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Opinionista

SAA: Vigilance in a time of Darkness

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex. He is the author of ‘You Have To Be Gay To Know God’ (Kwela Books, 2018), which won the Desmond Tutu-Gerrit Brand Literary Prize. Follow him on @SKhumalo1987 (Insta and Twitter), or like his Facebook page With Siya Khumalo.

The battle between light and dark is the story behind every story ever told, be it mythical or pop cultural. We see this dualism in Game of Thrones and in the New Testament’s repeated warnings about zonking out as darkness approaches.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Mt 25:13) is the sober warning Christians give one another on Jesus’s return. And considering how Zuma has been closing in on SAA in light of his promise that the ANC would rule “until Jesus returns”, it’s clear the battle between light and dark informs secular-political stories as well.

Nicky Smith and Carol Paton reported that President Zuma “has refused [Finance Minister] Mr Gordhan’s suggestions for a new chairman, insisting that Ms Myeni, his close friend, be retained”. But would he take SAA out of National Treasury to protect Dudu Myeni? Speculation is rife that he would. Ever the “listening president”, he will probably sympathise with Myeni’s complaints that there is racism obstructing transformation in SAA.

Mr Zuma visited the airline on Friday, promising staff he would see to their problems,” wrote Paton. “Ominously, he told them that in the future, he would be ‘much closer’ to what happens at the airline” (bold mine) because National Treasury “had not solved SAA’s problems”. It’s a perfect set of excuses.

It’s possible that Zuma is preparing to pull a stunt as divisive as the Rapture, separating the looters off to a heaven of uninterrupted gorging from the “counterrevolutionaries” off to struggle in a junk-status credit-rated economy. Pulling SAA from National Treasury over to Presidency would halve the wrangling, spinning and explaining he has to do whenever he protects his, Myeni’s and the Guptas’ private interests at the airline.

According to several versions of a story by journalist Amanda Khoza written just after the Constitutional Court hearing on Nkandla, SAA asked the Office of the Public Protector to put a fraud investigation on SAA on hold. The Office agreed. At the centre of the investigation was Advocate Lindi Nkosi-Thomas, who was made infamous by her excruciating representation of the National Assembly. Nkosi-Thomas had been accused of doctoring SAA’s Head of Legal’s opinion on an issue she arguably believed could expose wrongdoings involving herself, Myeni, and a line of people leading up to President Zuma and the Guptas. Why would this investigation disappear into thin air (as the NPA declines to persecute or the the SAPS Commercial Crimes Unit inexplicably declines to investigate and the Johannesburg Bar Council declines to find wrong in her altering a document whose source was disturbed by the new meaning)? Many SowetanLive commenters on Khoza’s article have a very simple theory.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Nkosi-Thomas has “acted in various litigious matters of national importance and has advised various SOCs and the Government of the Republic of South Africa on numerous litigious matters and transactions of considerable scale”. And she has the connections to show for it. And right there is why she’s untouchable – she has a network of protectors, some of whom could even be in the Public Protector’s Office, run, as it is, by advocates. Fellow fraternity members? Drinking buddies? Colleagues? It really doesn’t matter which it is: the report directly implicating her has been successfully suppressed.

President Zuma remains shielded too. As long as we cannot ascertain that the state-owned enterprise he’s drawing into his bosom is being maladministered to within an inch of its life, it is impossible to pin wilful culpability for his actions in the story on him – most memorable of which was the December ministerial swap that cost the country half a trillion rand. That was not money accidentally taken from the fiscus, as Nkandla was spun to be; it was a direct knock on citizens’ pockets, now payable in rising food prices in the wake of a drought.

Beyond the mortals’ clash on earth is the Gupta family on Mount Olympus (or Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, whichever is closer to the heavens): the EFF alleges that once Myeni has exhausted her considerable uselessness on SAA, it will be left – or already may be – in a position where the family can buy it for a song. Others have corroborated the theory that the Guptas are eyeing SAA. Vytjie Mentor was allegedly offered the Public Enterprises portfolio provided she drop SAA’s route to India for Gupta-linked Jet Airways to take up. Likewise, the Guptas allegedly offered former SAA CEO Vuyisile Kona half a million rand to play nice with them. White-collar criminals, take note: to stifle a PP Office’s report on state-related corruption, ensure the Guptas are its ultimate beneficiaries. At a time when black student activists are refusing to tip white waitresses until they “return the land”, you can run a whole farm, “milking” a province’s budget, with nary a peep from any investigative body.

In the archetypal battle between light and dark, the dark always advances by dulling the combatants’ minds and senses. Melatonin (the sleep hormone corresponding with sunset and dusk) lulls us into a false complacency, a sense of safety where there is none. It’s then that we need vigilance – adrenaline to rouse us to fight.

The Public Protector’s Office has been described as “as the public complaints body of last resort”. But whose last resort are any of government’s investigative institutions, really? The only way to keep any of them clean is to demand accountability. Our country is being gutted: rage, rage against the dying of the light.

That the system works now and then doesn’t take away from the possibility that it only works enough times to give the illusion of continuous functionality, but not enough times to fundamentally change the status quo.

If we want real change, we have to wake up. Since darkness approaches, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” as Dylan Thomas wrote. “Rage,” always, “rage against the dying of the light.” DM

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