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Heartbreak hell – How much more corruption can South Africa endure?


Judith February is executive officer: Freedom Under Law. She writes in her personal capacity.

While the President speaks to us in dulcet tones and promises to rebuild and while ANC cadres seek the troughs for their snouts, it will be up to South Africans to once again pick themselves up from this disaster and coordinate efforts quite separately from our thieving government.

Soon after the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal elected former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede as KwaZulu-Natal ANC regional chairperson (together with her discredited “Unity” slate), the heavens opened up and floodwaters ravaged the province. How much more can this beleaguered province (and our country) endure? 

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world. – Adrienne Rich: The Dream of a Common Language (1978) 

Gumede is facing fraud, corruption, and money laundering charges with 21 co-accused in relation to the R320-million Durban Solid Waste tender awarded by the eThekwini Municipality. The case will resume in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 13 July.

She has now decided to comply with the ANC’s “step-aside” rule, which itself is a messy and unclear rule. That the spectacle of Gumede being nominated and elected did not provide even the slightest pause for thought among the rank and file of the ANC membership in KwaZulu-Natal shows that ethical bankruptcy is pervasive within the party. Gumede took a while to announce that she was “stepping aside”, if only to rattle the sabres in torment before President Cyril Ramaphosa and his faction of the party.

It is in the context of such a lack of ethical leadership that the devastating floods have come. Lest we forget, the failed insurrection also had its epicentre in KwaZulu-Natal. The cost of those devastating eight days in 2021 is still being counted. It is also worth repeating that no meaningful arrests have been made in relation to that insurrection last July, even after the President told us: “We know who they are.”

At the time of writing, 435 people have died in the floods, many of them children simply swept away by the force of water. The scenes are heartbreaking. Thousands of people sit in community halls and shelters, anxious, their hollow eyes and blank stares telling of the pain of loss and displacement. If you are poor in South Africa, this heartbreak is not temporary, it is relentless and accumulated. The heartbreak manifests itself in the everyday struggles to find a job, food, water, shelter and all the things that make for a dignified life. As the middle class and wealthy in our country buy their way out of most interactions with a failing state, the poor have no choice but to engage with a state which is not only failing the vulnerable but is mostly cruel and heartless. 

In his Monday night address to the nation, the President declared a National State of Disaster and called for “all hands on deck” and for the public to assist. He sashayed into the province, commiserated, committed the government to rebuilding infrastructure and blamed climate change

While it is true that climate change is real (some denialists are already trying to explain away these floods; they are as anti-science as the anti-vaxxers in our midst), we can also not ignore the effects of poor infrastructure and neglect over prolonged periods of time. The United Nations in South Africa has expressed concern about future South African town planning and says, “These recurring flood events are a stark reminder that a just transition in South Africa requires not only focusing on decarbonisation but also paying strong attention to adaptation.”

Those who have suffered the greatest loss are the poor and vulnerable living in densely populated low-lying areas without proper services and beyond the scope of town planning. Corrupt and unfeeling leadership has meant that no one really cares. After all, Zandile Gumede built her own mansion overlooking poorly built RDP houses. Perhaps it is symbolic that the people are beneath her. Former president Jacob Zuma sits at Nkandla, secure in comfort (literally) at our expense as the poor, whom he claims to have served, suffer irreparable loss. Man of the people, he told us. 

As Ramaphosa travelled through the affected areas, residents in Reservoir Hills protested, saying the government had forgotten them. Who can blame them for their anger and lack of trust in those who have betrayed all our trust? Such is the depravity of our society, which has entirely lost its moorings, that we watched helplessly on Monday night as residents looted a Shoprite truck on Umgeni Road. 

Ramaphosa again repeated the promise of rebuilding infrastructure and announced various relief packages and “zero tolerance” for corruption. 

Yet, after the Covid-19 pillaging of relief funds and personal protective equipment, who actually believes that the relief will reach those who need it most? And who has faith in a government that, by its very actions, declares war on the poor every single day? In the Eastern Cape children still remain without toilets even as the provincial education department says they will be “doing an audit” to see where the need is. It is the same province where villagers have to cross a river in a drum because there is no bridge.

A drive past any government building tells the tale of neglect and a lack of care. And then there was Life Esidimeni and Michael Komape who died choking in his own faeces in a pit latrine toilet. And, and, and…

The latest Afrobarometer data provide the hard evidence we need. Afrobarometer found: “Trust in nearly all institutions is low – and declining.” It states that:

  • Out of all SA institutions, only media broadcasters, both independent (63%) and government (61%), and the Department of Health (56%) – enjoy the trust of a majority of citizens.
  • Only a minority of South Africans say they trust the President (38%) and Parliament (27%) “somewhat” or “a lot”. For the first time in Afrobarometer surveys, only a minority (43%) express trust in courts of law.
  • Only about one in three citizens (36%) trust the Electoral Commission of South Africa, with trust levels particularly low among younger respondents. Slightly more (42%) trust the Public Protector.
  • Trust in both the ruling ANC (27%) and opposition parties (24%) continues to decline. Trust in the ANC is especially low among younger and more educated respondents. 

