Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 1 February 2019

Commissions are not enough – we need active leadership

Our government cannot simply look to the commissions to provide the necessary accountability. We have to demand far more from those implicated in the intentional theft and destruction that epitomises the past decade, and perhaps even before then.

We receive revelations daily from the various commissions of inquiry that have been established to look into the abyss of state capture, malfeasance, corruption, and irregular and unlawful conduct that has been a key feature of the past lost decade. South Africans are rightly anxious and uncertain about what will actually happen in the wake of these allegations.

The evidence is being led in a number of commissions and inquiries, but that evidence must still be tested, considered and weighed before final findings can be issued. The outrage is palpable, as is the reminder that South Africans have had to endure growing joblessness, poverty and inequality, news cycles of despair and outrage, the establishment of a lavish and extensive network of corrupt businesses, and at least R100-billion lost to corruption, criminal conduct and state capture.

President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa has on a number of occasions said that “there has to be real action that has to be taken against those who are found to be corrupt”. It also appears that this is now a consistent message being used by Government Communications (and by certain Cabinet members on social media).

The unfolding testimonies at the Zondo Commission by former staff and executives of Bosasa are revealing a complex, entrenched and systemic shadow structure that is syphoning off billions at the expense of the republic and its people. It is easy to talk about accountability, outcomes, consequences and responsibility but this remains just talk while those implicated individuals continue to draw huge salaries, benefits and privileges – again at the expense of the public purse and the country’s people.

It is not surprising that the custodian of this lost decade is now defending his fractured legacy. Jacob Zuma, former president of the African National Congress and the republic, has in his usual manner attempted to reposition the truth. The dark cloud that hangs over the governing party, its leaders and the various families that have been implicated in testimony at the commissions have not simply been invented; rather, it is painfully being uncovered brick by brick (or grey security bag by grey security bag).

The past decade is under consideration – South Africans are publicly interrogating the decisions taken during the Zuma administration but are also looking beyond, to the history and conduct of the governing party. The injustice of the past decade is not simply reflected in the current crop of commissions. South Africans remember Marikana; we remember the Life Esidimeni scandal; we remember the many young children who have lost their lives in pit latrines; we remember the millions who are still imprisoned in a cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

South Africans are mindful that this lost decade has had a very real cost – a cost on humanity and on our collective sense of who we are. We cannot simply erect billboards to this reality. Although this choice in an election year is not surprising, albeit an ill-considered, opportunistic and callous one.

We cannot fully account for the real cost of this lost decade in the structure and form of commissions. Our legal framework is often unwieldy, weighed down by the form and structure of legal interventions that need to confront immoral conduct – what has happened is not simply a crime; rather, it is abhorrent to our shared humanity.

The real reshaping of the next decade will not simply be achieved through the testimony and record-keeping process that is unfolding in our commissions. These commissions are empowered by the law, but they are also confined and sometimes stifled by the parameters of evidence.

Our government cannot simply look to the commissions to provide the necessary accountability. We have to demand far more from those implicated in the intentional theft and destruction that has epitomised the past decade, and perhaps even before then.

In order to truly confront the moral issue, we have to see justice, we have to know that those implicated have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We need to see the cancellation of existing contracts; the blacklisting of those businesses (and all their directors and shareholders) from doing business with the government going forward; the full recovery of the stolen funds; and a full basket of interventions that will look at fulfilling the promise of justice and accountability.

We need to see the criminal prosecution of these individuals, from the officials who facilitated the corruption to the political actors who benefited from this massive scheme of theft, as well as the businesses that benefited, and continue to benefit while the work of the commissions is underway.

South Africans need to see leadership and action from the Presidency, from Parliament, from the National Prosecuting Authority, from the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), the South African Police Service, the Special Investigating Unit and the South African Revenue Service.

The leadership we need now in order to confront the past decade (and beyond) must be responsive, it must be engaged and it must be focused on real accountability. South Africans cannot simply wait for the conclusion of the work being done by our commissions, the drafting of reports, findings and recommendations that will then need to be considered. South Africans have very little time – our faith, our trust and our belief must be restored, and the only way to do so is for real action to happen as soon as possible.

South Africans have been disappointed before. We only need to look at the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which referred more than 300 cases to the NPA for investigation and consideration. Justice still eludes the families and survivors of those crimes as the NPA essentially deferred. Justice was trampled on. Political interference ensured that the law and justice were circumvented – justice was stolen from the survivors and families of those brutal and immoral crimes.

The families of Ahmed Timol, Fort Calata, Matthews Mabelane and Hoosen Haffejee, among many others, know the feeling of waiting for justice to be delivered. We cannot afford to wait for the final reports to be issued from our commissions, but rather our government must respond with haste to uncover and account for these criminal deeds. South Africans require our elected leaders to humble themselves, to make the hard choices, and to really commit to fulfilling the promise of real action, which must be coupled with the rejection of any political solution.

For South Africa to rekindle its own promise, and to restore the trust and faith of its people, the government and the governing party must make the hard choice of committing to accounting fully, of demanding accountability, and we must see real action against all those implicated long before the chairs and tables have been packed away at our commissions. DM

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