By: Clyde Ramalaine
No amount of insults and cheap factional conflation politics should rescue him from accountabilitY
On Monday members of MKMVA supported by a contingent of Truck Workers Union (TWU), SANCO and COSAS led a protest to showcase the disparity of an incessant inequality that continues to define the plight of former freedom fighters. This plight finds meaning in the reality of a State Owned Entity, PRASA where under Mbalula’s watch and since his appointment, irrational decisions were taken that have resulted in a now destroyed and defunct rail infrastructure. Monday’s march also targeted the Gauteng Government for its known indifference on the plight of ex-combatants.
This march raised the ire of a very temperamental oft less measured and perhaps uncouth Minister Fikile Mbalula. Mbalula started a Twitter war, when he in Donald Trump fashion decided to fire off a salvo of incoherent mashed tweets, that best can be understood in a hot dump dropped from the rear-end. Mbalula dared to call MKMVA members thugs. Needless to say, MKMVA spokesperson Carl Niehaus responded in seeking a retraction from Mbalula for his direct insulting of the MKMVA and ANC leaders. What followed hogged the better part of the Monday and Tuesday since all newsrooms and media were engaging the issue naturally from particularly slanted stances as media’s political interest in SA dictates. An honest reflection on what comes shared as a twitter-war of insults confirms the only one who insulted anyone was Fikile Mbalula.
Let us attempt to understand what is at play. The claims levelled against Mbalula among others are his derelict of duty since rail infrastructure in the last twelve months are destroyed and it will cost billions over the next decade to bring the rail infrastructure back into existence.
To be fair with Mbalula it is not correct to blame the entire state of rail infrastructure that dates back to the ’80s on him. An honest assessment will show that the challenges of rail infrastructure started in the ’80s and manifested in the period comprising the ’90s and early 2000. What we do know is that the period between 2007 – 2015 arguably saw the biggest investment in rail infrastructure protection, with commuter safety shifting to the centre. It saw the reintroduction of facilities for railway police among others. This era was preceded by a successfully lodged Class Action case led by a Mr & Mrs Van Minnen [ Rail Commuter Agency Group] supported by the Western Cape COSATU among others. The Van Minnen couple lost a son along with many more families. The Constitutional Court in 2005 ruled that it is the legal duty of the South African Rail Commuter Corporation to ensure the safety of its commuters. Hence, the issue of safety or the protection of rail commuters does not start now.
MKMVA and its supporters with this march dared to keep Mbalula, his PRASA board and the appointed administrator accountable. To appreciate the devastation of the Mbalula decisions for the state of railway infrastructure we can look at routes between Pienaarspoort and Pretoria also between Naledi and Johannesburg as two examples. A year ago, these routes had more than 100 trains a day covering these distances with electric driven engines. Today hardly 10 trips are covered by locomotive driven trains.
To jog our collective memory, Mbalula’s unilateral decision to cancel security contracts was challenged across the country in several courts. We know that Mbalula took an irrational decision since the handed down verdict by Western Cape Judge President Hlophe was scathing. In such ruling, Judge Hlophe showed the Minister as out of depth on a continuum of his choices for the cancelling of contracts without providing any alternatives. It can thus be argued that Judge Hlophe with this ruling in judicial providence foresaw the state of rail infrastructure with a continuance of this Mbalula and PRASA Board decision. We also know that the PRASA Board lost the case. Needless to say, Mbalula in his typical what I coined, Spoilt-Teenager-Syndrome (STS) attacked Judge Hlophe at a personal level for the verdict. In a sneer of a remark, Mbalula in derogatory asked, ‘what does he know about running trains’?
This behaviour is not unique as a first since its protest standard for Mbalula to resort to personal insults when he cannot get his way. Perhaps the bigger challenge that reverberates in the background is why President Ramaphosa hitherto fails to reprimand his truant Minister of Transport. This indirectly lends credence to the allegations that it appears Mbalula is tolerated as making up a part of an arsenal to deal with some Ramaphosa cannot face.
So where did Mbalula and PRASA commit their collective error? That plausibly can be traced back to a finding of the Auditor-General who declared some transactions as irregular. While the AG findings constitute a major part of state accountability a misreading of what is meant with irregular may have been central to the irrational decision to cancel contracts. We all know that a finding of irregular as identified by the AG does not automatically translate to fruitless expenditure, waste or corruption, which we must assume this is potentially what Mbalula and the PRASA board in unison misread. Mbalula must own up to his choice of misinterpretation of what the AG means with irregular. Usually, the board of any State institution in instances of this nature must condone and show for example a value for money defence that warranted such a decision.
