The debasement of South Africa’s party-political environment is not a new phenomenon, but rather entrenched in our body politic. The debasement did not happen miraculously, but rather organically over many years and this started long before the Economic Freedom Fighters entered Parliament in 2014.
We are right to be alarmed at the lack of decorum, the disrespect and even violence that is on display in Parliament, provincial legislatures and even our municipal councils. We should not forget that a mayoral committee member in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality continues to hold office in spite of a criminal conviction —even after being asked by his political party to step aside.
We see the same across Limpopo and North West where a number of politicians and officials have been implicated in the VBS scandal. The same is true for a number of dishonourable elected officials who hold office in our Parliament, our provincial legislatures and municipal councils.
We should not be surprised by the lack of decorum and respect displayed in our Parliament in the past week. South Africans have been witnessing the debasement of our politics since the scandals that plagued our first Parliaments — the Travelgate saga, the arms procurement scandals, the inaction on HIV/AIDS, the inability of South Africa to confront and deal swiftly with the xenophobic attacks of 2008. As a result South Africa is poorly served by many elected officials who, simply put, are just not fit for purpose.
The lack of skills, aptitude and acumen is exacerbated by a flagrant disregard for the rule of law, the simple principles of decency and the self-interest that has consumed the South African fiscus, emptying out key democratic institutions as well as state-owned enterprises. The consequences are dire — South Africa has lost at least a decade of progress, opportunity, development and promise.
South Africans have been robbed by the unfolding consequences of State Capture. Notwithstanding the implosion of the the Gupta-Zuma cabal, the debasement of our politics remains in place. We continue to see a number of implicated Cabinet ministers unwilling to do the right thing. We see the obfuscation, the pretence that they simply did not know or that they did nothing untoward.
It is ridiculous to believe or even comprehend that these individuals, who were supposed to serve the country or act with the appropriate fiduciary duty, continue to attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. These individuals continue to enjoy the spoils of their malfeasance, betrayal and greed. There is no doubt that South Africans deserve far more than what is on display in our parliamentary chambers and committees. We deserve to be served by competent individuals committed to serving the Republic, and not their own interests.
South Africans must remember that it is not just the debasement of our politics on display when parliamentarians, who are paid handsomely at the expense of South Africa, engage in violence, trading of insults, profane language or fisticuffs. South Africans continue to be bamboozled and betrayed by individuals who simply should be dismissed from office and pursued by our justice system.
The attempts to obfuscate and delay the inevitable outcome will be used at every turn by these individuals. Suspended officials, whether they previously held the positions of SARS Commissioner or were officials at local government or provincial level will continue to use the legal system to their advantage. Delaying the inevitable outcome of a disciplinary process or securing a golden handshake appears to be the mode for these individuals.
Of course, we should be disappointed and shocked at the conduct of our very well-paid parliamentarians, but what should shock and outrage us more is that our political parties continue to hold themselves unaccountable. Protracted party-political battles are waged internally while the public purse is compromised and used to prop up people who have no place in public office or service.
The only way to confront this is for South Africans to demand more from their elected officials and servants. South Africans are entitled to a minimum standard of service. South Africans are entitled to demand that their elected officials conduct themselves in a manner that furthers the interest of the country.
It goes without saying that these individuals should not act with malfeasance, corruption and disrespect for our democratic values. The lessons from the unfolding collapse of VBS, the outcomes and constant outpourings from the Zondo Commission and the aftermath of South African officialdom failing its people must be considered and accounted for. We cannot simply be offended by the profane language or shocked at how a glass jug can be smashed against the head of a councillor in chambers.
These issues should outrage us equally, but should also remind us that we really need to start taking our democracy in our own hands, because those entrusted to do so continue to fail.
We will have to guard against this complacency or a business-as-usual approach, especially as we have an opportunity in the upcoming national elections to hold all our political parties accountable and honest. DM