Where’s our in­tel­li­gence?

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

Fol­low­ing a crazy marathon press con­fer­ence held by the loopy Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng re­cently, I kept ask­ing my­self this ques­tion: What does the fact that a rav­ing lu­natic can cap­ti­vate pub­lic at­ten­tion for three hours say about us as South Africans? It is baf­fling how he has us un­der his spell. Most of the coun­try be­lieves that if Mot­soe­neng passed by Sterk­fontein Psy­chi­atric Hos­pi­tal – which, in­ci­den­tally, is about 20km from his home – he would be seized by staff and im­me­di­ately given ac­com­mo­da­tion. From there, he would be free to hold court and preach to his fel­low res­i­dents to his heart’s con­tent.

But we, the sane, still lis­ten to his rant­ings in our homes and of­fices.

Hope­fully, this will not hap­pen for much longer as his time is al­most up. He will leave be­hind a trail of car­nage be­cause he was given un­fet­tered power over the pub­lic broad­caster. South Africa has paid dearly for al­low­ing this in­di­vid­ual to run amok. We will pay more, still.

The most ob­vi­ous and quan­tifi­able cost is the com­mer­cial dam­age Mot­soe­neng caused. What we may never be able to quan­tify is the long-term dam­age to the qual­ity and cul­ture of the broad­caster; to the lives of in­di­vid­u­als; to jour­nal­ism; and to South Africa’s democ­racy.

The Mot­soe­neng era is an in­dict­ment on South Africans – we al­lowed it to go on for so long. While we were af­fronted by his buf­foon­ery and his cruel ways, we also en­joyed the freak show. The nar­cis­sism and ar­ro­gance of this im­be­cile made us roll around in the aisles. He made great ma­te­rial for so­cial-me­dia memes. Video clips of choice Mot­soe­neng quotes in his trou­bled English al­ways went vi­ral. It is no sur­prise that it did not bother him that he was a na­tional joke: while oth­ers laughed, he was wield­ing great power and pock­et­ing mil­lions.

Which brings us to the ques­tion of the cost of bad de­ci­sions – a broader South African is­sue that the SABC is em­blem­atic of. Mot­soe­neng made ter­ri­ble de­ci­sions that cost the SABC bil­lions in hard money and in lost op­por­tu­ni­ties. As SABC in­terim board deputy chair­per­son Mathatha Tsedu put it, “a lot of stupid de­ci­sions were made with­out ap­ply­ing in­tel­li­gence”.

One won­ders how much in­tel­li­gence was ap­plied when all this power was given to an un­hinged in­di­vid­ual.

How much in­tel­li­gence was ap­plied when Mot­soe­neng was cat­a­pulted to act­ing chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer? How much in­tel­li­gence did the then board chair­per­son, Ellen Tsha­bal­ala, and her hench­men ap­ply when they bul­lied their col­leagues and rammed his per­ma­nent ap­point­ment through?

How much in­tel­li­gence did for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter Faith Muthambi ap­ply when she in­tim­i­dated Tsha­bal­ala and co into mak­ing that de­ci­sion? (I know many will be curs­ing this lowly news­pa­per­man for us­ing the word ‘in­tel­li­gence’ in the same sen­tence as that par­tic­u­lar min­is­ter’s name, but that’s a dis­cus­sion for another day.)

How much in­tel­li­gence did she ap­ply when she con­tin­u­ously pro­tected him from the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor, the courts, Par­lia­ment, the staff, her own ANC col­leagues and any­one who wanted to hold him ac­count­able? How much in­tel­li­gence was ap­plied by the prin­ci­pal who gave Muthambi the po­lit­i­cal au­thor­ity to cos­set Mot­soe­neng? (But how can you ac­cuse that in­di­vid­ual of pos­sess­ing in­tel­li­gence, I hear you ask. That, too, is for another dis­cus­sion on another day.)

These ques­tions need to be asked about many other de­ci­sions that have been made in the coun­try when it was blind­ingly ob­vi­ous that they were wrong. In many in­stances, the state has had to be whipped into line by the courts when it ig­nored com­mon sense and the voice of other so­ci­etal play­ers.

This was ex­actly what hap­pened around the pro­cure­ment of South Africa’s nu­clear en­ergy ca­pa­bil­ity. Since the process be­gan in 2013, the gov­ern­ment has been un­will­ing to pay any at­ten­tion to voices op­posed to nu­clear power, or to those who ac­cept the need for it but want the process to be clean and trans­par­ent.

After much stub­born­ness and sneaky sidestep­ping of rules and pro­ce­dure, gov­ern­ment this week got a dizzy­ing punch from the courts, which set aside the “un­con­sti­tu­tional and un­law­ful” process that had been fol­lowed by the state on the pro­posed nu­clear deal. What must have been most painful for the state was that it lost to peaceniks and gree­nies, those fel­lows at Earth­life Africa and the South­ern African Faith Com­mu­ni­ties’ En­vi­ron­ment In­sti­tute.

As has be­come the norm now, West­ern Cape High Court Judge Lee Boza­lek had to re­mind the hold­ers of ex­ec­u­tive power about the oath they took. He told them that “the ex­er­cise of all pub­lic pow­ers must be con­sti­tu­tional, com­ply with the prin­ci­ple of le­gal­ity” and that these pow­ers are sub­ject to ju­di­cial re­view at the in­sis­tence of the pub­lic. The words that must ring in the heads of the politi­cians and bu­reau­crats when they restart the process is that, in ex­er­cis­ing their power, “the obli­ga­tions are owed to the cit­i­zens of this coun­try and not to for­eign gov­ern­ments”.

If there is any­body out there who has al­ready taken money from Vladimir Putin’s peo­ple or a for­eign en­tity, that mes­sage is es­pe­cially for you.

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