MINISTER SOLDIERS ON
"I HAVE no fixation with these cars."
"I HAVE no fixation with these cars."
You would take this with a pinch of salt if you knew it came from someone who felt virtually exposed travelling in a car with no side window shields.
The vehicles in question are the twin BMW 750i over which Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda spent a recession-busting R2,4million for use in Cape Town and Pretoria.
The top-of-the-range German saloons reportedly boast an array of luxurious extras including body-roll stabilisation, electric sun blinds and high-gloss satin chrome, some of which Nyanda, in his infinite connoisseur candour, dismisses as standard features for a car in that segment.
If he, as a government minister, were not allowed to drive a car with such gadgetry "what would (ministerial spokesperson) Tiyani (Rikhotso) drive", he asks rhetorically.
For the record both Rikhotso and his principal arrived - separately - in ice white BMWs, the former in an M3 and the latter chauffer-driven in a 5-series.
After shaking hands with me, Rikhotso marks off the questions that would potentially sully the interview. So first off goes the one about Nyanda's relationship with embattled Transnet would-be chief executive Siyabonga Gama.
Word is that among the charges formulated against Gama was the awarding of a tender to security firm GNS, apparently owned by Nyanda.
His face a study in concentration as he vets the questions, it is not possible to tell if Rikhotso appreciates the gravity of this missed opportunity.
"Work with me," the spin doctor implores.
Together with Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, Nyanda was vocal in his support for Gama even before the Transnet board could pronounce on the effects of his improper conduct.
The next casualty on the list of questions is the discount he received on a Mercedes Benz S320 while still head of the South African National Defence Force.
Curiously, Nyanda, according to reports at the time, "took delivery of another Mercedes, a luxury E320 AMG, worth about R400000, in October 1998, the same month that (then) ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni received his luxury 4x4 vehicle from the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company.
Though the story of the 750i has been done to death, Rikhotso thought we could, with circumspect, sneak it in.
It would prove a bad idea as the minister lost his cool, accusing black journalists of following stories only at the behest of and to satisfy white agendas.
At no point to retract, the interview became a monologue - a tongue-lashing almost, as the minister defended the perks of the job, however lavish.
"Nowhere in the world are these questioned," says Nyanda, in mitigation of the exorbitant hotel bills and car purchases: "Now that there is a black government, should we sleep in three-star hotels?"
I thought the minister was angry, emotional. His spokesperson said he was only being assertive. Nyanda himself used another adjective that now skips my memory.
But before the vexed car question and semantics, the conversation went famously smoothly.
"Writing remains very close to my heart," says the former sports journalist who still laments that "I was never allowed by the situation to ply my trade, devote myself to journalism" as he had to skip the country just under three years into his career.
The difference between now and his days in the newsroom is that "there's a slant towards wanting to report news that attracts readership, so you make a subjective view of what readers want, which may not necessarily be true".
His memoirs will come as he's eager to fill the paucity of writing by black militants: "Those stories are never written. I hope that someday I will do something."
A soldier's soldier who trained in such places as East Germany and the then Soviet Union, Nyanda's book will tell a fascinating tale of war.
The former army chief, up to this day still "General" to many who address him, says the question of unionisation of the defence force did surface during his watch: "But we didn't think it was a good idea."
He then goes on to tell a moving anecdote of how "where I come from in the army of liberation - MK, an order was binding on soldiers, making the question of unions one too ghastly to contemplate".
Besides honouring a golf day invitation here and there, when he quit the military in 2005 he completely cut ties "because I didn't want people to think I wanted to rule from the grave".
The SABC is not going to be a headache, he corrects: "It is a headache."
When he came in there was a crisis at the public broadcaster, Nyanda says: "Fortunately we've stabilised the SABC. There's no longer any bickering. The new board is doing a sterling job."
He wouldn't have supported the SABC's R1,47billion bailout if he wasn't convinced it was for the right reasons, says Nyanda.
"The SABC has debts. Most of this money - R500million - is going to pay these debts."
He has no doubt that Percy Qoboza would approve of the way his former protégé is handling matters related to the media, he says.
Twice we had to pause as intermittently the waiter brought the wrong drink then after announcing "I haven't eaten anything since morning" we waited for the sumptuous-looking fish and chips over which he sprayed a dollop of tomato sauce.
Then, lo and behold, out of the hiatus, I asked about the cars!