When laugh­ter may be the wrong medicine

Re­cent news re­ports have been full of lead­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials’ crazy an­tics. But it’s not funny any­more.

Finweek English Edition - - OPINION - Ed­i­to­rial@fin­week.co.za Alices­tine Oc­to­ber is a par­lia­men­tary re­porter for Netwerk24.

when all you want to do is cry for your beloved country, some­times it’s also fine to laugh, I guess. Af­ter all, this is South Africa, where there are plenty of things to laugh about, es­pe­cially be­cause the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship has seem­ingly be­come a never-end­ing com­edy show of sorts.

Re­cently the main act was the stand-off be­tween sus­pended Hawks boss Bern­ing Ntle­meza and po­lice min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula. Ntle­meza, to Mbalula’s hor­ror, de­fied a court or­der and the min­is­ter’s stern di­rec­tive by show­ing up at the Hawks’ of­fices. The court went on to dis­miss Ntle­meza’s ap­pli­ca­tion for leave to ap­peal against an ear­lier set­ting aside of his ap­point­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to Mbalula’s ver­sion of events as ex­pressed in a press con­fer­ence on 25 April, the Hawks boss had ap­par­ently gate-crashed a man­age­ment meet­ing of the crime-fight­ing unit and “or­dered the head of sup­ply chain to give him a car, which is now roam­ing around the streets of Pretoria, or wher­ever he is this af­ter­noon. He also has a cell­phone of gov­ern­ment in his pos­ses­sion…”

Sim­ply put, Ntle­meza went rogue and the in­ter­net went crazy – with laugh­ter. Soon af­ter the press brief­ing, hi­lar­i­ous memes flooded so­cial me­dia pok­ing fun at “the search for Ntle­meza who ab­sconded with state prop­erty”. It was all very en­ter­tain­ing. But Mbalula warned – “this is not just a ba­nana repub­lic”. No? The sit­u­a­tion reached new lev­els of ab­sur­dity when Mbalula in­structed the act­ing na­tional po­lice com­mis­sioner to find the state prop­erty Ntle­meza went AWOL with and re­turn it. This is the same po­lice com­mis­sioner who him­self is mired in con­tro­versy, fac­ing al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion and de­feat­ing the ends of jus­tice.

The stand-off had all the el­e­ments of a low-bud­get Hol­ly­wood movie – a rogue cop, a “man­hunt”, the whiff of dirty cops and a seem­ingly trigger-happy po­lice min­is­ter. But let us not be fooled by the term “low-bud­get” – this level of in­com­pe­tence costs many South Africans dearly.

Crime not a pri­or­ity

Last year SA was ranked the 10th most vi­o­lent and 19th most un­safe country in the world in the Global Peace In­dex. The in­dex es­ti­mates the cost for con­tain­ing this vi­o­lence (read crime) at about R989bn a year – an amount the country can­not af­ford given shrink­ing state cof­fers and grow­ing in­vestor un­cer­tainty.

This rank­ing is un­der­scored by find­ings from Sta­tis­tics SA and other bod­ies that many South Africans do not feel safe in their homes. But the numbers hide the hor­ror and Min­is­ter of po­lice Sus­pended Hawks boss For­mer chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the SABC trauma ex­pe­ri­enced by many of the country’s peo­ple – for ex­am­ple when chil­dren fall vic­tim to stray bul­lets on their way to school in gang-in­fested com­mu­ni­ties. In such a cli­mate it is rea­son­able to ex­pect that restor­ing cit­i­zens’ trust and con­fi­dence in law en­force­ment agen­cies would be a top pri­or­ity and that ev­ery ef­fort should be made to fight this scourge.

On 25 April, Mbalula also pre­sented his strate­gic plans to the South African Po­lice Ser­vice, but this was dwarfed by a spec­ta­cle that once again saw law en­force­ment lead­er­ship plum­met­ing to the all-fa­mil­iar depths of medi­ocrity. It is no won­der then that most South Africans don’t re­spect the law while ridi­cul­ing those who are tasked with en­forc­ing it.

Set­ting a prece­dent

In the last week of April it was Mbalula’s com­edy of er­rors. The week be­fore – on 19 April – the spot­light was on em­bat­tled for­mer SABC chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng and his bizarre press con­fer­ence. Word is that Mot­soe­neng may be head­ing for a seat in Par­lia­ment af­ter the courts found he couldn’t hold any ex­ec­u­tive of­fice at the public broad­caster. As many shocked South Africans fol­lowed the press con­fer­ence in hor­ror, the in­ter­net again went crazy, pok­ing fun at the man who refers to him­self in the third per­son.

Mot­soe­neng’s colour­ful state­ments are in­deed funny to lis­ten to. As is Mbalula’s. The ul­ti­mate cracker, how­ever, is the fact that some South Africans are still shocked at the level of this brazen, un­apolo­getic lack of in­tegrity in po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship and the fin­ger-point­ing that comes with it.

Mbalula is a case in point – he was clearly hor­ri­fied by the lengths the Hawks boss would go to to stay in of­fice. But what can one ex­pect if his ap­point­ment – and oth­ers – was mired in con­tro­versy?

For­mer po­lice min­is­ter Nathi Nh­leko ap­pointed him with­out fol­low­ing proper pro­ce­dures as re­quired by law. Mot­soe­neng held on to his post even af­ter it was found that he does not have a ma­tric cer­tifi­cate and af­ter the Public Pro­tec­tor re­leased a damn­ing re­port on his ac­tions. So these peo­ple can be for­given for their im­punity be­cause they were made to be­lieve from the out­set that such be­hav­iour is ac­cept­able.

The prece­dent for poor lead­er­ship, de­void of in­tegrity, has been firmly es­tab­lished from the country’s first cit­i­zen all the way down to the or­di­nary South African brib­ing a traf­fic cop to get out of a speed­ing fine.

Last year South Africa was ranked the 10th most vi­o­lent and 19th most un­safe country in the world in the Global Peace In­dex. The in­dex es­ti­mates the cost for con­tain­ing this vi­o­lence (read crime) at about

Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng

Fik­ile Mbalula

Bern­ing Ntle­meza

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