Yet another senior DA public representative has been harshly disciplined after offending the moral sensibilities of the party’s leadership.
It’s another woman. Another white woman. This one is Afrikaans-speaking and hails from Potchefstroom and a province that she helped put on the (then) Democratic Party map back in the 90s.
Juanita Terblanche has just been fired as a Member of Parliament, after spending the best part of four years trying in vain to make sense of the charges of misconduct against her and how to defend herself. The DA has terminated her membership, ending a 13-year Parliamentary career and an even longer term as an activist in the liberal desert.
And before any righteous indignation comes my way and it’s pointed out that she must be guilty because the courts upheld the party’s verdict, let me say to the DA – go suck eggs.
As Jacob Zuma will tell you, the justice system in South Africa is malleable at the best of times, so don’t expect me to bow down just because a couple of judges found Juanita to be a criminal. Judges are human too … and anyway, if they’re presented with contaminated evidence or evidence is withheld, and perjury is committed, well, they deal with what’s in front of them.
And then there’s the internal machinations, which run alongside and often right over the lofty rules of engagement contained in the party’s constitution. By way of example, this document would cause any casual reader to assume that democracy and the fair dispensation of justice reign supreme in the DA.
In reality, one man – the Chairperson of the Federal Council – has a mandate given him by the Federal Executive to decide on his own who will be prosecuted or not and “recommends” accordingly to the party’s Federal Legal Commission (the dreaded FLC).
So. While the boys at Parly pat themselves on the back for getting rid of another troublesome female – at the cost of a cool million or thereabouts of party funds – let me fill in the gaps.
Once again, I must point out how selective the DA has been in its moral outrage. How internal justice is dispensed – or not dispensed – depending entirely on WHO you are, not WHAT you’ve done. How people inside and outside the ranks have been manipulated by one or two veteran politicians to regard one of their own in a certain light. How Juanita – and Dianne Kohler-Barnard and Helen Zille before her – have been the subject of wicked whispering campaigns.
Witch hunts take on a literal meaning.
Let me pre-empt any thought that I am waxing lyrical from my feminist tomato box or claiming these women are sainted aunts or defending my friends.
- I don’t protect women because they are women. I believe in the rule of law for everyone.
- I wasn’t born yesterday. These women – like so many mere mortals in the DA – have made mistakes or been negligent or displayed a measure of arrogance – or all three.
- None of the people I mention here are friends outside of the professional space. Yes, we know each other in varying degrees but I don’t hold a torch for any of them. We are not house friends to use another term.
- Not one of them has asked me to defend their honour, speak out for them, write about them. Not once.
- And just so you know, I’m of the ilk that if my mother committed a heinous crime, I’d report her to the authorities.
So, yes. Juanita was found guilty of bringing the party into disrepute through negligence. It’s difficult to get one’s head around that. Most people have never heard of the case against her, so it’s hard to understand how she damaged the party’s reputation. We’re not talking Penny Sparrow here …
Insofar as negligence is concerned, Juanita could not have done what she’s accused of if senior staff of the party had not advised her inappropriately or approved the expenditure in question. She is not alone in being negligent; she is only alone on the punishment meted out.
That’s the background. Here are some details. Juanita stood accused of claiming for the cost of cosmetics and hair styling or the like ahead of a photographic shoot for posters and hoardings in the 2011 local election campaign in which she stood for Mayor and a public meeting where she shared the platform with Helen Zille. However, she was only charged with this – and a few other incidences – two YEARS later. It took the party a long time to be offended. While I am the first to say that the principle supersedes the amount of money in question, it’s worth mentioning that we’re talking R500 here …
Guilty as charged? Except – compare that with the millions spent on other Mayoral campaigns in what the party terms “strategic municipalities”. There is one Mmusi Maimane who stood for Mayor in Johannesburg to great fanfare, with all the bells and whistles. Like Juanita, he lost. Compare that to one Helen Zille in 2006 and one Patricia de Lille in 2011 (I told you I don’t care who has a penis and who has a vagina) – who’s campaigns to win the position of Cape Town Mayor in separate elections must have cost the party a pretty penny. But the difference here is that they won, so no-one objected about the cost of their make-up or blow waves.
