Sunday Times

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.

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