The Hairman Show flops: Mashaba’s corruption bust falls flat

ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba last week found himself in a hairy situation over the R66-million corruption allegations against construction company Setheo Engineering in the 2015 contract to refurnish City Power’s Eldorado Park substation. 
 
What was supposed to be Mashaba’s triumphant exposé of corrupt dealings at the Palm Ridge court on Thursday turned into a marathon of “I don’t knows” and “no comments”.
 
Expectations were high as television channels set up cameras to capture Mashaba, the neighbourhood corruption-buster. This as he delivers a knockout blow on the R66-million advance payment debacle surrounding the incomplete Eldorado Park substation.
Mashaba opened a case with police
The allegations were serious: City Power had been defrauded, and Mashaba had taken the initiative to open a police case. But, alas, it was not to be the “Hairman Show” that many had anticipated. 
 
Mashaba’s troubles began almost immediately. This was when he was questioned about the bank-guaranteed cheque that led to Setheo Engineering receiving an advance payment.
 
He stammered through his response: “The business practice is that you provide… I don’t understand exactly… what. What is it that you actually try to really get? Can you… can you just really make it easy for me to really understand?”
 
The magistrate, perhaps sensing the audience’s collective cringe, stepped in.
“Let me interject. I hope after this you’ll give a very concise answer. From the evidence which we have on the record, that guarantee was provided to City Power, so that City Power can provide an advanced payment to the company, on which the company can start with its operations.
Your comment?”
No comment, I don’t understand…
Mashaba, in what would become his refrain for the day, replied: “Let’s just say I have no comment.” This prompted Setheo Engineering’s counsel, Advocate Lawrence Mrwebi, to press further.
However, the best Mashaba could muster was yet another, “I don’t understand… no comment.”
Mrwebi, sensing an opportunity, retorted: “That helps us; that helps us because it shortens issues.”
 
Throughout the cross-examination, Mashaba’s knowledge seemed to evaporate like mist. He did not know the name of the company that provided Setheo Engineering with the bank guarantee. And it was the first time he’d heard about it in court. Mrwebi, relishing the moment, replied: “Thank you very much; I like it now.”
 
Mashaba’s lack of awareness didn’t stop there. When asked if he knew the payment process City Power used to pay its contractors, he candidly admitted: “It was not within my purview to know that information.”
More confusing responses
He was equally clueless about the recovery of the advance payment. Also the fact that Setheo Engineering had issued summons against City Power for outstanding invoices.
 
“When did that happen? I’m not aware. I don’t know,” he repeated, like a broken record.
 

As the 30-minute or so session of cross-examination dragged on, even the prosecutor found it difficult to rescue Mashaba. He objected to the framing of some questions as misleading.

Complete failure to testify
But the magistrate was not having it. “The state asserts that the payment was based on the Absa guarantee. The defence’s version is that there was a Marlvern guarantee, which was provided, and that payment was made on the basis thereof. So this is a contentious issue, and it remains a matter of dispute. The defence is entitled to put what according to them is their version to the witness. So, your objection is overruled.”
 
Indeed, making allegations of corruption may be easy, but proving them is an entirely different ballgame. For Mashaba, this courtroom appearance was supposed to be a slam dunk. But it turned into a masterclass in how not to testify.
 

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