Melanie Verwoerd: When trying to spin the impossible ties you into a knot – On Pule Mabe and the ANC

Watching a nervous Pule Mabe trying to spin the ANC's response to Bongani Bongo's arrest and the reappointment of Bathabile Dlamini, almost made me feel sorry for him, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

I talk at the TV. So there. I'm a TV talker, sometimes a TV shouter. I admit it. Not all the time – just during political interviews.

I'll also admit that on rare occasions I catch myself feeling sorry for a political party spokesperson. After all, the art of spinning away your party's idiotic decisions is not always easy.

Watching a nervous Pule Mabe on Friday morning on SABC's Morning Live was almost such an occasion. As spokesperson, he was there to talk about the various issues in the ANC. (See why I almost felt sorry for him?)

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First up was the issue of Bongani Bongo, the former state security minister who had been arrested the previous day by the Hawks on charges of corruption. "He remains innocent and he continues to be a member of the NEC," said Mabe. "It is only fair that as a law abiding citizen, he is afforded the space to be able to deal with issues where they will be taking place [i.e. in open court]."

"OK, a few issues there, but it is the predictable innocent-until-proven-guilty answer that the ANC uses when their members are in trouble with the law," I thought while sipping my morning coffee.

Then the issue of Bathabile Dlamini was raised. Now I was paying attention.

(Just in case you missed it, she was recently appointed as the head of the Social Housing Regulatory Authority Board. These are the people who are responsible for regulating, capacitating and investing in the social housing sector. They also administer the subsidies available to social housing.)

"There is still a great role that someone like Bathabile Dlamini can play – in helping us to drive forward the reconstruction and development programme," said Mabe, at which point I started to talk to the TV.

"Eh, remember Sassa? That did not turn out so well," I reminded Mabe.

"Look," responded Mabe, "one of the things the African National Congress would never do… it can't when it has cadres in its ranks who have acquired vast amounts of knowledge and skills over the years, not utilise those cadres to the best of their capabilities because of what could seemingly be public perception."

"Seemingly?? Public perception?" Now I was getting annoyed. "It was the courts!!" I shouted at the TV. "And what about all those hundreds of ex-MPs who need jobs?"

Mabe was avoiding my question, so I tried again.

"With over a million members, why do you constantly insist on recycling the same people – many of whom are corrupt?"

"Of course," countered Mabe, "when there are challenges we are alive to those and have got to work towards making sure that we assert credible and ethical leadership out in the public."

"Ja, no one is going to buy that, Pule," I grumbled.

"I assure the public that we are responsible, we are a responsible party… that we are able to deploy men and women who always carry their interest at heart," he insisted.

"Lol," I mumbled under my breath.

Then the interviewer brought up Zanele Hlatshwayo. (This former mayor of Msunduzi was removed by the ANC in 2010 and the municipality put under administration. She is now the ANC's nominee for the Public Service Commission.)

"Is this really best we can do?" the interviewer inquired.

"Without going into the specifics, it is important to know that where these comrades will go in their different capacities to perform whatever responsibilities that might be apportioned to them there will be collectives," responded Mabe.

The interviewer was ahead of me here and interrupted: "But she oversees the collectives and is responsible for the actions of those below here. That is what leadership is about, surely?"

"Well the expectation is that having drawn from all the different experiences we expect that going forward we will be able to deal with all these issues… to ensure that we place the interest of our people and those institutions first."

I sighed so loudly, I woke up my dogs.

Mabe wasn't finished.

"I can tell you now that building responsive institutions is one of the things that the ANC-led government has set out to do and already there are strong monitoring mechanisms that are put in place so where there are acts of wrong-doing and malfeasance, we immediately act with greater speed so we can pronounce ourselves."

I was rapidly losing interest.

The interviewer asked about the auditor's report and all the fruitless expenditure. Mabe felt that the mere existence of the auditor-general is a sign of the ANC's commitment to transparency.

"We should be saying to the people of SA: This party that is in government is transparent, is responsible," he berated the interviewer. 

"Transparency is one thing, accountability is another," the interviewer countered.

"Exactly!" I shouted.  

"So we ought to make sure that the culture of service delivery is understood by all public representatives and all institutions of state, because we must make sure that how we apportion public resources is in the interest of the people who put governance in position."

At this point I left the dogs to watch the end of the interview on their own.

There is only so much bad spin that even a political analyst can tolerate on an empty stomach.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

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