Slippery Zwane digs himself a deeper hole
Political differences were cast aside as annoyed MPs agreed they may need to subpoena the minister
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane is too busy for parliament these days, but MPs have made time for him.
Having rebuffed four invitations since November to answer questions before the portfolio committee for mineral resources, the minister may now no longer have any choice: he will be central to a new inquiry into alleged state capture in the mining sector.
The parliamentary oversight inquiry, announced on Wednesday by the portfolio committee, is separate from the broader commission of inquiry into state capture announced by former president Jacob Zuma.
It will look specifically at allegations that the Guptas unduly influenced government officials, and is expected to subpoena several witnesses.The committee’s decision came just hours before Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba sweated his way through a treacherous budget made nigh impossible by a decade of Zuma-nomics. Gigaba himself has been named in state capture allegations.
But whereas some commentators say Gigaba has earned a political reprieve, albeit temporary, there was no such leniency towards Zwane during Wednesday’s committee meeting.
Political differences were cast aside as visibly annoyed members agreed they may need to subpoena the minister to appear before the inquiry – to answer questions he appears hell-bent on avoiding.
It would mean Zwane would have his date with the committee whether he likes it or not, regardless of whether he is still minister.
“The minister is holding the committee in contempt,” member Thembinkosi Rawula told Times Select. “All these questions we might have had (in the portfolio committee meeting) we are going to exhaust in our inquiry.”Rawula said Zwane had snubbed the committee four times since he was first invited to present himself in October: in November he had claimed to be unavailable; in January he claimed to be sick; and in February to be studying.
His excuse for missing Wednesday’s meeting was a prior engagement with the National Council of Provinces, despite the NCOP being involved in a joint sitting of parliament for Gigaba’s budget.
The string of excuses prompted scorn from committee members. Steven Jafta said: “We have given the minister enough opportunity,” and Rawula added: “The non-attendance and petty reasons forwarded (to the committee) are unacceptable.”
James Lorimer from the Democratic Alliance agreed with Rawula (EFF): “This may be the only time in my life I say this, but I agree with the EFF.”
In a statement released after the meeting, Lorimer said: “Zwane’s one previous appearance before the committee to answer allegations of state capture was marked by evasion and defensiveness.
“The minister has been one of the key figures implicated in state capture allegations and he must be held accountable. The committee also agreed that if Zwane is unwilling to show up to the committee inquiry freely, he will be forced to appear by means of a summons.
“Evidence of state capture has been hugely damaging to the credibility of South Africa's mining jurisdiction. It is vital, to preserve the industry and the jobs it creates, that we have a department and a minister who are above reproach.”