President said I could keep it

TOUGH DECISION: Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele facing the media at Parliament yesterday. 19/05/2009. Pic. Unknown.
TOUGH DECISION: Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele facing the media at Parliament yesterday. 19/05/2009. Pic. Unknown.

Anna Majavu andZukile Majova

Anna Majavu andZukile Majova

Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele turned the spotlight on the ANC and President Jacob Zuma yesterday when he announced he was "voluntarily" returning a R1,1million Mercedes-Benz, though Zuma and the ANC leadership had advised him to keep it.

Ndebele, who sought the advice of ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe and Zuma, told a media conference in Parliament in Cape Town yesterday that both leaders had said he could keep the car as long as he declared it in Parliament's Register of Members Interests.

He quoted the laws governing the conduct of the executive as permitting him to keep the Mercedes-Benz S500.

"The executive code of ethics states that a member who has received in the course of his-her duties a gift with a value of more than R1000 must as for permission from the president to retain or accept the gift.

"If permission is granted the member can retain or accept the gift but must disclose particulars of it in terms of the code."

The car was a gift from the Vukuzakhe programme - a group of more than 30000 emerging contractors who have benefitted from a multi-billion project Ndebele introduced in KwaZulu-Natal while he was MEC for transport.

He said he had written to Zuma on Monday, two days after receiving the car, to ask what he should do.

"After consultation with the president of South Africa and the political office bearers of my political party, the ANC, who advised me to follow the stipulated procedures, and after due consideration I have nevertheless decided to return the gift to the Vukuzakhe programme.

"The president advised that I should follow the code of ethics, which is to declare any gift within 60 days.

"The advice of the president and the leadership was that we should stick to the law as it is," said Ndebele. He said he wanted to maintain a reputation for clean governance.

"I've had 15 fairly good years in government and the only thing I really have is my good name," he said.

Ndebele denied that he had taken a long time to return the gift.

"We must be fair - if the law says you must disclose gifts within 60 days but you then give it back within 60 hours, you cannot say I took too long," he said.

Asked whether he gave the car and cattle back because he wanted to set a good example, Ndebele said former president Nelson Mandela "received a Mercedes-Benz 500 and a BMW seven series and I'm not aware of that being seen as a bad example."

Cosatu has congratulated Ndebele on his "statesmanlike decision."