Jury out why Mbeki gave ANC campaign some social distance

Former president Thabo Mbeki has apparently decided to step back from ANC election campaigns in favour of “diplomatic commitments on the continent”.

Critics, however, suggest that Mbeki’s avoidance of the campaign trail is less about diplomacy and more about not wanting to be associated with certain controversial figures within the ruling party.

Mbeki has yet to clear the air, save for comments from the Eastern Cape ANC that he has diplomatic commitments on the continent.

Could that really be more important than helping his lifelong party win the highly contested May 29 general elections?

Sunday World was the first to report that Mbeki was reluctant to take to the ground because he had issues with the state of the party, and therefore he cannot go out and lie to the voters when he himself is unhappy.

A few days after the report, Mbeki made his first appearance in Soweto, spearheaded by the Gauteng ANC.

Mbeki made a rare public appearance while donning the ANC’s signature black, green, and gold T-shirt, which he claimed “thieves” proudly wore.

Mbeki not pleased

According to legend in ANC circles, Mbeki was upset when Zizi Kodwa, the Minister of Sport, Arts, and Culture, who was also under investigation at the state capture commission of inquiry for his dealings with technology services firm EOH, was delegated to welcome him this past weekend in KwaZulu-Natal.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s commission recommended that President Cyril Ramaphosa reconsider Kodwa’s inclusion in his administration due to his tainted relationship with controversial businessman and former EOH boss Jehan Mackay.

Kodwa was then deputy minister of state security, but Ramaphosa subsequently promoted him to a ministerial post. He simply ignored Zondo’s bag of recommendations that came with a R1-billion price tag.

Mbeki, given his posture that the ANC under Ramaposa was simply paying lip service to the idea of renewal, getting rid of elements within the party tainted by allegations of corruption, would not have been impressed with Ramaphosa’s implementation of the commission’s findings.

Protocol issues around Mbeki

And yet there he was, Mbeki, arriving in KwaZulu-Natal to campaign for his beloved ANC, and the first person to shake his hand and welcome him was none other than Kodwa.

Kodwa headed the delegation that received Mbeki on the campaign trail in KwaZulu-Natal. In that role, Kodwa would be managing all protocol issues around Mbeki.

When he lands, Kodwa will be at the forefront, thanking him for coming. Kodwa would be the one who briefed him on the local issues.

Kodwa would then hand the proceedings over to local structures to provide Mbeki with more information about what is happening on the ground, what to expect when going house to house, and so on.

Could it be that Mbeki’s sudden no-show on the campaign trail is his silent protest?

Financial assistance from Mackay

Let’s recap Kodwa’s testimony before Zondo as per Corruption Watch’s summary of proceedings.

During the commission, Kodwa’s tale of financial assistance from Mackay painted a picture of innocent friendships in a world where business and politics mix like oil and water.

He confirmed receipt of payments from Mackay, as well as accommodation and catering services.

However, Mackay did not offer these in exchange for the company receiving preferential treatment for government tenders, he protested.

Steven Powell, the managing director of ENS Forensics Services, accused Kodwa of a quid pro quo arrangement with Mackay over several contracts the company bid for in 2014 and 2015.

Opulent accommodations

Powell suggested that Mackay look to the deputy minister to intervene in situations where EOH requires help.

The commission learned that Kodwa would receive opulent accommodations, which the EOH books would later reconcile as costs associated with one of the contracts.

Kodwa denied that this was the case and lamented the perception created in the public arena by Powell’s submissions that political leaders cannot be in innocent relations with people in private business unless there are favours expected in either direction.

He told the commission that there was no connection between the contracts and the payments, which were merely acts of assistance from a friend at times when Kodwa was experiencing financial difficulties.

Ramaphosa seems to agree with this version. But maybe, just maybe, Mbeki has a different view.

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