Scrutinising the ANC disciplinary committee

Lungile Madywabe detects inconsistency in the ANC's disciplinary procedures over the last ten years.

Summary - If there is one person who has flouted the rules and code of conduct of the African National Congress, it is Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. It is therefore surprising that her name is omitted from the list of people who have appeared before the party’s national disciplinary committee since 1994. This is just one of the inconsistencies that emerged when Focus investigated the extent to which the ANC has been rigorous and even-handed in policing the behaviour of its members. The expulsion of Bantu Holomisa is a case in point. Holomisa angered the ANC when he asked the TRC to investigate Stella Sigcau, a fellow ANC member, for corruption. Sigcau had accepted R50 000 from Transkei premier George Matanzima, money which was part of the huge sum Sol Kerzner paid for gambling rights in the homeland. Sigcau had admitted taking the money but denied that it was a bribe, describing it as a bursary for her daughter. The party was displeased that Holomisa had attacked a colleague, who was also a valued cabinet member, without authorisation; it also believed he had self-serving reasons for re-opening this old issue. Holomisa was publicly reprimanded and expelled from the party. Madikizela-Mandela and Tony Yengeni have committed far more serious crimes, yet the ANC has been lenient in dealing with them. Yengeni, despite being convicted in court for defrauding parliament, got off lightly when he appeared before the disciplinary committee; it suspended his party membership but then suspended implementation of the suspension. Similarly, defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota received only a small fine for failing to declare his financial interests as required by parliamentary regulations. ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe disagrees that the ANC finds it awkward to deal decisively with wayward senior members. Madikizela-Mandela, he says, cannot appear before the disciplinary committee because her appeal against her conviction on multiple theft and fraud charges is still pending. According to political analyst Tom Lodge, however, the reason the ANC does not take action against her is that she has strong allies in the ANC’s senior echelons as well as a large personal following which the party is scared of alienating. Inkatha Freedom Party MP Gavin Woods resigned as chairman of parliament’s standing committee for public accounts when he realised that the ANC either could not or would not discipline its members who behaved unacceptably, especially relating to the arms deal controversy.

Running through the list of people who have appeared before the African National Congress (ANC) national disciplinary committee since 1994, there is a surprise omission, the name of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Rule 26 of the Constitution of the ANC concerns discipline, and states unequivocally: "All members, without exception, must abide by the Constitution of the ANC, the Rules, the Standing Orders and Codes of Conduct…" If there is one person within the ruling party who has not only sneered at but also single-handedly flouted the "rules and code of conduct" of the ANC, it is Madikizela-Mandela.

The ANC insist that they do not share a warm grip with members who trample over its rules. However, when former ANC president, the late Oliver Tambo, acting as chairman of an internal commission of inquiry summoned the 70-year-old Madikizela-Mandela to respond to allegations of misappropriation of the organisation's funds, she simply refused with apparent impunity. In April 1994, it was disclosed that an ANC internal inquiry held the previous year implicated Madikizela-Mandela in the disappearance of foreign funding and the pilfering of the organisations's funds. Faced with the commission's findings, however, that R74 000 had been deposited into her personal account, she acknowledged the debt and reportedly reached an agreement with the ANC treasurer-general to pay it back1.

Later in the same year she was again involved in trouble when it was alleged that she had used letterheads of a non-governmental organisation involved in poverty relief to fly business associates to Angola to buy diamonds2.

Notwithstanding the complexities of running a large organization that prides itself on its ability to attract all types of people from a wide social spectrum, contradictions and inconsistencies emerged as Focus investigated the extent to which the ANC has been rigorous and even-handed in policing the behaviour of its members.

This article examines a few high profile cases dealt with by the ANC since 1994, after it assumed power as the governing body, having re-established itself as a political party following its unbanning, together with allied and rival liberation movements, four years earlier.

Since metamorphosing itself from a guerrilla resistance movement into a political party, the ANC has dealt with many deviant members. But the period during which the committee seems to have had a particularly torrid time came after the installation of Nelson Mandela as the first president of South Africa, in April 1994. Between then and now it has taken tough action against some members, including the ultimate sanction of expulsion, despite protests of unfair hearings or cries of irregular procedure. The expulsion of Bantu Holomisa, the military leader and former ANC national executive member of the then nominally-independent Transkei, is a case in point.

Holomisa's offence was that he asked that the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to investigate a co-member of the ANC, Stella Sigcau, for corruption. The allegation related to the acceptance by Sigcau, who served briefly as Transkei prime minister, of R50 000 from George Matanzima when he was premier of Transkei. The R50 000 was alleged to be part of a huge sum of money that Matanzima wheedled out of the casino mogul, Sol Kerzner, in return for the granting of a near monopoly of gambling rights in Transkei to him. Sigcau did not deny receiving the money at the time. She denied, however, that it was a bribe, describing it as bursary for her daughter's education. The ANC was displeased with Holomisa for two reasons: firstly, because he reportedly pointed an accusing finger at a fellow ANC member without the assent of his peers and seniors in the organization, and, secondly, because it saw no reason for Holomisa to re-open an old issue, unless it was a self-serving move. Holomisa was a deputy minister at the time while Sigcau was a full minister in Mandela's cabinet. Also Mandela was hopeful that giving individuals who had served under the Bantustan system and who now sided with the ANC a golden thread would help heal the past and strengthen the ANC in its quest to build a better society.