Yes, you might say, but Potchefstroom (or Tlokwe Municipality to be precise) is hardly on a par with such significant Metros. I’m not so sure. In fact, with Juanita as its political head and under her personal guidance, the number of councillors who won seats for the DA nearly DOUBLED in that election. As a result, the Mayoralty of Tlokwe did actually come to the DA a short time after the election, only to be lost and won and lost again in an almighty tug-of-war with the ANC. (Unlike Johannesburg which we only won five years later).
Added to this monstrous crime was the allegation that Juanita had taken her family on outings in Cape Town at the party’s expense. In her defence, she says she paid for a trip ahead of time in cash to the party’s provincial office back in the North West and, in other instances, didn’t take the trips at all.
I don’t know how the courts got to believe beyond reasonable doubt that she didn’t. Maybe the judge didn’t see the internal forensic audit report generated by an investigation into the allegations against Juanita.
I have. Once I realised how serious the party was about permanently nailing Juanita on relatively innocuous charges, no expenses spared, I asked to see some of the documents. The audit report shows that the party’s administration and financial systems in that province were, put kindly, a bloody mess. Inter alia, receipts were issued on scraps of paper or not at all.
Far, far more troubling, this audit highlighted the activities of staff members in a very questionable light. Some had cosy little family businesses … well, they had letterheads … which supplied the party with goods and services, mostly for accommodation and storage. In another, a senior staff member appears to have allowed her personal bank account to be used for the party’s convenience, which in itself is problematic but not unknown in the DA where paying activists on the run has always been a challenge. Except that in and around the period that Juanita was being investigated for taking her small son to Robben Island (she didn’t), two amounts totalling around R86 000 disappeared off the face of the earth. The audit report recommended that criminal charges be laid. They weren’t.
Fact is, the audit report was supposed to prove financial misconduct on the part of Juanita. Instead, it exposed a province torn apart by internal factions, huge tension between staff members, admin chaos, a lack of adherence to party systems, tacky little wheelings and dealings, unreported criminal activity, etc.
But this didn’t stop Boy Band from its mission to unseat Juanita. No, sirree. These inconvenient truths were brushed under the proverbial carpet, some people “resigned” and others moved on. One important witness died. And the charges against Juanita went ahead. This despite the fact that any reasonable person reading the report would have easily come to the conclusion that deciding upon a person’s guilt in the imbroglio that existed would be dodgy going and grossly unfair.
Another charge, on which Juanita was found guilty, was that she ordered a courier to send her medical records to a specialist in the UK for the princely sum of R767 at the cost of the DA’s provincial office. Again, Juanita said she’d paid it back in cash, her only “proof” being a cash withdrawal from her own bank account at around the same time. Again, it is beyond me how a court could uphold the decision of the FLC given what the audit report revealed about the province’s financial management.
More importantly, it brings home the massive health issues suffered by Juanita over the past four years. In short, she has undergone major surgery three times to remove and radiate a brain tumour and, besides debilitating pain, has suffered huge side effects from treatment and medication. None of this seemingly bothered anyone in the Fairest Cape (besides those who made spurious remarks about Juanita’s absence from work and the sweet little “God bless you” and “You’re in our prayers” messages on social media by colleagues who steered well clear of her during this “trial”).
Douglas Gibson (now retired) is the only other unfortunate person I know to have undergone serious brain surgery. Quite rightly, he was away from work for eight months if memory serves correctly, and he was kept on as the caucus’s (superb) Chief Whip during this medical sojourn and beyond. Juanita on the other hand was told by members of the Boy Band – not nicely – to resign as an ordinary Whip just SIX WEEKS after her first brain operation. She didn’t. Which probably explains the continued attacks on her.
Finally, we get to guilty verdicts on Juanita over claiming on and/or duplicating claims for cell phone and travel costs during her Mayoral campaign. Again, one must wonder at the contrast. That same Mmusi Maimane was afforded his very own kitted-out branded bus – sporting huge images of his face – to traverse the province of Gauteng in his unsuccessful bid for the Premiership in 2014. So, party policy on expenses in the North West and elsewhere is fudgy at best, and on a wider scale, completely inconsistent at worst. Did Maimane personally PAY for the fuel for this Battle Bus and his phone bills? And the salaries of the bright young things who organised his life, his tours, his media and kept him company on said bus?
