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‘Shoot the Tenderpreneur’

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

Ten years from now we will have forgotten about Eugene Terre'Blanche and, hopefully, Julius Malema. But there are other things going wrong now, that aren't receiving as much media attention, but that are going to define the direction South Africa takes over the coming decades. Service delivery protesters are rioting in the streets while public officials fiddle. We need to be very worried about this.

South Africa should be lead by the spirit of nation building and reconciliation. Our leaders should be directing us, as a nation, away from antagonism. Which is why the ANC’s defence of “Shoot the Boer” is baffling. It’s a divisive song, and the debate about it is, of  itself, part of the problem. The “boers” are pissed off, to say the least. They really don’t like the song. Singing it isn’t a matter of life or death for the ANC. Do I need to spell out who needs to respect the feelings of the other in this instance, given that we desperately need reconciliation?

Even if we accept Gwede Mantashe’s explanation that the “Boer” in “Shoot the Boer” isn’t the farmer, but merely a metaphor for the apartheid system, that’s still no reason to dredge up those memories in this way. To say that we should still be allowed to such songs is to say that we are still under the apartheid system. The political struggle is over. Some things are best left in the past.

One wonders though whether the ANC’s obsession with that song isn’t perhaps a convenient distraction from the fact that the government isn’t doing so well in any other “struggle” – the ones for decent homes, jobs and service delivery for the nation’s poorest? We’ve all heard the stories of mismanagement, improbity and spectacular incompetence that have come to be synonymous with most government departments. President Jacob Zuma has admitted that government is failing at the most basic level – service delivery. The burning tyres and furious crowds in the townships of Balfour, Oukasie, Thokoza, Attridgeville, Reiger Park, Daveyton, Mamelodi, Diepsloot and others are damning testimony to that fact.

Contrast the plight of these people, for some of whom something as simple as running water is still a far-off dream, with the ghastly sight of public officials using the tender process to line their own pockets. The fact that these officials use the tender process, which is ultimately supposed to deliver the poor from their daily misery, to enrich themselves is disgusting.

GNS Risk Advisory Services, a company partly owned by communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda (he of the publicly-funded BMW 750i), was only recently implicated in tender irregularities to the tune of R67,8 million.  

What are now minor disturbances in the provinces are going to explode into full-scale wars, thanks in large part to these scurrilous tenderpreneurs.

I could almost forgive tender-rigging (after all, they didn’t join the struggle to be poor, did they?), if those tenders went to companies that actually delivered these vital services. Most often, these tenderpreneur-owned companies do a half-arsed job that only heaps insult upon injury to the poor. Take SGL Engineering Projects for instance, a company partly owned by that most infamous of tenderpreneurs, Julius Malema. According to a report in City Press, his company has been awarded tenders to the tune of R140 million, most of which were never finished in time or were complete failures, because “emerging sub-contractors with capacity challenges were appointed” and “poor performance by the contractor” .

Millions of people live in abject poverty. Their lives are a daily grind. Hopelessness is their reality. The government is supposed to be their saviour, but is failing in its mandate thanks to greed, corruption and mismanagement. Poverty is the new apartheid. Given that we are the most unequal society in the world in terms of standards of living, public officials who use tenders to enrich themselves are nothing short of criminals.

The ANC likes to call itself the party that represents and fights for the poorest of the poor, yet some of its most senior members are involved in tender-rigging. The poor may be uneducated, but they’re certainly not stupid. If this continues for much longer, they will become disenchanted with the ruling party and give their vote to someone else.

The government needs to review its tender-awarding process. Public officials should be banned from receiving government tenders. Media should be heckling the government on this matter at every opportunity.

I’d suggest whoever is in charge of writing ANC songs should come up with a new one that will be more in keeping with the times – “Shoot the Tenderpreneur”. Destroy the system that’s robbing millions of people in South Africa of a better life.


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