Though Sigcau's appointment to Mandela's cabinet as the minister of public enterprises came as a surprise to many observers at the time, there was a rationale for it. The ANC was sensitive to its commitment to advance gender equality in South Africa. Under the white apartheid regime, government had acquired a distinctly patriarchal profile. Besides being a woman, Sigcau, who had led the ANC Women's League in Transkei, was a member of the Pondo royal family. Her appointment to the cabinet thus made sense on two scores: it helped to demonstrate the ANC's commitment to gender equality and to placate Pondos in the Xhosa-speaking Eastern Cape and to avoid a Pondo backlash if they were excluded from the cabinet. Holomisa's persistence in raising an issue of Sigcau's acceptance of part of the bribe paid to Matanzima angered the ANC leadership, particularly Thabo Mbeki, who was then serving as deputy president under Mandela. Mbeki showed his irritation by publicly reprimanding Holomisa.

The former Transkei military ruler declined to discuss the issue when contacted by Focus. He seems to have put the whole issue behind him and is concentrating on carving a new political future for himself as the leader of the United Democratic Movement. But taking into consideration the way the general was dealt with by the ANC it is relevant to recall the words the ANC used when it expelled him. It accused Holomisa of placing himself above the organization, declaring: "He confuses his membership of the movement with his status as being a head of the Bantustan… He has turned the whole process into a public circus." Madikizela-Mandela and recently Tony Yengeni have committed far more serious crimes than Holomisa yet the organisation has not been as ruthless in dealing with them as they were with the general.

The last 18 months have been a very busy time for the committee, with several of its senior members found to be wanting in their obedience to the ANC's code of conduct. One of the important yardsticks in gauging the fairness with which any organization deals with its members is the action it takes - or fails to take - when senior members are suspected of breaching its own ethical codes. The ANC is no different.

Yengeni, the former ANC chief whip in the National Assembly, was found guilty in court of defrauding parliament by failing to declare that he had received a substantial discount on a luxury motor vehicle he had bought from DaimlerChrysler. But his conviction in a court of law notwithstanding, he got off lightly when he appeared before the committee: it suspended his ANC membership but then suspended the implementation of its suspension. Another high-ranking ANC member, defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, similarly escaped serious punishment by the committee. He failed to declare his financial interests in wine, oil and property to parliament as required by the parliamentary regulations. He got away with a relatively light fine, with the committee arguing that Lekota had been negligent rather than wilful. Whether the committee treated Lekota indulgently because of his high status - he is the ANC's national chairman and, according to some political observers a potential candidate to succeed Mbeki as ANC president in 2007 - is a matter of speculation.

The ANC declined to give Focus a complete list of all cases that have come before the disciplinary committee since it resumed operations as an above-ground political party. Steyn Speed, the ANC's co-ordinator of programmes and internal communications, explained that information in the archives was difficult to access. In a bid to offer a rationale for the ANC's apparently inconsistent application of rules, ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe, however, dismissed the popular view that the organisation found it awkward to deal decisively with wayward senior members, particularly the high profile Madikizela-Mandela, who is referred to, with admiration or derision, depending on the speaker, as the "mother of the nation".

The ANC's kid-gloved handling of Madikizela-Mandela might mean that now that she has relinquished all her official positions in the ANC she has made it superfluous for the committee to take action against her, or that the ANC leadership has decided to heed the adage about letting sleeping dogs lie. The two explanations are not, of course, mutually exclusive.

Motlanthe, however, saw no parallels between her situation and that of Yengeni. He noted that Yengeni, after initially contesting the allegations against him in court, eventually pleaded guilty to defrauding parliament in a plea bargain with the prosecution that freed him from more serious corruption charges. But, he added, in contrast Madikizela-Mandela contested the charges against her and appealed against her eventual conviction on multiple charges of fraud and theft in a Saambou bank loan case. Motlanthe reasoned that the ANC could not haul her before the disciplinary committee while her appeal, her conviction and the sentence arepending.

Political analyst Tom Lodge, of the University of the Witwatersrand, characterised the ANC's reluctance to deal with Madikizela-Mandela as a paradox that only a higher being could unravel, as the following extract from an interview shows.

Focus: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's name should surely top the list of people who have appeared before the ANC disciplinary committee. Why do you think the ANC has failed to summon her?

Lodge: "God knows, compared to the people who have been disciplined Winnie would surely be liable to action by the ANC's disciplinary committee. For example her conduct as president of the African National Congress Women's League breached the ANC's own rules in all kinds of ways, particularly with respect to the organisation's financial management. She has been convicted (of fraud and theft) and, if the conviction is upheld, she may go to prison. If she is imprisoned, then, of course, she cannot serve the ANC in any official capacity".

Focus: What you are talking about is well-documented and public knowledge. Why does the ANC not take action against her?

Lodge: "Leaders believe the she has a large personal following and they are frightened of alienating her supporters. She also has strong allies in the senior echelons of the organisation. On the whole the ANC is reluctant to take action that may risk disunion. Thabo Mbeki is exceedingly sensitive to 'unity' considerations."
Motlanthe says disciplinary procedures are not short streets. They are part of a process aimed as ensuring they are fair and transparent. The ANC is not a court of law but a political organisation, he states, adding that it is unfair for Focus to seek information from them because once a particular issue has been settled it becomes a non-issue for them.

Gavin Woods, a former chairman of parliament's standing committee for public accounts (Scopa: established to monitor government spending of public money on behalf of taxpayers), quit his position in frustration. His reason for doing so provided a context against which to appraise the ANC's disciplinary committee and its commitment to upholding the ANC's code of conduct.

Woods, a member of the Inkatha Freedom Party, averred in an interview with Focus that he resigned as chairman when he discovered that the ANC could or would not deal decisively with its own members who behaved "in a way that was not acceptable". Recounting events that occurred while he was chairman of the parliamentary committee, most especially those relating to the arms deal controversy, he contended that the ANC became confused about whether to support Scopa or the people who were accused of wrongdoing.

1 Shelagh Gastrow: Who's Who in South African Politics. No. 5.
2 Ibid.