I’m not slamming Maimane, or his campaigns, his strategists, his tailor, his drivers and personal assistants, his anything. I think he’s a pretty fabulous guy. I’m just saying …
In my opinion, Juanita Terblanche stands guilty at the very worst of negligence, thoughtlessness and a big dose of naivety. For this she was fired?
Indeed she should have known better than to trust people’s strength of character, their memories of events and their agendas, let alone to hand over cash without getting receipts back. One could even say, at a stretch, that she was complacent and arrogant in the way she used the province’s facilities for her personal convenience. Undoubtedly, she should have been rapped over the knuckles and her province put on the straight and narrow insofar as its office administration was concerned. If her claims were indisputably unacceptable, she should have been told to pay back whatever amount she had unduly received. And, given her state of health and, due to her intensive medical treatment, her state of mind, she warranted some compassion and a measure of understanding for making mistakes under pressure. The other much bigger problems in the North West Province, including thousands of rands of unaccounted-for monies and the questionable nepotistic businesses connected to staff members, should have been investigated and charges brought.
But no. She was hounded and harassed over five relatively innocuous charges that together, involved an amount of about R25 000. And the more she stood her ground, the worse it got and the more party funds were spent on forcing her hand. The years went by. Juanita’s provincial selection panel saw fit to re-elect her to Parliament for the third time. The saga intensified. The legal costs mounted up. And then she was fired.
It bears repeating that the relatively small amount of money involved should not, in itself, sway any of us from the principles at hand, of honesty, sound financial practices and objectivity.
Except. And now I unashamedly embark on a little bit of “whataboutery”.
- What about the outstanding issues involving other people in Juanita’s province – and much, much more of the party’s money – that the audit revealed?
- What about a sitting public representative from this self-same province who has been found guilty of the very serious charge of membership fraud on TWO separate occasions ahead of elective congresses and merely warned “not to do it again”?
- What about the other innumerable disciplinary hearings that have occurred throughout the party’s rank and file over a number of years, where mitigating circumstances have been considered, where people have escaped prosecution entirely, where lenient sentences involving hundreds of thousands of rands have been imposed, where people have literally been allowed to dodge any repercussions whatsoever?
- What about the allegations that never see the light of day – of membership fraud, cover-ups, racism, missing funds – either because certain people are protected or because publicity would cause political damage to the organisation or, I’m beginning to suspect, it’s been too much bother to bring people to book?
- What about the “untouchables”, “the chosen ones”, on whom money is spent like water, including the payment of monthly “stipends”, without so much as a nod to the party’s systems and procedures? What about the involvement in the notorious Travelgate scandal of a senior DA member which just went away in a puff of smoke? What about a BMW vehicle that was gifted to a high-profile figure with political party funds?
- What ABOUT Archie Figlan? This final little bullet point is going to take a bit longer …
Ah, the DA’s Archie Boy. (He’s an MP, if you’ve never heard of him. And I’d be surprised if you have). Let me fill you in.
He was found guilty of misconduct (in my book, that should read sexual molest) back in 2015 or thereabouts. During a DA-organised march in the streets of Cape Town near the hallowed halls of Parliament (which he still roams), Archie Boy got so fired up that he forced the hand of a young staff member onto his crotch. I don’t know what became of her and I’m not sure any of our esteemed MPs do? I was told she left the employ of the party, which shouldn’t surprise any of us, given what comes next in this little story …
Archie Boy underwent a disciplinary hearing. He was found guilty by the FLC. His sentence was a monetary fine of R12 000 to be paid over in monthly instalments (oh yeah, that must have hurt an individual who earns R72 000 per month) to an organisation that protects the vulnerable from sexual perverts and bully boys. He had to do some hours of community service (just hope unsuspecting young girls were kept out of his path during this “punishment”.) He was warned he would be fired if such a thing ever happened again.
You go, DA.
So, Archie Boy is still an Honourable Member (pardon the expression). His position, his status, his dignity, his public-paid salary, intact. Except he can’t hold office in the party for five years so had to resign from the Federal Council of the DA (read, less work and effort).
