Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des van Rooyen was a relatively unknown African National Congress (ANC) MP not too long ago, occupying parliament’s finance committee as a backbencher.
But the minister has come to gain much notoriety for his stint as the country’s finance minister for an unprecedented period of four days, and recently, for his alleged “tea drinking” visit to the Gupta family’s Saxonwold compound in Johannesburg.
Perhaps most notably are his infamous press conferences, such as when he hurriedly summoned the media with the chairperson of the ANC’s former military wing – the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association – Kebby Maphatsoe.
Van Rooyen has certainly cemented his place in South Africa’s highly contested political arena of court battles and questions about who’s been “captured”, particularly his defensive stance when dealing with President Jacob Zuma’s detractors, who the two regard as “counter-revolutionary”.
What’s baffling is Van Rooyen’s ability to easily wade through the numerous controversies that have bedeviled his political career. From his house being torched by irate community members to extravagant hotel bills for his family, and most recently, claims that he had got assistance from his staff with his academic assignments, despite the impressive list of qualifications he has amassed over the years.
Here are the six controversies that have clouded Des van Rooyen’s political career:
- Merafong municipality debacle
As the former executive mayor of Merafong municipality in 2009, van Rooyen had a hard time leading the Khutsong community, his own hometown, on the outskirts of the West Rand, in Gauteng. Residents blamed him of throwing them under the bus over a cross-border demarcation row.
Khutsong residents grabbed national headlines when they burned down his house and chased him out of the township after the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) had moved them to North West, where they believed service delivery was meagre parallel to Gauteng province.
In July 2009, Van Rooyen dismissed reports he was deployed to parliament by the ANC because of the violent protests that erupted in the township and left the party embarrassed.
The MDB has since revised its decision, with the township now under Gauteng.
- ‘Four-day finance minister’:
Van Rooyen was thrust in the national spotlight following the unceremonious sacking of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene by Zuma last year December, replacing the Treasury insider with him.
The incident, dubbed 9/12 or the Nene-gate debacle, had ripple effects on the local economy and saw the country having three heads of Treasury within just four days.
Although Zuma ceded to pressure from the markets by reappointing Pravin Gordhan to the post, till this day he still maintains Van Rooyen is the “most qualified” minister he’s ever appointed to head the portfolio.
- One-day trip to Dubai:
While most people would rather spend their time unwinding and go sightseeing on vacation, Van Rooyen is a “one-day holiday” kinda guy.
A report published by the Sunday Times last year December revealed that the minister went on a day trip to Dubai at the same time as the Gupta family was in the United Arab Emirates.
Van Rooyen denied he travelled to the city to meet the family or sign any documents. He rebutted that the trip was before his appointment as finance minister and that it was a “private” visit.
- R500k hotel bill:
Earlier this year in May, the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism reported that government had “splashed out” at least R500 000 at a five-star boutique hotel in Pretoria for him and his family.
The ministry of public works confirmed they were booked to the hotel on a month-to-month basis since January, which apparently borders on a nature reserve in the wealthy suburb of Groenkloof.
The department, however, declined to confirm the cost of the accommodation to the investigative team or the number of his children.
- Visit to the Guptas’ Saxonwold home:
Last Friday the BBC reported that Van Rooyen was allegedly at the Guptas’ Saxonwold compound the night before Zuma stunned the nation with his announcement that he had released Nene from his post.
Van Rooyen was apparently “sipping tea” with the family that’s at the centre of allegations of state capture. The broadcaster said sources close to former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s office said evidence gathered from cellphones indicate this.
The minister last week approached the Pretoria High Court for an urgent interdict to block the release of Madonsela’s state capture report, claiming he wasn’t afforded adequate time to respond to questions posed by her.
Meanwhile, speaking to journalists on her last day in office, Madonsela declined to comment on the BBC report.
The court application is due to be heard next month.
- Help with academic assignments:
On Thursday, Business Day reported that two Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) staff members assisted Van Rooyen with his academic work in 2014 and 2015 while he was the chief whip of the standing committee on finance.
The revelation was made by a former PBO staff member in a submission to the public protector’s office regarding its state capture probe, according to the publication.
The allegation is also part of evidence at the CCMA, where the ex-employee has lodged a claim against his employer‚ alleging he was denied a promotion for refusing to do academic work for MPs.