Inside Malema's new war
Youth league leader Julius Malema’s attack on Pravin Gordhan and the South African Revenue Service (Sars) has blown open simmering suspicions in the ANC-led alliance over the role of Gordhan and Sars in curbing the patronage networks that are driving power struggles in the ANC.
This week Malema released details of a dossier he claimed showed Sars had targeted senior Zuma supporters. He effectively fingered Gordhan, the former Sars chief, as being behind an alleged Sars campaign against “Zuma people”.
Malema’s allegations also exposed a controversial unit of Sars, set up in February 2007, apparently as a small covert group supplying strategic information on Sars targets. Known as the Special Projects Unit or National Research Group, the unit fell under Sars head of compliance, Ivan Pillay—considered Gordhan’s key ally—and later reported to Pillay’s head of enforcement investigations, Johann van Loggerenberg.
Peega faces criminal charges to do with rhino poaching. Sars fired him following his arrest at a police roadblock in January last year.
Sars has denied targeting anyone on the basis of a political agenda—specifically Peega’s list of individuals. But the organisation has refused to confirm or deny whether it is probing Malema, whose allegations came after media reports spotlighted his business interests and lavish lifestyle.
One well-placed observer, who asked not to be named, said Malema was trying to divert legitimate questions about his income: “It’s clear Sars will engage Malema—and he’s trying to shift the terms of that engagement.” Said another: “He’s trying to head off the investigation.”
An official source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also confirmed a City Press report that Limpopo—Malema’s key power base—was high on the priority list of an inter-agency task team on corruption. The initiative flows from an inter-ministerial task team on corruption set up by Zuma last year.
Allegations about Malema’s Limpopo business interests suggest the focus on the province could disrupt his networks of influence. He claims to have received no benefit from the companies linked to him. Gordhan has made the anti-corruption drive part of his political platform—and Cosatu has keenly endorsed his promise of more ‘lifestyle audits” by Sars.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi voiced a thinly veiled demand that politicians such as Malema, with their networks of “tenderpreneur” friends, should be high on the list of Sars priorities.
Cosatu’s call has political implications—the targets of such audits would come overwhelmingly from the ANC’s nationalist wing, which is pushing to assert its primacy in the post-Polokwane battles with Cosatu and the communist party.
The focus on unexplained accumulation implicitly threatens a much broader range of ANC heavyweights who have built personal wealth and political clout through access to state power and resources.
One senior national executive committee member admitted to the M&G that Gordhan’s anti-corruption crusade was in part designed to neutralise money politics in the ANC. Successive secretaries general—Kgalema Motlanthe and Gwede Mantashe—have warned that this could tear the party apart.
The anti-corruption drive is a high-stakes political game—hence Malema’s move to show that many close Zuma allies could be targeted by “lifestyle audits”. Malema has indicated he will take the fight to Sars and Gordhan—and it is clear that he is not operating in a vacuum. “Sars is very politically isolated,” warned one insider. The dossier also contains a detailed critique of Gordhan’s legacy at the revenue service by ex-Sars senior general manager Vuso Shabalala.
There are indications that Peega also made contact with other ex-Sars employees. He allegedly told former colleagues he was investigating “on behalf of the presidency”.
The M&G was told that Malema will brief Zuma on his claims and hand over the dossier on Thursday. It is also understood that at least one of those mentioned as a supposed Sars “target”, ANC presidency spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, is taking the allegations seriously.
The Peega document has also been widely distributed to the media, which did not pick up the story until Malema made his accusations.
The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the police have denied knowledge of the Peega allegations, but the South African Police Service is understood to have conducted an investigation last year, interviewing Sars members. The NIA was apparently drawn in because Peega essentially claimed Sars was running a covert intelligence unit, but as far as could be established the investigations have produced no result.
Zuma’s response has underlined the political dangers of Gordhan’s anti-corruption crusade. This week he slapped down Cosatu’s call for lifestyle audits of politicians, saying he did not consider it necessary. He defended Malema’s right to pursue business interests, saying he was not a government member.
The Sars ‘targets’
Did Sars target these people? No way, says Sars. Yebo, says fired Sars undercover agent Mike Peega. And if they weren’t investigated, shouldn’t they be? You decide.
- Julius Malema—ANC youth league president and a key supporter of President Jacob Zuma.
- Mabheleni Ntuli—The KwaZulu-Natal bling king who sourced money from a South African Social Security Agency-linked community fund to pay for a children’s Christmas party at Zuma’s Nkandla home.
- Zizi Kodwa—Zuma’s spin doctor, based at Luthuli House. Kodwa is known for his lavish
- Tony Yengeni—Another bling king, who became a Zuma man when he fell foul of the Scorpions.
- Lembede “Associates”—The ANC Youth League’s investment group.
- Fikile Mbalula—Deputy police minister and, with Kodwa, Zuma’s chief propagandist in the build-up to Polokwane.
- Fana Hlongwane—Adviser to late defence minister Joe Modise, who was paid millions by BAE Systems for his consulting work. The alleged Peega document queries his links with Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda.
- Robert Gumede—Wildly successful businessman with key government IT contracts. A generous funder of the ANC.
- Khulubuse “Khula” Zuma—Zuma’s nephew and a prominent KwaZulu-Natal businessman. He also sometimes acts as spokesperson for the Zuma family.
- Zweli Mkhize—KwaZulu-Natal’s premier and a member of Zuma’s kitchen cabinet.
- Bheki Cele—Police Police Commissioner.
- Vivian Reddy—KwaZulu-Natal businessman and long-time benefactor to Zuma and his family.
- Ace Magashule—Premier of the Free State.
- Vuso Shabalala—Senior Sars manager supposedly targeted for “sidelining” until he resigned.
- Leonard Radebe—Senior SARS official who resigned when questions were raised about his handling of the Dave King tax battle.