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Tshwane mayoral debacle a microcosm of municipal failure throughout SA

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Professor Dr Omphemetse S Sibanda is a Professor of Law and the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Management and Law at the University of Limpopo. He holds a Doctor of Laws (in International Economic Law) from North West University, a Master of Laws from Georgetown University Law Centre, US; and an LLB (Hon) and B Juris from the then Vista University, Soweto Campus.

What is happening in the City of Tshwane is symptomatic of the state of municipalities around the country, with those entrusted to lead mostly interested in financial windfalls, and less concerned about their failure to deliver services to the people of the Republic of South Africa.

Who needs honesty and integrity when you can have power and money? Fraudulent politicians who engage in corrupt and illegal activities are not antithetical to good governance. So come on, fellow citizens. Let’s join together and create the greatest fraud machine the world has ever seen!

Why should politicians have all the fun? Why can’t we, as ordinary citizens, get in on the action? After all, fraud is a victimless crime, right? Perhaps let us all start our own political parties and engage in as much fraud as we want.

Our manifesto will be the best of all time, making promises that are as hollow as gourds and making voters believe we care. The latest principle in politics is that good politicians are those who lie through their teeth.

If we do not get an outright majority in any local government election or get voted into a particular position, we can simply bring together all other unscrupulous politicians to stay in power at all costs.

Should our candidate for mayorship not win the seat, we will hunt down those who did not toe the party line and subject them to lie detector tests. However, we will never subject our members or coalition members to polygraph tests to determine if they are legitimate leadership material and fit for office.

If we fail to achieve anything, just as we would fail to deliver services to the citizens, we will sing and shout and disturb any business in the chambers. After all, there is no consequence management in South African politics. Promises and more promises – that is what we will be bringing, knowing very well that we have no intention of delivering on those promises.

Who cares? We have all the privileges, including parliamentary privileges, to do and say whatever we want to fool voters who are happy to wear blinkers and look away while we steal and embezzle funds day and night, championing corruption knowing full well that we are untouchables.

By the way, satire and parody are generally considered protected speech in South Africa, even when designed to criticise politicians and government officials. In the 2001 landmark case State v Mamabolo, for example, the court held that a cartoonist’s right to free expression had been violated when he was charged with defamation for depicting a politician as a dog.


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Going back to the crux of this opinion piece, and the satirical comments aside: fraudulent politicians who engage in corrupt and illegal activities are indeed antithetical to good governance. Good governance is characterised by honesty, transparency, accountability and ethical behaviour, and political leaders who engage in fraud and corruption undermine these principles.

As a resident of Tshwane Municipality, I am still recovering from the news last week that Dr Murunwa Makwarela, former mayor of Tshwane and a member of the Congress of the People, allegedly “pulled an Okezie” on the citizens of Tshwane.

The allegations and the furore reminded me of a Nigerian case, Attorney General of Abia State v. Governor of Abia State & Others (2016) LPELR-40013(SC).

In this case, the Governor of Abia State in Nigeria, Okezie Ikpeazu, was accused by civil society of submitting false tax documents to the Independent National Electoral Commission and using fake court orders during his campaign for the governorship election in Abia State.

In a nutshell, the organisations also alleged that Ikpeazu used fake court orders to secure victory in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) primaries. The courts ruled in favour of civil society, declaring that Ikpeazu was not eligible to contest the election. The court held that the tax documents submitted were false, and the court orders he relied on were fake. As a result, Ikpeazu was removed from office and the runner-up in the PDP primaries was sworn in as the governor of Abia State.

There are fundamental issues with the scandalous allegations surrounding the City of Tshwane’s mayoral position. Key among those is that we continue to entrust, as a society, people to lead us when they lack both the legal and moral fortitude to do right by their stakeholders.

It is shameful that for a country still struggling to shrug off the image of being one of the most corrupt in the world, our leaders, individually and collectively, fail to understand that any act of forging legal documents or committing fraud to remain in power is illegal and unethical. It goes against the principles of democracy and undermines the trust of the people in their leaders.

