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Cape Town — Long time-activist and civil servant, Crispian Olver was tasked by Pravin Gordhan to clean out the corrupt politicians and criminal syndicates that captured Port Elizabeth’s administrative machinery in 2016. Here Ed Herbst previews the ensuing book, “How to steal a City – The battle for Nelson Mandela Bay. An Inside Account,” typified by respected journalist and newspaper editor, Ferial Haffajee, as the best of this year’s crop of books on the ANC. Herbst draws historical comparisons of what happened in Port Elizabeth just prior to the 2016 municipal elections when Olver was a senior civil servant there and what the DA’s Mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, is now confronting. Olver’s excoriation by the ANC is the best possible kudo and evidence of the efficacy of his revelations, argues Herbst. On a reading of the book, what’s happening in Johannesburg and the ongoing corruption at national level, Herbst typifies the modern-day ANC as a parasite that will inevitably kill its host. The cloak and dagger excerpts and outright terror experienced by some of Olver’s informants, let alone the intimidation of Olver himself, speak to what the Sunday Times this past weekend headlined its’ latest corruption revelations as SA being a “Gangster State”. – Chris Bateman
By Ed Herbst*
There will be lots of books about the ANC this year. This is the best one. – Ferial Hafajee
The African National Congress is not so much a political party as a parasite – and a parasite always kills its host.
That is what I glean from Crispian Olver’s new book How to Steal a City – The battle for Nelson Mandela Bay. An Inside Account.
It is already available on Kindle and l look forward to getting to my couriered hard copy from the good folks at Clarke’s Bookshop.
Herman Mashaba will read this book with particular interest because he is experiencing in Johannesburg what Chippy Olver experienced in Port Elizabeth just prior to the 2016 Local Government Election.
Unsurprisingly, Olver has already been labelled a corrupt traitor by the ANC in Port Elizabeth and if he has been following proceedings at the Moerane Commission and if he has read Mark Shaw’s book, he has every reason to be afraid.
In an interview with the local newspaper, The Herald, Olver reveals however that he is alert to this danger:
“I had people tailing me, looking for me. On one occasion I went to a restaurant and I left earlier than I anticipated. Shortly thereafter a group of thugs arrived there looking for me. I’m still a little wary.”
Here’s a statement from Olver’s book which goes to the heart of what he experienced. The book is published by Jonathan Ball:
When the donation was transferred, I discovered that the promised funds had been reduced by almost a fifth. This surprised me, but not nearly as much as when the electricity official offered me a facilitation fee for my troubles. He explained that the missing funds were earmarked for the advisors and officials who had facilitated the transaction. I flatly refused, and to this day have no idea what happened to that ‘fee’.
If you care about this country and your future in it, this book is not just required reading, but imperative reading. Here is an extract from it which explains why I feel that way:
Restless, I went to look for Maria Hermans, Speaker of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipal Council. A principled and hardworking left-winger, Maria had emerged from trade union and SACP ranks. I had been told that she was one of the few people standing up to corruption in Nelson Mandela Bay.
When I asked her point-blank to tell me what was happening in the metro, Maria was cagey. She insisted that we meet in an empty meeting room. She kept whispering and looking over her shoulder. Then she turned her big eyes to me, and the words flooded out. At one stage, I thought she was going to cry. I tried to follow what she was saying, but she sped through a long list of names linked to this or that regional faction and political leader. ‘I am so scared,’ she gasped at one stage, ‘I really don’t know what I can do.’ She needed someone to comfort her, but this was not my forte, and the brief hug I gave her was a bit stiff. We agreed to meet later at her hotel, where we could talk a little more privately.
That evening, we sat down in the noisy restaurant of the Holiday Inn Sandton. I ordered a glass of wine while Maria ordered a soft drink. She insisted on sitting with her back to the wall, facing the entrance.
Maria knew I was both part of PG’s (Pravin Gordhan’s) advisory team and on the RTT (Regional Task team), and as such could assist with the uncomfortable situation she was in. After playing with the swizzle stick in her drink, Maria cocked her head to one side: ‘Where should I start?’
Over the course of the evening, Maria told me about a web of corruption that worked on multiple levels. Pulling the strings were ANC regional politicians, mainly from a faction known as the Stalini group, who controlled the metro Council. Abetting the corruption was a set of powerful, strategically positioned city officials and political staffers, whose real bosses were not the City Manager or the Mayor, but rather ringleaders outside government. Indeed, some of these officials, who had first operated on behalf of the party bosses, had become free agents controlling their own corrupt networks, diverting public money into their own pockets. Threats and intimidation were part of the daily lives of councilors who refused to be part of the system, and some had even been killed for tackling corruption. For the first time, I was given a glimpse of how the web of party connections, private interests and compliant officials interrelated.
As I went home that night, my ears were ringing and I felt anxious. In my work on local government, I’d seen my fair share of dysfunction and corruption. But what I’d just heard about Nelson Mandela Bay, and what that revealed about the state of the country more broadly, was deeply disturbing. How many similar stories were unfolding far away from the scrutiny of the media and the public? I was also upset that someone as principled and upstanding as Maria could be cornered and forced to live in fear. Back at my computer, I sat down and tried to turn what Maria had told me into a logical structure. I wanted to understand clearly who was who among the metro’s various administrative and political players, and how they were connected. Late that night, I finished and read through my report, which brought the municipality and the connection with the ANC into focus. I had something I could present to Pravin, the sort of detailed intelligence picture that I knew he was looking for.
The following night, I took this report back to Maria so she could confirm the details. She looked a little more relaxed; the chance to get all this off her chest – not to mention the prospect of getting allies to fight in her corner – was probably a relief. We went through my report and fleshed out the details. I was struck by how the different parts of the system meshed to create a shadow power structure that bypassed the official municipal administration. Two things stood out. First, the extent of the corruption was much greater than I had imagined, extending across a number of departments in the metro administration. Second, politics and corruption were closely linked: political power was exercised in pursuit of financial gain.
It is going to be interesting to see how the ANC responds to this meticulously researched book because Olver, a dedicated member of the party, recorded everything he did during this investigation – an assignment given to him by Pravin Gordhan.
How do you rebut Olver’s evidence when the same sort of ANC corruption is now being exposed in Johannesburg and across the country, when the Gupta emails have been made a matter of internet record, when Gwede Mantashe acknowledges that the ANC is a den of thieves, when Zwelinzima Vavi says the den of thieves has turned us into a ‘Predatory State’ and when Makhozi Khoza says the ANC is irredeemably corrupt?
- Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.