As the Stellenbosch academic Dr Collette Schulz-Herzenberg has written elsewhere, “In short, the public’s perception is that government is at its weakest when faced with tackling the most important problems facing the country. When political trust starts to wane and citizens stop respecting the norms and principles of the democratic process, transitions to democracy can stall or even revert to authoritarianism, leading to a rejection of the democratic regime. Put bluntly, a decline in trust in political actors and institutions will have a detrimental effect on deep-seated support for the democratic regime in the long term.”

The sad truth, therefore, is that those in government do not act in our best interests. After all, the premier of KZN, Sihle Zikalala, wasted precious time denying there was a disaster even as we watched large-scale rioting and looting on our television screens in July last year. Party before country always. Many in Ramaphosa’s government then watched in passivity as infrastructure burned. 

The La Mercy Civic and Ratepayers Association reported on Monday evening that as desperate residents, including children, scrambled for water, a tanker was diverted to Zikalala’s home. Zikalala denied this and said that his wife needed water to cook for the community. The lies never stop. He subsequently apologised.

A shameless act from a man whose party enables such corrupt and callous acts of self-interest. And this is not the only story of ANC leaders pilfering emergency supplies.

And so in the midst of this humanitarian and economic crisis, ordinary South Africans have come to the rescue: always look for the helpers. It was Imtiaz Sooliman and Gift of the Givers who were on the scene almost immediately. It is to them and others like CityHope Disaster Relief that most South Africans now entrust rescue relief. Bonang Mohale, the president of Business Unity South Africa, has said the organisation will work with the government even as the business community ringfences funding and puts stringent measures in place to ensure the aid gets to the designated areas.  

So while the President speaks to us in dulcet tones and promises to rebuild while ANC cadres seek the troughs for their snouts, it will be up to South Africans to once again pick themselves up from this disaster and coordinate efforts quite separately from our thieving government.

And, as ministers and our President pop in and out of these poverty-stricken, flood-ravaged areas where hope is in short supply and as they come with plans for a better world, do they see the men and women whose lives have been upended, the children whose futures have been stolen?

Do they truly see? DM



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All Comments 17

  • I think that it is such a shame that great articles published in the Daily Maverick, get virtually no comments.
    Daily Maverick’s new Comments’ policy has brought this about.
    I wrote a comment to an article and by the time it went through the DM review, more than 24 hours had lapsed and was ‘history’. I had basically wasted my time writing a comment.
    I am seriously thinking that I will not renew my subscription unless DM sorts this out.

    • I agree that there are serious/major problems with the ‘new’ comments system in place … particularly with how long (unacceptably so) it takes for submissions to be ‘vetted’.

    • I agree James. It is a good idea, but not practical for the Dailymaverick. Give people the same options on articles that are shown, will have the same effect without the delay. Also, the author should be able to edit and delete their comments.

    • I agree with you James. If a comment cannot be published within an hour or two, then the system isn’t working. DM, you’re doing such a great job otherwise, sort out this problem.

    • Too true. The lack of comments is the clue. Not only that but you can get a rejection for a robust comment together with a childish lecture that about spreading niceness in the world.
      The other problem with DM (BTW) that has my finger hovering over the cancel button is too many “opinionisters” whose opinions are immature and carry little weight.

  • I honestly believe that our president and his band of thieves (the ANC) will not (cannot???) read this heartfelt and well written article.
    In fact they probably block all content from DM.
    For goodness sake, they remain oblivious to the pain and suffering of the poor in this beautiful country.
    Noses at the trough!
    Yeah baby!

  • Our president having spoken soon after the invasion (stop the nonsense of a ‘special military operation!’ to his pal Putin, spends 5 weeks deciding whether to speak to the recipient of that mindless aggression (involving a scorched earth policy) ! This in a specious claim at ‘neutrality’ – he should be reminded of the ‘in the struggle between the powerful and the not so’ … to remain neutral is to side with the powerful ! A typical example of what February describes as an ethically abysmal attitude, filled with platitudes … especially in the context of our local situation. For a person with legal training … a lamentable and peculiar way of understanding idea of the audi alteram partem principle! But then what do we expect from politicians these days ? Wait until the victim is no more …. than issue an immediate restraining order !

  • Unfortunately, the ANC is just part of South Africa. Corrupt selfish behaviour is everywhere, just look at how people behave at broken robots, which are everywhere.

  • We are living in a failed state, nothing works. You want to renew your drivers license card, pay R4000 and it can be done today, need to get married, pay R2500 and you will also receive your unabridged marriage certificate today, need a new passport or ID, pay R3000 and you will have it in a week and it doesn’t stop there. You are offered these services in the parking lot of Home Affairs by people who aren’t even employed there but have buddies behind the counters. Break the law by speeding, no problem, pay the cop R100 for coldrink and you’re off and away. So please tell me how the hell will the state help flood victims!!

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