Brett Herron | Touching the DA on its privileged studio
South Africans are justifiably cynical about the integrity of politicians. Far too many of them are career public representatives, unskilled in any profession or trade, unschooled in honesty, who approach politics like a game of snakes and ladders, simply competing to get to the top where the fat salaries are.
It is a game in which cheating and incompetence aren’t necessarily liabilities but can instead prove richly rewarding, funded by taxpayers, of course.
When there are no consequences for breaking rules – as has been the case – it entrenches people’s cynicism and undermines democratic participation. Those of us who engage with voters and communities hear this all the time.
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For our democracy to work we need better politicians. We need honesty to be elevated in the order of things from “merely desirable” to “absolutely necessary”. Not just in the ruling party, but in opposition parties, too.
It would be great if more of our public representatives took advantage of the bursaries the state offers them to further their education, but as things stand our politicians do not need any formal qualifications.
That is the lens through which I have viewed the extraordinary procession of DA leaders recently exposed by their colleagues as having actually or allegedly puffed up their CVs to get ahead in the game.
‘To falsely claim to hold a university degree is unlawful’
Permitting politicians to get away with fabricating a qualification, misrepresenting themselves or creating an ambiguous but personally beneficial perception that they are qualified in some way is permitting dishonesty. To falsely claim to hold a university degree is also unlawful.
I am a politician, with a profession and a business. I am in politics because I believe governments can do their job when they are led by those who truly care about outcomes.
Over the past few weeks, I have been called many despicable things on social media. The reason is because I raised questions about the amorphously claimed “legal qualifications” of DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone.
The more questions I asked, the more I was klapped for raising them, the more the DA defended her – and the more opaque her CV appeared.
I found solace in Helen Suzman’s wisdom, “It is the answers, not the questions, that are embarrassing”, and carried on asking the questions.
Heading to the legal practice council
Because answers weren’t forthcoming, I did what I expected the DA and media to have done. I went to the Legal Practice Council. Readers can draw their own conclusions…
For Mazzone to have legally completed five years of articled clerkship, without a law degree, while holding down another job (as a DA city councillor in Tshwane), would have required her to obtain special permission from the then-Law Society in terms of Section 9 (1) of the 1979 Attorney’s Act.
For her to have completed legal articles, worked as a city councillor, studied at Unisa part-time and played a prominent role building DA structures – simultaneously – would have additionally required her to be Superwoman.
The reason for the Attorney’s Act insistence that articled clerkship should be a full-time endeavour unless special permission is granted to also do another job is that, besides being an intensive training programme, articled clerks do the work of real qualified attorneys with real clients who have real legal problems and pay real fees for advice and legal services.
It is not the kind of work that can be squeezed between completing a university assignment and attending council or caucus meetings.
‘No record’ of completing articles
According to Mazzone, her husband, the DA and an assortment of knowledgeable friends, she completed five years of legal articles at the same time as serving the DA as a city councillor in a busy metro. But according to the Legal Practise Council of Gauteng, it has no record of her having made an application in terms of section 9 (1) of the act.
The act is clear. Section 9 (2) states: “If any articled clerk contravenes the provisions of subsection (l), the articles shall be void ab initioand service rendered thereunder shall be ineffectual unless the court on good cause shown otherwise directs.”
Void ab initio is a Latin term that means “void from the beginning” – which, in the absence of permission to do other work at the same time, appears to be the most accurate way to describe Mazzone’s claimed legal articles.
Considering she is not practising law, why does this matter? It matters to the integrity of public representatives who receive large taxpayer paid salaries to occupy senior positions matters, as explained above.
Because the ruling party has been so shot through with corruption and ineptitude doesn’t imply that the opposition is above reproach or shouldn’t be held to account.
It matters because there is a pattern of lying in the DA which has occupied much of my time for years. When former mayor of Cape Town Patricia de Lille fell out with conservatives in the DA caucus, the party tried to dismiss her on the basis of a pack of lies. On four separate occasions, she challenged the lies in court, and won.
Lies about affordable housing
As a member of the provincial legislature, I was forced to take former provincial leader and MEC Bonginkosi Madkizela to the Public Protector when he refused to withdraw lies about affordable housing in Cape Town’s inner-city. Last week in the legislature, we debated the DA announcement on the eve of the 2019 election that it had secured land to build affordable houses – which turned out to be a lie.
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There are descriptions of Mazzone, across a number of websites as having some sort of amorphous “legal qualifications”. There are also a number of references to her describing herself as a matriculant and university dropout.
I sent various references to DA leader John Steenhuisen for an explanation. I asked in which years Mazzone had undertaken articles, if she’d had the necessary permissions to be a city councillor at the same time, and whether her qualifications had ever been misrepresented by the DA.
But the DA stonewalled the questions, supplying no dates and focusing its response on just one website, Wikipedia, without mentioning the others. Interestingly, it vouched for the integrity of the most recent biography on its website, only.
The Mazzone qualifications saga was ironically triggered by members of her own party, in an environment of leaks and counter-leaks in nomination season for positions ahead of the local government elections.
Although not contesting any position herself, questions aimed at her could be regarded as collateral damage in the outing and ousting of Madikizela for lying about his alleged qualifications. He was immediately suspended by his party, and later resigned.
Leaks by rival candidates
The leak about Madikizela’s lies is said to have borne the fingerprints of one of his rival candidates for mayor of Cape Town, a close associate of Mazzone’s.
When allegations of her exaggerated CV were leaked to me, I did some cursory digging and discovered a number of hints that she was legally “qualified” in some or other way. But wary of being dragged into intra-DA smearing and backstabbing, I initially kept my powder dry.
Then, on the same day that Madikizela publicly admitted to falsely claiming to have completed a degree, it emerged on social media that Mazzone’s occupation on her Wikipedia page had been altered from “advocate” to “politician”.
Wikipedia pages are easy for anyone to edit, but the timing was suspicious. Mazzone’s husband, Kevin Mileham, later clarified he had edited the Wiki page to correct it, but didn’t explain the false references to legal qualifications on other sites.
The more I looked the more remarkably congested her CV appeared. I fired off some questions, and all hell broke loose. It was one thing for me to ask questions about Madikizela’s questionable integrity but quite another “touching the DA on its privileged studio”, so to speak.
Mazzone’s first response was bitter attack. I was a vile man who had waited for her father to die before attacking her when I thought she’d be too weak to respond, she said. (I had no idea of her dad’s death and immediately conveyed my condolences.)
Had she or her party simply clarified the facts it would have ended there.
‘Highly unusual to employ articled clerks without degrees’
Ultimately, Mazzone, the DA, and a Daily Maverick “fact-check” cleared Mazzone of ever claiming to have completed a law degree, which I never suggested she had, but insisted she had completed her articled clerkship.
This would rationalise the “legal qualifications” references without admitting to having to rationalise anything.
None of these sources, however, explained how Mazzone was able to balance her various occupations and political pursuits, while complying with the provisions of the Attorney’s Act.
I know from my own experience, having completed a law degree and served articles, that it was permitted but highly unusual, in 2002 for law firms to employ articled clerks without degrees.
Most law firms look for top graduates from law schools to fill these positions. To do articles at a specialist intellectual property law firm would have required Mazzone (a matriculant) to compete with graduates of law schools across the country.
An articled clerk, who effectively does the work of a legal practitioner without the academic qualification of a law degree, would need full-time and extremely close supervision.
The Legal Practise Council confirmed Mazzone was registered as an articled clerk by a partner at Hahn and Hahn Attorneys.
Hahn and Hahn is a specialist intellectual property law firm in Tshwane. Her husband at the time was another of the law firm’s partners.