By Camagwini Dolweni
Just over a week after President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration, Minister of Transport, Sbu Ndebele, became caught up in what nearly became another corruption scandal for South African politics.
On 16 May, Ndebele accepted a Mercedes Benz S500 from Vukuzakhe road contractors, worth R1.1 million. Ndebele had been transport MEC for KwaZulu Natal from 1994 to 2004 and in that time, he established the contractors programme, Vukuzakhe. This received contracts amounting to over R400 million. The contractors held a celebratory function in his honour in Pietermaritzburg, where they gave him the car and two cattle.
Spokesperson for the Institute for Democracy, Judith February, and DA leader, Helen Zille, demanded that Zuma persuade Ndebele to give the gift back as it “constitutes a conflict of interest”. This was because the gift was from a group of contractors working for a department he will be heading. Insisting disclosure is not sufficient, Zille says Ndebele will be acting in contradiction to the Executive Members Ethics Act of 1988, which requires cabinet members to “at all times act in good faith and in the best interest of good governance”. Ndebele released a statement on 18 May, where he claims to have sought permission from Zuma to keep the car and that he has no personal or financial business interest with Vukuzakhe which would constitute any conflict of interest.
The next day, however, Ndebele announced that he would be, under advice from an unnamed person, returning the luxury vehicle. The controversy was of particular significance, coming just a week after President Zuma’s inauguration speech, in which he promised to build and maintain a corruption-free and trustworthy cabinet and government.