Furthermore, what Honourable Minister Mbalula denies us in public discourse amidst his shouting noise into a camera is to honestly inform South Africans that the majority of security companies attached to PRASA have nothing to do with MKMVA members, while some members may be part of it.
Another important aspect Mbalula also appears to have sworn silence too is the fact that it is a given that in South Africa the private security sector remains as with many sectors white-owned, controlled and managed. This reality lends itself to the aforementioned companies having long roped in some ANC – MK Veterans into their shareholding structures as is common practice normal for most ANC leaders from the Mandela era. It would be useful to assess how many MKMVA members versus MK Council members are part of these private security business footprint today.
In addition to this Mbalula either in ignorance or arrogance will not share the fact that the majority of companies were attached to Metrorail that dates back to the ’90s. It is, therefore, important to appreciate that a Deloitte & Touché report on this subject is available in which it is clear that Metrorail which preceded PRASA, a relatively younger entity, was responsible for these contracts. The Metrorail security companies thus needed to be regularised to meet and fit the PRASA context. What was needed was an alignment of these companies to the PRASA procurement policies which was a process by itself.
Mbalula furthermore is ominously silent to answer why there exist claims that the appointment of the PRASA administrator Mr Mpondo is claimed as irregular. We know this from the fact that questions were raised by the Parliamentary Committee on Transport on the subject matter of the appointment of the administrator.
Mbalula is yet to engage the open letter written in August 2020 by Staff of the National Department of Transport and all its State-Owned Entities. This letter is directly addressed to the President and copied the Speaker of Parliament RSA. It raises a litany of issues some as herewith flighted.
- The actual deployment of Mbalula to this senior position.
- Mbalula’s tag along with the less competent ministerial team as part of his deployment.
- His appointment of a questionable political advisor (Lawrence Venkile).
- It acknowledges that Kagiso Moleme as chief of staff is the only to the office of minister of transport. In addition, the appointment of Mpondo, the DG Moemi
- Yet Moleme was moved to PRASA where it is not sure how he will add value for lack of experience.
Mbalula, as to be expected now in typical backdoor fashion, wants to draw convenient linkages in dominant narratives of Gupta /Jacob Zuma so-called state capture claims as having a footprint at PRASA. Maybe he realises what he and the PRASA board have done to established railway infrastructure which today is stripped to virtually nothing and seeks to hide behind the tired and convenient Zuma and Gupta narrative.
Mr Minister Mbalula it was under your watch that the destruction of the infrastructure took place. Minister Mbalula it was your uninformed less researched political choices that have cost SA this destruction. Mr Mbalula must face the MKMVA because their claims are more than legitimate.
What Minister Mbalula must unequivocally and irrevocably answer is the state of destruction of the railway infrastructure and furniture under his watch. The real question is his oversight and accountability role that has cost SA billions and will cost billions to fix. This question lends itself to the fitness of the Mbalula to lead this ministry. It is clear from the initiated twitter attack of Mbalula that he is rattled by this action on the part of MKMVA since he even late Tuesday resorted to the classic victimhood claiming he is isolated by MKMVA.
MKMVA and others with their Monday march is simply holding Minister Mbalula, the PRASA board and his appointed administrator accountable for this national crime. What happened at PRASA is not distinct from what happened to SOE’s like Eskom where the idea is sold that cleaning up is taking place when destruction is afoot.
While Mbalula is creating a dust-storm on a convenient and sentimental claim of corruption as levelled in broad strokes against MKMVA members his rant simply cannot hide the fact that he resists being held accountable for his decisions and lack of informed leadership to have cancelled the contracts without providing alternatives. Mbalula in absence of owning to his irrational choices instead opts to conflate if not obfuscate matters anchored in deflection of ANC factional politics and the tired Gupta blame.
Unfortunately, Mr Minister, this time you cannot hide behind you usual razzmatazz ‘fear fokol’ rhetoric in which you want to use ANC factional fights to escape your fiduciary responsibilities. You will not be allowed to conflate and obfuscate in your typical Spoilt- Teenager-Syndrome [STS] style of insulting and abusing others by labelling MKMVA members as thugs. It is a cheap and horrible deflection on your part for which those whom you have labelled warrant filing defamation charges against you as individuals. Tell South Africa, when you took over, what was the state of rail – infrastructure as juxtaposed to what we have now. If the ANC and its leadership allow you to get away with your Spoilt-Teenager-Syndrome antics, we as South Africans will not but we will keep you accountable.
The true impact of the Mbalula decision cannot be limited to MKMVA members but the majority of poor households whose disposal income is severely affected since they now must make use of mini-bus transport system which costs on average three times more than the rail means of transportation.
Clyde N.S Ramalaine Political Analyst , Author and UJ SARCHi D. Litt. et Phil Candidate in Political Sciences