Opinionista Brij Maharaj 19 June 2019

Dear Mr President: With great trust comes great responsibility

At the heart of South Africa’s problems is a collapse of the public service sector (the result of cadre deployment), a breakdown in the enforcement of law and order and the resultant reign and ruin by criminals. We await your State of the Nation Address with bated breath.

Dear Mr President,

You have walked the roundabout road to the presidency. Thwarted in 1994 by the Thabo Mbeki lobby, you made the smooth transition to business, gaining a reputation as a man who always had his eye on the bottom line even if it meant allegedly ordering a massacre of workers you once represented.

There will always be lingering questions about what you did while Zuma and his acolytes fiddled with the national purse. There will always be questions about why you did not take the bull by the horns rather than making the highest bid for one.

There are still questions about what you knew about State Capture since you were No 2, although your defence may well be that No 1 did not trust you and kept you at arm’s length. Also, you were biding your time, shrewdly assessing the balance of forces between supporters and opponents of State Capture as you planned your bid for power.

Of course, the 2013 Gupta Waterkloof landing was a very public revelation that the state had been captured. And Parliament, whose primary function is to hold the executive accountable, had been reduced to praise singers. A careful reading of the sham government investigative report into the Gupta Waterkloof fiasco will reveal that one Tom Moyane was involved in exonerating the architect of State Capture.

Your rise to No 1 was touch-and-go with a marginal win at Nasrec in December 2017 by forming an unholy alliance (some would call it a tryst with the devil) with the feline kingmaker, David Mabuza (who stunned his detractors by bouncing back as No 2 in your new Cabinet, notwithstanding the very serious allegations against him). But you were also saddled with that “gangster”. A Pyrrhic victory, some would argue.

With the post-election celebrations and presidential inauguration ceremonies behind you, as you wade through the muck left behind by your predecessor and as you read the stomach-churning media headlines of recent weeks (school murders, gang wars, health crises, train and truck fires, declining economic growth, escalating unemployment rates and inequalities, bankrupt SOEs and so on), the responsibility and burden of your office becomes heavier and you may have well realised that you have been handed a poisoned chalice.

Education is a disaster zone and has been described by the internationally influential magazine, The Economist, as one of the worst in the world: In SA “27% of pupils who have attended school for six years cannot read, compared with 4% in Tanzania and 19% in Zimbabwe”.  All the TVET colleges in the world will not get us out of this quagmire. The spectre of Verwoerd’s “Bantu Education” persists in spite of a quarter of a democratic century under the ANC government.

At the heart of South Africa’s problems is a collapse of the public service sector (the result of cadre deployment) and a breakdown in the enforcement of law and order and criminals reign and ruin. As The East African newspaper has tersely argued:

Effective governance respects the rule of law, it is participatory, accountable, transparent, effective and efficient — the ingredients that ensure systems work in the best interest of those they are meant to benefit. This means it acts as an enabler for growth. Research has also linked the success of developed countries to good governance.”

No doubt during your low moments you must be overwhelmed with the challenges facing the country. It must certainly be depressing when you realise that you have more support outside than inside your party where you have to continuously watch your back. Then you also have members from within your executive who are scoring own goals. The Hindus would advise that your astrological configuration requires attention.

On the positive side, especially given the public concerns and that raised by the ANC’s Integrity Committee about the probity of members on the party’s electoral list, the recent spate of resignations from Parliament suggest that there is a form of moral and ethical cleansing by attrition (apparently “doing the right thing” so as not to lose ministerial pensions). However, you should be worried about how such a compromised list was approved and whether there was any manipulation at Luthuli House, where those who hold the aces appear to always trump triumphantly over you.

Life must be tough without your personal imbongi. However, you must be reassured that you enjoy the support and trust of the overwhelming majority of South Africans across the ideological, race, class, gender, tribal, ethnic and geographical divides. But with that trust comes a huge responsibility that you have to meet the great expectations of South Africans. Many see you as the new Messiah, who will deliver us from the evils and temptations of crime and corruption.

Others see you as an advocate for the devil. Your detractors have been critical because of a perception that you have been slow, almost reluctant, to address the very serious challenges facing South Africa, and to especially deal with miscreants in government. In some circles, you are even being blamed for the woeful performance of the Proteas at the ICC Cricket World Cup! As expressed by the Bard in the late 16th century: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”.

Nevertheless, as your trout-fishing guru Roelf Meyer succinctly summarised, you are a “constitutionalist”, and you have used the law to make some astute interventions. The appointment of the Zondo Commission was a masterstroke. To be fair, in this regard the ANC government was forced by the courts to implement Thuli Madonsela’s recommendations as she was leaving office. How you must be wishing that you had Thuli Madonsela at your side now! No doubt, this can be still possible, for example, in an advisory capacity.

The Nugent Commission into tax administration and governance at SARS, the Mokgoro Inquiry into the fitness of senior NPA officials Lawrence Mrwebi and Jiba Nomgcobo to hold office, the appointments of Shamila Batohi as National Director of Public Prosecutions and Hermione Cronje as the new head of the Investigative Directorate, and the return of Willie Hofmeyr at the helm of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, bode well for good governance.

You refused to give in to Malema’s demands to dump Gordhan. Watch out for more kindergarten performances in Parliament. An important question is why the pro-corruption forces in the ANC and EFF are so opposed to Gordhan. It may well be because he is cutting off the oxygen for corruption.

However, you are saddled with a Public Protector who apparently has been “ordained by God” and appears to be aligned with the ATM and Gupta crowd. According to the Sunday Times “this rogue investigator is what the public most needs to be protected from”.

It is commendable that in your vision for a corruption-free government and country, you have promised to introduce and enforce lifestyle audits for politicians and government bureaucrats. This should be extended to all spheres of government. Gordhan (some call him your rottweiler) has been advocating and agitating for this for some time.

Also, Tito Mboweni’s amendments to the mysterious Ministerial Handbook and the elimination of some of the extraordinary material trappings of power (flying first class) must be welcomed. The finance minister has been generous – offering your Cabinet C-class Mercedes Benzes. But government-issued, standard white Corollas can do the job at half the cost. It should be mandatory for all vehicles purchased by the government to be manufactured in SA, which will have multiplier effects across the economy.

Your premier in the Northern Cape, Zamani Saul, has set some very interesting precedents, which others need to follow and, if necessary, you should enforce. He was inaugurated in the Lerato Park informal settlement in Kimberley, banned the blue light brigade and the purchase of new cars for MECs, and the savings accrued will be used to buy ambulances for the poor — a classic case of Batho Pele — People First — and Thuma Mina reconnection, you will agree.  

Mr President, as you edit and fine-tune your State of the Nation speech, please ensure that it does not get to Ace and especially Carl (who has parasitically inserted himself deep into the entrails of Luthuli House), who is apparently especially adept at deftly adding an embarrassing paragraph or two to ANC statements in order to favour those who ought to be measuring up for orange overalls.

Perhaps consider settling the score by adding a few paragraphs of your own, free from ANC claptrap, about your presidential vision for South Africa, and how you intend to get the country out of the quicksand in which it is rapidly sinking.

Yours patriotically,

Brij Maharaj DM


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