We are stuck with the same old problems because we are stuck with the same old leaders in the same old electoral system
The sudden death of environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa from a virus has created a vacancy in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet. He can either appoint a new minister, get another minister to act over the portfolio, or use the opportunity for a reshuffle.
When Ramaphosa made changes to former president Jacob Zuma’s cabinet at the end of February, he retained the configuration of portfolios and fired 10 ministers. He kept some of the worst-performing members, ostensibly to avoid causing too much turmoil within the ANC by purging the Zuma faction.
Over the past seven months, the sands have shifted.
The Zuma faction has reassembled with ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule positioning himself as a replacement for Ramaphosa should their fight-back campaign to regain control of the party and government resources succeed.
People like Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane and Malusi Gigaba are now dispensable as they are about as useful politically as they are in their portfolios. Their incompetence, lack of scruples and arrogance have built massive public hostility and there is unlikely to be a big fallout should they be “redeployed to Luthuli House”.
Ramaphosa hinted in New York this week that the elections next year are likely to take place before May. Although this will be only our sixth national poll, the approach of election season is about as appealing as a heart attack.
South African politics are hollow and acrimonious, and the prospect of returning the same people from the main political parties to parliament in various proportions is, frankly, depressing.
There is little prospect of fresh, talented and upstanding leaders who are making strides in other sectors of society entering public office because the political space is so toxic and dominated by the same old faces.
Our electoral system perpetuates the dominance of big political parties. The country has not grappled with the prospect of electoral reform, even though the current system has proved inadequate in terms of public accountability.
The proportional representation system means that MPs and MPLs are accountable to party bosses rather than to the electorate. The Zuma years showed how difficult it is to hold presidents accountable when they are protected by their party.
Had the courts not ruled on Nkandla, on the public protector’s state capture report, on the South African Social Security Agency payment system, on the spy tapes case, on the appointment of the national director of public prosecutions and on the position of former Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza, a gang of deplorable people might still have been riding high without accountability.
The commissions of inquiry into the South African Revenue Service and state capture have exposed deceit, abuses and betrayal on an extraordinary scale. They have shown the collusion to remove good people from key positions in the state and replace them with unethical and corrupt individuals who enabled looting and protected the crooks.
But these processes have also shown that there are honourable and patriotic South Africans who did their best to resist the capture project at enormous cost to their lives and careers.
The Zondo commission this week heard the incredible, moving story of two unnamed people who took possession of a hard drive belonging to Sahara computers and had to eventually flee the country. Thanks to their courage and immense personal sacrifices, as well as the assistance of those who ensured their protection and the safekeeping of the data storage devices, much of the Guptas’ illicit activities have been exposed.
After a protracted and nerve-racking journey, the information is now officially in the possession of the commission and can be presented as evidence.
Our country could easily be defined by awful political leaders and state officials who do their best to shred everything good about it. Many of those who are elected to serve us deliberately make us believe it is not them, but ourselves who are responsible for each other’s misery.
It is easy to forget that this nation was created 24 years ago because good people refused to succumb to an evil, racist regime and fought oppression. Those values are hardly recognisable when we constantly question each other’s humanity and turn on each other through acts of violence, crime and racism.
What kind of nation is this that the rape of a six-year-old child in a restaurant is not unusual? How do we find the path to basic human decency and morality when we surrender our country to an endless cycle of power-drunk, greedy people who exploit our vulnerabilities and have no desire to help the people they serve?
In the cabinet, in parliament, in provincial government and in municipalities, there are too many people who see their positions as entitlement to wealth and perks.
Unless there is a complete overhaul of society and the political system, there is little chance of the deadwood being cast out and inspirational, resourceful and courageous leaders rising.
All we can hope for is that Ramaphosa boots out more of the truly awful people in government now, rather than waiting until next year.