Dear Reader: Stormy weather

Want to know which way the wind blows in South African politics today? Whether to expect fair weather or foul? The manner in which three issues are resolved will, I believe, serve as a barometer: President Zuma’s defamation case against cartoonist Zapiro will measure tolerance of criticism and dissent; Judge Hlophe’s set-to with the Constitutional Court will measure our tolerance of unprofessional conduct by those in high office; and the NPA’s ability to bring police commissioner Jackie Selebi to trial will measure the new administration’s commitment to effective and independent law enforcement. If we get a negative reading on any of them, prepare for radical climate change.

And what to make of that weird confidentiality agreement concluded by our Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation (the former Department of Foreign Affairs) with one Tessa Beetge, recently jailed in Brazil for drug trafficking? I do not know if Beetge was an innocent, tricked into carrying 9kg of cocaine in her suitcase. I do know that she would never have been in South America at all, were it not for the involvement of a certain Sheryl Cwele, whose day job is that of director of Health and Community Services at Hibiscus Coast Municipality (wherever that may be). So Sheryl’s a public servant. She’s also married to Siyabonga Cwele, Intelligence Minister at the time, and now minister of State Security. He may not, of course, know what his wife does in her spare time. Then again, maybe he does.

Mrs Cwele exchanged dozens of emails, letters and text messages with Beetge before her arrest. But the communications manager for Intelligence Services, Lorna Daniels, says the minister’s wife “does not want to speak to the media about it”.

Beetge’s father, Swannie, told Independent Newspapers of a threatening phone call in which he and his wife were warned not to say anything to the media which might incriminate Cwele. “We were told it would be in our interests to say only good things about Sheryl,” he is quoted as saying.

So, who does that confidentiality agreement bind? International Relations says it prevents them from telling the public anything about Beetge’s trial in Brazil. Beetge trying to gag International Relations? But she has alleged that Cwele set her up. Her family want Cwele’s involvement investigated. It doesn’t tally.

The Cweles are powerful people in The Party. Our guess is that the confidentiality agreement is the idea of International Relations, and Tessa Beetge agreed to it because she doesn’t understand the realities here. International Relations is, theoretically, charged with protecting the interests of South African citizens abroad and, from her prison cell, Tessa Beetge may see them as her only friends in a far-off land. But International Relations is also an arm of an ANC-controlled government, which doesn’t like its members’ misdeeds to be exposed.

So where, on the balance of probabilities, do the priorities of International Relations lie? With the plight of Tessa Beetge, for whom not much more can be done anyway? Or with The Party, whose members are so often in need of protection because they are so often guilty of shady behaviour?

Speaking of shady behaviour: So Sasol has agreed to pay a penalty of R188m – the highest settlement reached with the Competition Commission to date – after the commission found that Sasol and fertiliser majors, Omnia and Yara (previously known as Kynoch), had formed a cartel, resulting, inter alia, in Sasol becoming the sole wholesale supplier of an important fertiliser product, limestone ammonium nitrate (LAN).

Sasol’s 2008 compliance review uncovered still further collusive practices between the three, including price fixing, market allocation and collusive tendering in the period 1996 to 2004. OK, by now, as far as Sasol is concerned, it’s par for the course.

It’s JSE-listed Omnia that’s the new bad boy on the block. Readers will recall that, two years ago, Omnia caused serious harm to citrus farmers, pineapple growers and the poultry industry by cynically supplying them with contaminated agricultural chemicals it had bought cheaply in China. Now, in the continuing proceedings before the Competition Tribunal, Omnia and Yara still deny having colluded with Sasol, but it is fair to assume this is simply because they have yet to arrive at a penalty settlement.

While all this was happening, the Asset Forfeiture Unit moved to freeze assets worth over R23m belonging to Danalutchmee Latchman, a former salaries accountant at Omnia. These included fixed properties in Lenasia, three liquor businesses, 13 motor vehicles and 18 bank accounts. Ms Latchman is accused of stealing R23m from Omnia over a period of time.

Maybe she was merely doing her best to fit in with the corporate culture in which she found herself?

The Editor

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