Glimpses of political bullies operating out of the public eye expose a culture of rampant abuse and belittlement
I was puzzled by something Robert McBride said during his testimony at the Zondo commission. The former Independent Police Investigative Directorate head described an incident when former police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko summoned him to his office in Cape Town.
McBride, along with two people he did not know, was ushered to a boardroom table in Nhleko's office. One of these people turned out to be the former head of the Hawks, Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza. McBride says Nhleko kept working at his desk while they waited.
"Then he got up from his table and started verbally abusing me all the way until he reached the table. He sat down and continued to say, 'Any time you conduct a raid, you have to inform me beforehand.' I listened through it all and then when he had finished and he had ventilated enough, he was out of breath," McBride told deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.
It sounded very uncharacteristic for McBride to sit quietly and take a dressing down from a power-drunk politician demanding that he relinquish the independence of his institution.
I asked McBride about this.
"We were served with very hot coffee. It was burning my tongue but I held the cup and kept sipping it so I don't do anything else," he said. "I have never been rude to any minister ever. You don't give them reasons to have a go at you."
I was reminded of former National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile's testimony about Des van Rooyen's short stint as finance minister following Nhlanhla Nene's removal.
Fuzile testified that he had to control his anger when Van Rooyen and his Gupta-appointed "advisers" tried to bully him and his staff to act unlawfully. For example, Van Rooyen wanted Fuzile to hire a Gupta associate, Malcolm Mabaso, who was already employed in another government department, without a contract. Mabaso would not have a job at the Treasury but would "just be around", Van Rooyen told him.
Fuzile refused to comply.
"Mr Van Rooyen responded in a way that shocked and annoyed me. He said: 'Facilitate this thing [Mabaso's appointment]. You are just a DG.' At that point, I had to remind him that the role of a DG carries more weight than he was insinuating. I found that very disturbing," Fuzile testified.
The former head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal, Johan Booysen, told the commission this week about a heated meeting at the office of the then provincial police commissioner Mmamonnye Ngobeni. Thoshan Panday, a controversial Durban business person under investigation for defrauding the SA Police Service, was present.
"I felt very uncomfortable because I had now realised that Panday was one of the main subjects of this investigation that we were busy with. It was almost as if he chaired the meeting. I was basically peppered with questions from Panday and [his attorney Tashya] Giyapersad."
"I was actually quite annoyed in the way in which he [Panday] carried on there, as if he was the provincial commissioner . [Ngobeni] sat there watching a suspect interrogate me about the investigation," he told Zondo.There is a definite trend among the enablers and perpetrators of state capture. There was extreme arrogance and contempt for legality, but also disrespect for people unwilling to surrender their souls and participate in the defilement of the state.The Guptas had this same disdainful attitude. They told the people they summoned before them that they controlled the state, and then they made unlawful demands on them. They blithely offered them money and promotions and were affronted by those who refused to go along with them.But perhaps we cannot blame state capture for this.It could be the normal course of business for people in positions of authority to be abusive and violate laws and procedures.It is doubtful, for example, that Gauteng MEC for sports and recreation Faith Mazibuko would have been contrite about her abusive behaviour towards officials in her department if her tirade against them had not been recorded.In the recording, which went viral, Mazibuko is heard demanding the construction of sports facilities and threatening to fire officials if they do not comply."You better do it. I want those, no rollover of that money for combi-courts. You two! How you do it, even if you go fly a magic, you better do it. Those combi-courts, I want to use to campaign to win the elections," said Mazibuko.When the officials tried to reason with her, she said: "That's why some departments don't want to see a white woman or an Indian woman. Ababafuni [they don't want them]. It is not racism, it's because you like talking English [sic]."The Zondo commission might eventually diagnose the nature and damage of state capture but the rot is clearly far deeper. The abuses extend beyond its ambit and point to the lack of basic human decency.Exemplary public servants have been lost due to these very abuses.Until there is recognition of this appalling culture, the government will continue to repel the calibre of public servants we so desperately need.