Update: John Block has resigned as finance MEC in the Northern Cape government, as ANC MPL and as provincial chairman of the ANC – a move that has come far too late. BDLive reports that the ANC says it will continue to help Block “clear his name” – despite the damning judgment against him.
Five years since charges of tender fraud were brought against Northern Cape finance MEC John Block, the regional high court on Wednesday found him guilty of corruption, fraud and money laundering. For knowing all along he was guilty but refusing to do the right thing by stepping down, and for not adhering to its own election manifesto by acting against members found guilty of corruption, John Block and the ANC are our zeroes for the week. In 2010, Block was arrested on charges of alleged tender fraud. The ANC stated that it would not ask him to step down from his party position for the duration of the criminal trial and adopted the stance that he was “innocent until proven guilty”. However even though Block has indeed been proven guilty the ruling party said they are in no hurry to take action against Block. Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said that the party would wait until the court hands down its sentence. “It’s simple. That’s the court judgment. It will be correct to wait for sentencing before we can decide what to do. We can only act when we have the whole picture and understand the full impact,” he said. Block and Alvin Botes – the Northern Cape minister of social development – were accused of receiving kickbacks from Trifecta Holdings CEO Christo Scholtz. Block and Botes were involved in tender irregularities worth millions for buildings leased by the Northern Cape government from Trifecta between 2006 and 2010. In return, they influenced provincial departments directly or indirectly to rent office space at inflated rates. Block and Scholtz have been found guilty, but Botes was acquitted of all charges. Besides his MEC position, Block is also the Northern Cape ANC chairperson, with Botes as his deputy.

Changing its tune

When the ruling party released its National Assembly list after the 2014 election Corruption Watch noted with concern some of the names on the list. They included Block, because of the pending charges. In its 2014 election manifesto, the ANC pledged to: “Intensify the fight against corruption in both the public and private sectors through measures to restrict public servants from doing business and holding public officials individually liable for losses arising from corrupt actions. We will pursue action against companies involved in bid rigging, price fixing and corruption in past and current infrastructure build programmes and … require any ANC member or ANC public representative found guilty before a court of law to step down from any leadership positions in the ANC, government and society”. There is no mention of waiting until sentence is passed – the ANC manifesto requires only a conviction for the party to act. But it seems to be singing a different song now when it matters, by not taking immediate and decisive action against members found guilty of corruption, such as Block. If the ANC wants the people of South Africa to believe it is serious about rooting out corruption, it must remove Block from his position without delay. Photo by Christopher Motabogi, OFM.