There's something behind Shivambu's claims against Momoniat, but whether it's corruption or subterfuge, time will tell

10 June 2018 - 00:00
Floyd Shivambu has come under the spotlight for his claims against Ismail Momoniat.
Floyd Shivambu has come under the spotlight for his claims against Ismail Momoniat.
Image: Times Media

Floyd Shivambu is not the archetypal politician. Unlike EFF leader Julius Malema and spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, Shivambu does not have charisma or crowd appeal. He is generally unpleasant and does not attempt to hide his contempt for people.

He is the last person you would find kissing a baby on the campaign trail or making friendly banter with journalists.

If it were his picture on the ballot paper, it is doubtful the EFF would have got half the number of votes it received in 2014 and 2016.

Shivambu's role in the EFF is different to those of the other leaders. He has an analytical mind and a fixation with South Africa's economic condition, and is a principal strategist in the party.

Once, at a post-budget panel debate I was moderating, Shivambu was representing the EFF before an audience of largely white businessmen. Of all the political representatives on the panel, he dominated the discussion.

He had the room gripped with his prescriptions for the economy, even though many people were fearful of him and the EFF's policies.

The EFF has changed the political landscape over the past five years and commands attention the way no other party can. In parliament, it has been unwavering on ensuring accountability and its legal strategies have led to some of the political breakthroughs in the country.

Therefore, when Shivambu makes serious accusations against a senior official in the National Treasury, they cannot be dismissed out of hand. But what exactly is Shivambu's objection to Treasury deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat?

The matter burst into the open two weeks ago during the Presidency budget vote, when Malema charged that Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene was "as corrupt as hell" and Shivambu referred to Momoniat as a "corrupt guy in Treasury known as Momo".

Those are pretty serious, still unsubstantiated, accusations against the minister and a senior official in the Treasury. The EFF has made no effort to explain further.

Then, this week, the issue exploded when Shivambu objected to Momoniat's presence at a meeting of parliament's finance committee. He questioned why the Treasury was always represented by Momoniat, saying: "It looks like there are deliberate attempts to undermine African leadership in National Treasury."

This was reiterated by Malema on Twitter: "We know him very well and we also know why he's treated special by those who also don't have respect for African leadership and African colleagues."

Racism is inherent in our society; nobody is immune to it

When I asked Malema who Momoniat was receiving special treatment from, he replied that it was Pravin Gordhan.

So now the net of accusations has been thrown wider. One accusation is that Nene and Momoniat are corrupt. The second is that Momoniat is exercising dominance over Nene and director-general Dondo Mogajane because he sees himself as racially superior, an attitude shared by Gordhan.

When you accuse liberation-era stalwarts of racism, you must substantiate the claim, as these people are defined in society by their fight for equality. Otherwise, it is like accusing Al Gore of secretly burning down forests - people will struggle to believe you.

Still, racism is inherent in our society; nobody is immune to it.

Is a crucial government department a hothouse of corruption and racism, or was the EFF wagging the dog for another reason?

In the midst of the populist bluster that exploded as a result of the EFF unleashing its Twitter army on anyone questioning the attack on Momoniat, it has been difficult to find corroboration. Rather than exposing incidents of racism or corruption, former and current staff at the Treasury have been revealing the reasons they believe that their leaders, Momoniat in particular, are under pressure.

These include the EFF's alleged payments from VBS Mutual Bank, which through Momoniat's intervention is now under curatorship; Shivambu's alleged improper interference in deals financed by the Public Investment Corporation; and tax matters that are behind the EFF's sudden efforts to protect Tom Moyane and his crew from removal from SARS.

So what is before the public are two sets of serious allegations - against the Treasury on the one hand, and the EFF on the other. Irrespective of the bullying and racial slander deployed to beat us into submission, we have a responsibility to find out if any of these allegations are true.

Shivambu is in a fortunate position, as an MP, to raise evidence of corruption and racism formally through parliamentary channels, so the allegations against Treasury officials can be investigated. It is strange he has not done so already.

It is also fortunate that VBS, the PIC and SARS are all under scrutiny, so any illicit dealings, improper benefits and tax evasion can be exposed. Surely nobody would be opposed to such investigations - unless they have something to hide.

Momoniat has challenged Shivambu to a lifestyle audit, and hopefully he will accede to this without any hesitation.

The EFF has never really been under pressure. Its floundering this week to exploit racial tensions and to make any allegation stick revealed either strategic disorder or underlying anxiety.

It is a matter of time before we find out why.