The Star Early Edition
SA hit by a wave of incompetence
IAM LOATH to belabour the point about the crisis of leadership in South Africa, but it’s a subject that cannot be summarised in one column. A few months ago, a court reversed the government’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. It seemed that the Ministry of Justice, which is supposed to be the custodian of interpretation of the law and the constitution, was the last to know what process you need to follow if you want to effectively rescind a law passed by a democratic parliament. They needed a full court to sit over several days to educate them about their basic mandate.
This seems to be the trend these days, if the terrible legal advice that the government seems to continuously receive is anything to go by. There is a lot of this in display in the highest office in the land, with lawyers representing Jacob Zuma in numerous matters conceding under legal scrutiny and arguments. In the spy tapes saga, for example, they went all the way to Bloemfontein to have the judgment of the lower court reiterated to them – this is the kind of wastage of taxpayers’ money that has now taken so much root that it will require a miracle to be changed.
Fortunately, the courts are becoming intolerant of this waste, and more and more pubic officials will find themselves with a legal bill to settle. But I digress.
I wanted to reflect on our tolerance levels for incompetence as a society. So the Ministry of Intelligence, both past and present, have been caught flat-footed on a range of matters of national security. The past minister had no idea that the FeesMustFall movement would bring the country to a standstill; or on his version, had an idea but did not act to prevent this from happening.
The current minister maybe had every excuse not to know that #BlackMonday would happen or that Jacques Pauw was planning to release a book that would show Zuma in a bad light. As if this wasn’t enough, he was the last to know his own agency/department had sent a cease and desist letter to the publishers of the explosive book. Like his Justice Ministry counterpart, he might soon need the court to remind him what freedom of expression means.
Early this year, the minister of social development was in court being lectured by the chief justice about her job. She holds a record as probably the only member of the executive who has formally being declared incompetent by a court of law. This is staggering, but don’t for a minute think this worries the happy one. Bathabile Dlamini, whose name means “they are happy”, should be the only person who is happy about her handling of the Sassa saga – except the president, of course, who defended her spiritedly in his disastrous Q&A in Parliament last week. It seems Bathabile is hell bent on making an American company very happy. It is very hard to understand why she is the last one to know that a state agency like the SA Post Office – under a competent chief executive, for a change – can in fact deliver the same, if not better, service to the public. She wants a case study of 100 transactions to test this – this is bizarre in the extreme. But we should not be surprised.
This is a person who, despite a criminal record of stealing money from Parliament through illegal travel transactions, was promoted by Zuma to be in charge of billions of rand destined for the most vulnerable in our society.
We have seen violent protests in communities, and police acting firmly – just last week, about 90 people were arrested during protests over taxis and Ubers. Last Monday, highways were blocked and old flags, but raised not a single rubber bullet was fired to clear the roads, unlike when we saw a similar stunt being pulled by the taxis not so long ago. Seems the police were the last ones to understand that both acts are illegal.
The raising of the flag – quite apart from being a brazen provocation to the majority of peace-loving south Africans – must be categorised as hate speech and should have the perpetrators being rounded off to prison. But the Ministry of Police and Ministry of Arts and Culture were the first on Twitter to condemn these acts but clearly the last ones to take any action akin to the clampdown we see in service delivery protests or protests on campuses over fees.
These examples may just reveal that we are on autopilot mode – the big question these days must be: Who is running South Africa? We can see clearly who is running it into the ground, if these few examples are anything to go by. We don’t yet want to comment about the shambolic education and healthcare systems that see 50% of kids who
started school 12 years ago failing matric or psychiatric patients dying like flies at the hands of health workers. In these instances, the relevant political and even administrative authorities are the last to know what on earth is going on under their noses. Is the picture this grim or are we being pessimists? Should we believe that even if 82 kids are molested at a school, we have a caring government? Should we believe that even if dozens of people die in a Marikana or a Life Esidimeni scandal, we have a government that will at least show up for its own constituency? If we see a president who has gone completely rogue, must we believe that the ANC will rise again and restore a semblance of order and dignity to our public life by arresting this wave of incompetence? And even in the face of state capture, should we believe that these are the last kicks of a dying horse? And that post-December some semblance of order will be restored? Frankly, the answers are not obvious.