this.
The thinking in opposition circles, as clearly articulated by the Democratic Alliance's Sheila Camerer and Independent Democrats' Patricia de Lille, was that it was crucial to get the context within which Ngcuka made the statements.
But Themba Godi, PAC deputy president, and Carol Johnson of the New National Party concur they did not understand the mandate of the committee as being to "investigate the investigators"; more than it was to "intellectually engage with the report itself".
Camerer and De Lille understood the mandate differently, to the extent that Camerer suggested the video of the press conference where Ngcuka made the announcement be sought to look at his facial expressions and body language so as to understand what lay behind the decision.
Koos van der Merwe, the Inkatha Freedom Party's chief whip, says that to adopt a resolution that condemned Ngcuka without giving him a chance to respond is to commit the same offence Ngcuka is accused of (not granting Zuma his day in court).
Those opposing this view, mostly ANC members, knew that those propagating arguments on "context" were being disingenuous as their intentions were to serialise the battle of ANC titans before the cameras and newshounds at parliament - and thus further embarrass the ruling party as its senior leaders slug it out in public.
Richard Baloyi, ANC MP, says the opposition wants Mushwana and Ngcuka to appear before them so they can use the "platform to further polarise and humiliate them, and to turn parliament into a circus".
As history repeats itself, the reticent Mushwana would have hoped that someone higher up would have taken note of Baqwa's concern and facilitated more clarity on courses of action available to chapter nine constitutional organs if under siege. This apparent lack of clarity makes it easier to ignore recommendations from these crucial organs.
Without this clarity, it is hard to ignore the view that the ANC was, this time around, bent on expediently fudging the matter to avoid further humiliation of its senior leaders.
With acknowledgements to Makhudu Sefara and The Star.