That’s some clever catch-22

2014-05-19 10:00

My president has got me in a terrible catch-22. Nkandla troubles me. Not President Jacob Zuma’s home, as such – it’s his hearth, not mine. What troubles me is what the R246?million splurge has come to symbolise.

It was by all accounts a careless waste of money. Our president did not know about all of it, according to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, but he knew of some of it. And he benefited.

Now, a public excavation of that spending has been cauterised by Cabinet’s security cluster.

Why has this happened so soon after the elections? Because the ANC won a landslide victory despite the revelations in the Public Protector’s report. A key mantra of an ebullient governing ANC was that Nkandla did not matter when the time came to vote.

And so government, emboldened by this belief, wants to erase it from the president’s second term completely. Which brings me to my catch-22.

If I raise a peep about Nkandla and how I don’t like the way in which my tax rands were spent, I become part of the “clever people” – that minority of whingeing elites who don’t realise the masses don’t really care because they are worried about more important things.

So to exercise solidarity with the working classes or unemployed, I should keep quiet about “inanities” like Nkandla. Or at least that is how I read the governing party and my president’s logic. It is a cruel and alienating position to put your own citizens in.

I credit my freedom and being a clever person to the ANC and its allied liberation organisations. Without the struggle against apartheid, freedom and employment equity, my family would still be battling the wolf at the door.

I am part of that generation of freedom’s lucky children who made the class jump. And I know exactly who I need to thank for that.

Because I know where I come from, solidarity in action and purpose with those who await freedom’s dividend is important.

Perhaps I abhor corruption as much as I do because I’ve studied it. It harms development by hollowing out the state. It backtracks development. It erodes any gains made.

The ANC found this out on the campaign trail when water emerged as one of the bigger issues.

Why? Because there isn’t any. Why not? Because water tank owners work in cahoots with councillors who actively prevent the laying of bulk water and sewerage systems because then we won’t need water tanks.

In Meqheleng, where Andries Tatane hailed from, a tenderpreneur contracted to build a reservoir did so with cheap cement and so delayed service delivery by a year.

So you are likely to see a focus on local corruption but not on grand corruption. It is a sleight of hand to consign critics of Nkandla to the dust heap of citizenship.

Speaking of sleights of hand, the Marikana Commission of Inquiry is doing an honourable job of unfurling the truth of what happened on the platinum belt in August 2012.

Like the report into the spending at the president’s estate in Nkandla by the Public Protector, it is more than the event or process it investigates.

The Nkandla report is a telescope into how government functions (or does not function).

It is an entire look at how the Public Works department operates, the use (and abuse) of the national key points legislation as well as how far the public purse stretches to cover private interests.

The Marikana commission has its telescopes trained not only on the deaths of scores of people, but on public order policing, the entire mining industry and the migrant labour system.

But late last week, the state changed the commission’s terms of reference. The change will ensure no public officials or office bearers are called before it. In a fell swoop, the commission was tamed.

Marikana and Nkandla bookend the sharpest crises of the Zuma administration. In two sleights of hand, the state has signalled its intention to reduce accountability.

As a clever citizen, I feel troubled and caught in a terrible catch-22.

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