ANALYSIS: Duarte's bluster shields ANC from Magashule questions
When Jessie Duarte, the thin-skinned, unpleasant and nasty deputy general of the ANC, lashed out at eNCA journalist Samkele Maseko on Tuesday there probably wasn't a journalist in the country that couldn't identify with Duarte's wagging finger.
During her tenure as deputy chief officer of the ANC, and before that as the ANC's national spokesperson, she developed a reputation as someone who could be prickly at best and downright rude at worst. And many a journalist can testify to being berated by her over the phone or in person.
Duarte, a regular guest on the now defunct Gupta news channel ANN7, has been the consummate "party man" over the years, loyally defending it against all-comers.
When Thuli Madonsela was investigating Nkandla, she called the then public protector a "populist", a month before Zuma was ousted she declared "he is here to stay", she believed Tony Yengeni was wrongly convicted of fraud in 2003, attacked Pravin Gordhan in 2016, warning he wasn't above the law and dismissed allegations against Ace Magashule in 2018.
The point with Duarte isn't that she is unpleasant and unapproachable, but that she has been the ANC's hatchet-woman for years, deflecting, defending and dismissing uncomfortable and difficult questions. Her tactics in dealing with media who ask questions relating to ANC malfeasance are to intimidate and denigrate.
Before Tuesday's press conference at Luthuli House started she laid down the ground rules, declaring that she will only speak about issues raised in the statement. And when Maseko seemingly ventured outside of those boundaries, she exploded, wagging her finger and insulting the journalist.
It was pretty clear that she was never going to take questions on the revelations in journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh's explosive exposé about Magashule's dodgy dealings. So she shut it down even before it could be raised.
The ANC doesn't want to address the issue because that would mean actually taking a stand about allegations involving arguably the second most powerful ANC politician in large-scale and endemic corruption. And if it is forced to do that, the party could theoretically be held accountable for whatever position it takes – whether it is to investigate Magashule, or to leave him untouched.
But the spectacle that was Duarte wasn't the only gaffe in the last 72 hours revealing the fissures inside the party.
On Sunday the ANC released a statement that proceeded to fire buckshot in all directions whilst lauding Magashule in classic North Korean style. The party, the statement said, rejected all allegations in Myburgh's book as "fake news", "stratcom" and "propaganda" – and that without having read the book. Under the guidance of Magashule the ANC will score a resounding victory in the upcoming elections, the statement declared.
What the Duarte conflagration and the Magashule homily do reveal is the ANC's refusal to address the issue of its secretary general's skeletons in public. There are members of the reformist group on the ANC's national executive committee who believe that Myburgh's book will go some way in increasing the pressure on Magashule, while equally there are members of the rent-seeking faction who see Magashule as their flag bearer who should be defended at all costs.
If the party was responsive, responsible and truly committed to rooting out corruption Duarte would have addressed the matter head on. It was, after all, on the front page of most of Sunday's newspapers. And the gravity and depth of the allegations against the party's chief executive officer surely cannot simply be ignored?
But that's' exactly what the ANC did, thanks to Duarte, a past master at bluster and obfuscation.
Magashule must be pleased with her. As Zuma was.