The ANC’s new national chairperson has rightfully come in for a lot of stick for his ridiculous comments that party president Cyril Ramaphosa won’t steal because he is already wealthy.
If you missed the comments because you were still recovering from over-indulging or were still engaged in over-indulgence, Gwede Mantashe was speaking during a ceremony in honour of late ANC president OR Tambo when he vomited these words.
“We have a president who has money, who is wealthy, who will not be tempted to steal... He is the president of the ANC. He is wealthy, he is rich. If he steals we will ask him why do you steal, because you have enough?” he said.
This is wrong on so many levels, the first being that he said this nonsense at the graveside of a selfless South African who cared not a jot about wealth.
What Mantashe was doing is that he was confessing that he knew all along that former party leader and country president Jacob Zuma was a thief.
He should know best. He served with Zuma in the ANC’s top six for 10 years and watched the man from very close up.
So if anybody can speak authoritatively about Zuma’s thieving ways it is Mantashe and other members of the top six structure.
But what is disturbing is that Mantashe waited until two weeks after the ANC’s elective conference to tell that he knew.
Let’s wind back those 10 years, right back to 2007. When Mantashe was elected secretary-general on the Zuma slate he knew that the incoming ANC president was corrupt.
The man had been in and out of court battling numerous counts of fraud and corruption.
He had taken money from all sorts of dodgy characters and used his political influence to return favours to them.
In April 2009 the ANC leadership – with Mantashe in the driving seat – engineered the greatest abuse of political power in South African history when it bullied the National Prosecuting Authority into dropping criminal charges against Zuma.
This cleared the way for Zuma to become president of the republic and get access to state coffers.
Then the festival of plundering ensued in earnest.
The Guptas were just one family that Zuma opened the state coffers to. He had plenty of other slimeball friends with whom he shared the spoils of state capture.
Mantashe and the ANC leadership were fully aware of the activities of Zuma and his dirty associates right from the beginning.
It was no secret as the media reported extensively on Zuma’s shenanigans, the list of which grew by the week.
Despite this, Mantashe was happy to be re-elected secretary-general on the Zuma ticket at the ANC’s Mangaung conference in 2012.
After the Mangaung conference, with Zuma ensconced and with five safe ANC years ahead of him, the grand theft accelerated.
Mantashe was at the forefront of protecting Zuma from accountability. By omission he turned a blind eye and let Zuma be.
By commission he attacked those who tried to hold Zuma accountable. The opposition, the Public Protector and other institutions found themselves at the receiving end of Mantashe’s sharp tongue.
He and his colleagues mobilised the ANC’s parliamentary caucus to always defend Zuma when the venal leader was called out.
His most dramatic and extreme defence came during last year’s no-confidence vote when he threatened ANC parliamentarians who dared vote with their conscience.
The ANC – and not your conscience – is boss, Mantashe told the party’s MPs as he rallied them to pledge loyalty to defend the man he tells us was stealing.
The national chairperson of the ANC is also wrong when he tells us that Ramaphosa’s wealth will keep him honest.
How a communist and former trade union leader can conclude that rich people are honest is astounding.
Zuma did not steal because he was poor. He stole because his soul is a moral desert and his brain cannot determine right from wrong.
Ramaphosa should shy away from stealing, not because he doesn’t need the money but because he was elected to serve the people, not himself.
In Mantashe’s statement is also embedded a grievous insult to non-wealthy people.
It says that the less wealthy you are the more prone you are to dishonesty and that the more money you have the more morally upright you are likely to be.
Tell that to the millions of working class and middle class South Africans – the majority – who break their backs every day to eke out a living and feed their families.
Then tell that to the likes of Markus Jooste, Brett Kebble and the colluding members of the construction cartels who ripped off the public.
Another element of Mantashe’s utterance that grates is the assertion that in future we should consider how well-off a person is before considering them for office.
If we are to go by that logic then a community activist named Barack Obama should never have been elected to the US Senate and later to the White House and a property mogul called Donald Trump is the perfect person to lead America.
Furthermore, what are we to assume about Mantashe himself, who is not necessarily a wealthy man?
Is he more likely to steal than Ramaphosa and the other rich people on the ANC’s national executive committee?
Mantashe’s defence will probably be that he was speaking with tongue pressed against his cheek.
That would be a very weak defence because it happens to be a surprisingly widely held view and he helped to reinforce it.
There are many in South Africa who erroneously believe rich people do not have a propensity to steal.
The sentiments were eerily similar to former Luthuli House tsar Smuts Ngonyama’s defence of his involvement in a suspect business deal more than 10 years ago.
Challenged about himself and other politically connected individuals scoring Public Investment Corporation backing for a deal to buy a stake in Telkom, Ngonyama famously retorted that “I didn’t join the struggle to be poor”.
It was one of the most regrettable statements about why some people fought against apartheid.
Mantashe’s comment has just joined the list of South Africa’s most distasteful political statements.