I inquired in writing to the Chairperson of the Federal Council about this state of affairs – as reported on Radio 702 and in a couple of newspapers – because I was the hell-in about this sweet sentence (disbelieving in fact) and I realised that this smelly little affair (and the way the DA had dealt with it) could affect a much bigger political issue I was dealing with at the time in my capacity as leader of the DA caucus in the Ekurhuleni Metro. The response to me included:
“Amongst other considerations before the Federal Executive was that Mr Figlan was a first time offender; that he had had an otherwise unblemished career as a public representative (working in a constituency that is very hostile to the DA, for a period of over ten years); and that he had shown remorse. The case also attracted a great deal of media publicity, which in and of itself added to the penalty. Mr Figlan has only to break one of the conditions of his suspended sanction, and he will be automatically expelled from the Party. In the circumstances, the Federal Executive (unanimously) accepted the recommended sanction.”
And … “that if the Justice system has any point at all, it must aim not merely to punish offenders, but much more importantly to rehabilitate them. In my view, the recommended sanction did both.”
I don’t think I have to analyse this response on behalf of my very intelligent, sensitive readers. Suffice to say, it seems that Juanita’s length of service, the hostile environment she worked in to grow her party, her unblemished record of many more years than Archie Boy, did nothing to “mitigate” matters for her. Maybe it was around the remorse issue. Archie Boy showed suitable remorse, enough to protect his member(ship).
Juanita certainly didn’t show remorse because she didn’t admit to guilt. Naughty girl. The Boy Band did not like that one bit. So the screws were tightened, to the extent that her disciplinary was held in Cape Town, not Potchefstroom, which proved impossible for her witnesses to attend and testify on her behalf. Her legal representative was mocked on a personal level, being referred to on record in the most derogatory and belittling terms. This could be because he was a high-ranking member of the previous regime, or that he’s an Afrikaner too. I don’t know. One can only guess.
I’ll end on this note: I hope you, as a reader of this sorry state of affairs and a person concerned about South Africa’s fate, is now alerted to all the problems that beset us. It doesn’t help at all if the official opposition operates a fiefdom where the big boys rule and justice is dispensed using fear and favour.
I know it will matter not one bit to the Boy Band that I am morally outraged by this turn of events. I don’t care if they don’t care. There is only one thing to do when the justice system fails us – turn to the people. And that is what I am doing here. Turning to my readers to consider their verdict. Because it’s the only one that matters, way more than mine, and over and above that of the DA and any other political party.
I ask you to demand accountability from the DA. Do not forgive transgressions such as the one I’ve written about here because you’re watching the party take on more spectacular matters which reverberate nationally and which affect your life in a way that the smaller fry – like Juanita – do not.
Yes, the DA should be admired and applauded and supported for taking on Zuma783 in the courts and winning, at last. That is obvious and very well deserved. But we don’t want a lighter version of the ANC on our hands if and when the DA forms a government in South Africa. The lack of even-handedness, the cronyism, the lies – these are the very things we loathe about the current regime.
I say to the leadership of my beloved organisation: the DA must treat people in its ranks equitably. If Juanita deserved to be fired, so do a whole lot of other people. Fire the lot of them if you must, but don’t cherry-pick and expect not to be challenged.
The very last thing we need is the DA collapsing under the pressure of political correctness or descending to ANC standards. We need to hold out for real heroes. We don’t need a leadership that decides people’s fate depending on their race, gender, language group or usefulness in political games.
As people who vote DA or who are considering it, I still urge you, the voter of South Africa, to do so, because we are bereft of anything better. Moreover, DA public reps – and its members and activists across the country – DESERVE your support. By and large, they are inherently good people, patriots who love South Africa beyond little else and want a future here. However, if they are being let down by their very own, then they need to know it and you do too.
As I’ve said before, just because the DA is the best choice we have – and it really, really IS – does not mean it couldn’t be a whole lot better. As we tell the voters of South Africa about the ANC – it just takes political WILL.
I challenge all the good people in the DA – and there are many – who hold positions, public office, ordinary membership, to bring their party to book when it is wrongful. It has been very wrong of late.
The DA is the bulwark to total anarchy in our land. You must INSIST that it is exemplary from within.