Madisha and the Decline of the Left

This is even less perfect than some other Creations. But, anyway . . .

The removal of Willie Madisha, head of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, from his leadership position in the Congress of South African Trade Unions is extremely interesting. To understand it, however, a lot of context, as usual, is needed.

Back in 2006 the Treasurer-General of the SA Communist Party, Phillip Dexter, was called in to investigate corruption and mismanagement at the Mpumalanga Development Corporation. This might seem a little odd; why call in a Commie to handle such things? Because Dexter headed a Cape consultancy which claimed to be good at that sort of thing. This is because Dexter comes out of a trade union background, and the trade unions were the first organisations to latch on to corporate investment by political entities.

Dexter found corruption and mismanagement, but he also found trouble. The muckraking magazine Noseweek accused him of being corrupt and incompetent himself. Ouch. It also accused him of thuggish behaviour, breaking into a journalist’s hired car and stealing the journalist’s material. Double ouch. But then Dexter went and wrote to Noseweek pointing out that none of their accusations could withstand scrutiny, and — unusually — Noseweek withdrew. This was partly because the magazine discovered that the journalist himself seemed to have been involved in shenanigans with the car and it was possible that he had invented the story about the breakin to cover them up.

Now, Noseweek is a conservative magazine and this might have been a standard nail-the-left scenario. On the other hand, there might have been reasons for others to leak dirt against Dexter. The SACP had a conference coming up.

At the 2007 Conference, Dexter was going to have to face a please-explain questioning time, because the SACP was virtually bankrupt. It wasn’t clear why this was so, since with 50 000-odd members all paying a proportion of their salaries into the SACP’s accounts, as the Party’s constitution requires, the Party should have been flush. It hadn’t run any major campaigns on its own account for years, so expenditure was not, or should not have been, great. Where had the money gone? Dexter was in trouble and casting about for straws.

What Dexter also faced, conveniently, was the need to audit Party membership. This should actually have been handled by the Party’s Secretary-General, Blade Nzimande, but Cde Nzimande was much too busy elsewhere to handle such responsibilities, so it was shuffled off on Dexter. This was fair, since most of the Party’s money was supposed to come from the membership. Why wasn’t it doing so?

There seemed to be a problem. Dexter claimed to have discovered that the Party was wildly inflating its membership. It had started out with a membership of about 50 000 soon after unbanning in 1990, and was claimed to have climbed to nearly 60 000. Dexter claimed that actual paid-up members were far less, something like 15 000. In other words, the Party was only a third or even a quarter as big as it pretended. If it was still spending like a big Party, that could account for its poverty.

But luckily there were donations. Dexter managed to track down one in particular, a donation of R500 000, equivalent to the Party’s annual membership fees, from a businessman named Modise, made in 2002. (Why was a businessman giving money to a party dedicated to the destruction of capitalism? Don’t ask.) Dexter contacted Modise and asked if the story was true, since he had seen no evidence of payment. Yes, said Modise, he had indeed paid the money and would like to be assured that it had been used wisely. He had given it — to Willie Madisha. In brown paper bags. In the boot of a car. It sounded more like a drug deal than a political donation.

Dexter went to the Party’s politburo and asked for more information. It isn’t clear what happened, except that he was told to keep his mouth shut, both about the membership issue and about the money. The problem was that the Party conference was supposed to be a huge success. There were plans to spend a vast amount of money (donated by COSATU) on a 2000-person jamboree. This was half as big as the planned ANC Conference at Polokwane later in the year, although the SACP claimed to be only a tenth as big as the ANC. It was hard enough to justify having one in every 25 members coming to a Party Conference, especially of a Party which had no money to pay for them, as opposed to the vastly wealthy ANC which was accepting less than one member in a hundred at Polokwane, and which was tightly auditing its provincial support base. But what if in fact there were only 14 000 Party members? In that case, the Port Elizabeth conference would be practically a Party General Assembly! It simply couldn’t be justified.

Someone went to the papers. Maybe it was Dexter whistle-blowing, maybe it was one of the people who had seen his report. Anyway, the media discovered what had happened and had a field day. One of the immediate consequences of that was Dexter’s immediate suspension from the SACP; he was removed from the post of Treasurer-General at the Conference. Meanwhile, hard questions were asked of Willie Madisha. Did he know anything about this?

Yes, said Madisha. He had received the funds from Modise. However, he said, he had immediately handed them over to Nzimande. Nzimande responded by saying that he had never seen the funds and knew nothing about them. Meanwhile, Modise laid charges, saying that his money had been stolen. The police found his charges credible enough to begin an investigation. Soon after this, however, Modise was arrested on fraud charges (not related to the donation); he remains in jail in Kimberley.

Obviously somebody was lying. Modise could have been lying, except that it was not clear why he should have laid charges if they were likely to be exposed as frivolous; he could get into trouble. Madisha could have been lying; perhaps he and Modise were in cahoots, pretending that money which never existed had been stolen. Or, perhaps Madisha had stolen the money. Nzimande could have been lying; perhaps he had received the money from Madisha and used it for his own purposes. Dexter, on the other hand, was not lying about anything (unless he was fraudulently underassessing the SACP membership — but he was not kicked out for that). Yet at this stage the only person who had suffered was Dexter. This seemed bad; it was as if the SACP were more concerned with covering up than with providing factual information.

The SACP and COSATU swept into action. They began investigating Madisha.

The problem was that Madisha was the President of COSATU. His Secretary-General, Zwelelzima Vavi, was the leader of the pro-Zuma camp in COSATU; Madisha was unsympathetic to Zuma (and was therefore portrayed as a supporter of Mbeki). Similarly, whereas Nzimande led the pro-Zuma camp in the SACP, Dexter was unsympathetic to Zuma (and was therefore portrayed as a supporter of Mbeki). In a series of moves, Madisha was first kicked out as President of SADTU, then forced to step down as President of COSATU. That got rid of the trouble-makers. The entire question of what had happened to the money, if any, simply disappeared, and the whole issue became whether Madisha had brought discredit on COSATU or not.

Vavi gave evidence to the COSATU investigators that Madisha had wrecked cooperation with the SACP by acknowledging the donations issue. It could only be reconstructed by getting rid of Madisha. The question of whether Madisha was telling the truth did not matter; what mattered was keeping close links with the SACP. Was the SACP led by a criminal? That was not important for COSATU; ethical considerations had to take second place to power.

So Vavi engineered Madisha’s effective expulsion from COSATU.

What conclusions can be reached here? It is clear that the whole issue is a cover-up. Dexter was sacked for revealing it and Madisha has been sacked for speaking to Dexter and for standing by him. Otherwise, the whole issue should have remained on ice until a) it was proven that money did indeed change hands, and b) if so, it was discovered whether Nzimande or Madisha had received unauthorised and unaccounter-for money. It did not; action was taken against Dexter and Madisha, although nobody has accused them of wrongdoing, but no action was taken against Nzimande, although he is either the victim of an intricate smear campaign, or he is a thief.

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