If such acts were to occur, they should be investigated and dealt with by the appropriate legal authorities. We must not try to water down the issue by arguing whether this was forgery or faking. If anything, this is a serious case of fraud if the allegations are proven to be true.  

Anyway, layperson’s criminal law 101 will tell you that forgery and faking are both forms of deception. Consequently, the nub of the issue is about fraud because the key element of the crime of fraud is deception.

The phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a well-known adage that suggests that when an individual or group holds complete and unrestrained power, they are more likely to become corrupt and abuse their authority.

The phrase is attributed to Lord Acton, a British historian, moralist and politician who lived from 1834 to 1902, which appeared in a letter to a friend in 1887. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men,” he wrote.

What is happening in the City of Tshwane is symptomatic of the state of municipalities around the country, with those entrusted to lead mostly interested in financial windfalls, and less concerned about their failure to deliver services to the people of the Republic of South Africa.

But this is always what happens when oversight or accountability is shrouded in secrecy – if not non-existent. This is a likely outcome when people who are not competent or qualified to be in positions of responsibility will stop at nothing to be in power or to be appointed to positions in the public or private sectors.

So far, we are lucky in South Africa because we have a resilient and independent judiciary that continues to play a critical role in preventing corrupt politicians from abusing their power and engaging in illegal activities.

But it should not only be our courts holding the line against corruption. Leaders of political parties must stop impunity for corruption within their parties, and show the political will to deal with corruption.

If the State Capture debacle has taught us anything, it is that now is the time for morally astute leaders to unequivocally and publicly declare that if politicians and other public officials engage in corrupt activities without fear of punishment, there will be negative consequences for society, leaving citizens – as has been the situation in the City of Tshwane – without proper access to essential services.

Additionally, civil society organisations must play a key role in advocating anti-corruption measures and holding politicians and public officials accountable for their actions. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Confucious Says says:

    They actually do not know how to earn an honest living. This is how things are done and they cannot see what is wrong with it. It’s like they have been trained wrong.. as a joke.

  • Johan Buys says:

    We vote for parties that deploy party faithful to positions regardless of competence. Nothing could go wrong when people do not directly elect John or Mary instead of being saddled with Peter.

  • David Walker says:

    What happened in Tshwane is symptomatic of municipalities around the country, except for those in the Western Cape, which by and large provide effective services to their residents. I wonder why? It astounds me that DM commentators are incapable of acknowledging this distinction.

  • Derrick Kourie says:

    Your piece is silent on the one grouping that can change things — the voters and the need for voter education! Voters should be taught about things like the following:
    1. Not to vote is dumb. Make a choice to the best of your abilities.
    2. When you vote, ask yourself if your chosen party has a history of corruption. If it does, vote for another part. It is simply that all politicians and parties are equally corrupt.
    3. Does the party for whom you wish to vote have a meaningful policy and agenda about how to achieve it? Beware of nice sounding but unrealistic promises.
    4. Pay no attention to the way your parents, friends, family members, tribal chief, etc vote. Make your own decision.
    5. Does the party you are going to vote for have a history of delivery?
    6. Unless you have a very good reason, prefer larger established parties to smaller ones because that will contribute to stability and therefore delivery.
    I will donate to any NGO that is dedicated to significant voter education along these lines.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Readers know that the WC works, it is not necessary to state the obvious,DM is not aligned to any political party or their mouthpiece, they are independent.

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    Only the politicians are stealing … really? The civil service deployed by the ANC is stealing for themselves at a rate that makes your eyes water. Getting rid of the ANC as a governing party may well happen in 2024. Getting rid of the termites in the civil service will take a lot longer, especially given that the unions and labour laws are more focused on defending the indefensible. The 80% are certainly giving the 20% of committed civil servants a bad name!
    Three word that will same South Africa – YOU ARE FIRED!!!!

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