EARLY indications that the Nkandla controversy may yet divide the governing African National Congress (ANC) emerged on Wednesday as former and current party leaders engaged in a war of words.
The clash has been sparked by last week’s findings that President Jacob Zuma benefited unduly from the R246m of state money spent on "security" at his private residence at Nkandla, in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils said his conscience moved him to speak out against the maladministration, corruption and scandals troubling the ANC ahead of the May 7 elections.
But Mr Zuma’s supporters seemed to have turned a blind eye to the criticism. A group of ANC-aligned KwaZulu-Natal lawyers, prosecutors and trade unions on Wednesday instructed a Durban-based law firm to file papers in the high court in Durban, asking for Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report to be set aside.
The ANC parliamentary caucus ratcheted up pressure on Ms Madonsela, saying it respected her work but she was failing in her legal mandate and came perilously close to political posturing.
ANC chief whip in the National Assembly Stone Sizani, in one of the harshest statements, criticised Ms Madonsela for failing in her legal obligation to table the report in Parliament and instead reporting to the media first.
Mr Kasrils said while he may be labelled a "traitor" by some in the party, he was, on the contrary, trying to remind ANC alliance members the party "cannot go on with this state of affairs or (it) will find itself losing support".
His sentiments echoed those of his ANC colleague and former arts and culture minister Pallo Jordan in his Business Day column on Thursday that Mr Zuma’s administration was "littered with scandal".
Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel became the first sitting Cabinet minister to speak out emphatically on Nkandla, saying in a radio interview on Wednesday "taxpayers should not pay for a swimming pool at any individual’s house regardless who they are".
Last week Ms Madonsela released her final report on the Nkandla project, finding that Mr Zuma benefited "unduly" from the project. Ms Madonsela recommended that Mr Zuma pay back a portion of the millions spent in building a swimming pool, an amphitheatre, a cattle kraal and a chicken run, since she could not find that these were reasonable security measures.
On Tuesday, former president Thabo Mbeki weighed in, saying it was "worrying" and a poor reflection on the quality of the leadership the country needed to face future challenges. Both Mr Manuel and Mr Kasrils are seen to be close to Mr Mbeki, who was defeated by Mr Zuma for the position of ANC president in Polokwane in 2007.
Mr Mantashe had reportedly said earlier this month Mr Manuel behaved like "a free agent" when he defended Ms Madonsela from attacks from within the ANC and its alliance partners ahead of the Nkandla report. He likened Mr Manuel to Mr Kasrils and another former minister, Jay Naidoo.
Mr Manuel said on Wednesday in a radio interview Mr Mantashe had "a little bit of a loose tongue", prompting ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu to call in to the programme and defend Mr Mantashe.
Mr Manuel said Mr Mantashe "may not like him," but, the secretary-general was "a mere functionary" within the ANC and could not define Mr Manuel as a "free agent".
"If I had a thin skin then I would not have survived this long in struggle politics," said Mr Manuel, who this year decided to resign from active politics.
Mr Mthembu took umbrage, saying Mr Mantashe was an elected leader of the ANC and could not be reduced to a functionary.
Mr Kasrils said on Wednesday that Mr Mantashe’s comments reflected the issues he was concerned about, "the arrogance, intolerance and name calling associated with the ANC and so many spokespersons in the alliance."
"It’s quite disgusting that the man uses that kind of language instead of being prepared to contribute to a healthier climate of debate," said Mr Kasrils.
Others went before him, he said, such as the late ANC leader Chris Hani who in 1968 openly criticised the party for corruption with the intention of bringing it back in line with its values.
The situation today was "more dangerous" to the ANC’s reputation than it was in 1968, which was "why I feel inclined to speak up", he said.
Mr Mantashe, speaking on Tuesday at a briefing, said the biggest problem with Nkandla was the inflation of prices. There had been "disagreement" about what to do about the costs for building the chicken run, cattle kraal and the amphitheatre.
"People argue that perhaps Zuma should have known what was happening and that he should have enquired. That is fair enough. But we must also ask about the line ministers and officials involved," he said.
Mr Manuel was on Wednesday not available for further comment.
Mr Kasrils said others may keep quiet because they want to hold on to their jobs. He said Mr Jordan showed "guts" by publishing his thoughts.
Mr Jordan is on the ANC national executive committee and a National Assembly candidate.
The body, called KZN Lawyers and Other Progressive Forces, said it would challenge Ms Madonsela’s report on the grounds that "it is irrational (and) is based on untested facts" and that she acted as "an investigator, prosecutor and a judge" and therefore her report "is biased".
Mr Sizane, while wrapping the criticism in a package declaring complete support for the public protector and other Chapter 9 institutions, said, "We express our concern at certain utterances she directed at the government and Parliament which borders on political posturing and condescending language.
"She has also spoken condescendingly of Parliament, a constitutional institution she is accountable to, by questioning its independence and suggesting that some of its powers — such as the power to appoint and remove the president — must be clipped."
With Khulekani Magubane