The lost decade under Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Mhlanganyelwa Zuma may be a defining stain on the health of our democratic institutions and sovereign wealth, as well as the wellbeing of South Africans at large. But, those years, epitomised by greed, self-interest and insurrectionist malfeasance, are not the sole reason South Africa continues to flail, unable to confront the devastating costs of entrenched poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Deeper introspection and reflection is required by those who have been entrusted to govern our country, provinces, cities, towns and communities. Introspection that demands a higher standard of performance, delivery and accountability. This is the only meaningful way to confront our political system which continues to fail, maim, kill and disenfranchise South Africans from opportunity and prosperity.
Beyond the accounting that is so desperately needed, and seemingly only appreciated by the judiciary (particularly noting its recent directive to a former president seemingly ever prepared to be delinquent), South Africans cannot continue to wait and believe the presidency under Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa alone can remedy all that is wrong in our society.
Instead, public representatives and public servants must coalesce around their individual duty and responsibility to serve the republic. This can be achieved in myriad ways, but it requires a willingness to do the hard work, make difficult decisions and build coalitions. Legislatures and councils across South Africa have a crucial role in not just oversight and compelling accounting, but crucially in shaping the framework that serves South Africa’s people.
Far too much has been lost at the hands of process, simple compliance and in many instances a complete disregard for structural and institutional frameworks. Now is the time for nation building. Now is a time to extend beyond simple party ideological positions, tropes and banners – to push beyond navel gazing and forge an alternative. We desperately need alternative visions and voices, rooted in creating a new dispensation. The social compacts and coalitions built in the wake of Covid-19 remind us that, by our nature, we have the ability to create coalitions for change and impact.
The role of Parliament over the past decade has indeed been found wanting, in part because of the party-political shenanigans required to enable, entrench and support those hell-bent on crippling state capacity in order to steal public funds and undermine our Constitution. However, the presiding officers of Parliament have not risen to the occasion, focused instead on simply serving their party-political masters, factions and agendas. Now is the time for Parliament to do far more than it has ever been required or called upon to do: create a new legislative and regulatory framework that will respond to our collective needs.
This agenda must look far beyond the impact of Covid-19 (and our response to managing the demands on the country and healthcare system), the economic decline, sovereign debt and failures of the executive. Parliament must hold our government accountable, as must municipal councils and provincial legislatures.
But far more is required. Parliament must work urgently to supplement the accounting, oversight and reporting requirements of our executive functionaries. This agenda must not simply respond to the astounding ability of provincial governments to spend hundreds of millions, sometimes billions, before the alarm is raised, often by journalists and civic action groups. The existing financial instruments and frameworks are clearly insufficient to mitigate the abuse of public power. For much of the lost decade various ministers and accounting officers enabled the diversion of funds and public power to serve the presidency and agenda of Zuma, all in the form of the State Security Agency. Where was Parliament while this subversion, illegality, looting and corruption took place? Parliament must, through its members, seek to introduce new legislation to hold the executive to account, but importantly also create a framework whereby public representatives and our governments are held responsible and accountable.
A higher standard is required to enable South Africa to responsibly exercise public power. A standard that will demand more from our councillors, parliamentarians, mayors, premiers and the president. This work requires alternative thinking and coalition building that is not bound by party allegiance, and if the ANC is unable to champion an enhanced framework of governance and accountability then we need parties like the EFF, the DA, GOOD, the United Democratic Movement and the IFP to step up.
Of course, it will require politicians to embrace their own agency and conscience by moving for member’s bills, working with their colleagues in the interest of the people and thinking beyond the now. These are the demands we should collectively make on our public representatives and public servants. We must continue to demand far more from those who are vying for our votes, than ambivalence, indifference and complacency. We have much to rebuild and much to do to overcome the structural realities that perpetuate violence and indignity, but it is a task we must all seize upon, particularly when our public representatives disappoint, anger and frustrate us. DM