Max du Preez

Threat to democracy

2010-05-05 13:00

The ruling party’s continuing blurring of the line between state and party is becoming a really dangerous threat to our democracy.

The most glaring example of this phenomenon is the ANC and its Youth League’s substantial shares in large corporations doing business with the state and so filling the party’s coffers.

This culture of “the movement uber alles” has led to another fundamental breach of democratic ethics: senior bureaucrats close to the ANC behaving like politicians instead of what they’re really supposed to be: civil servants who simply execute policies determined by the elected representatives of the people.

This breach starts with official spokespersons of ministers making negative political comments about the opposition politicians when asked for comment on criticism of their departments instead of just putting their minister’s view.

It deteriorates into a situation such as that of the controversial head of national prosecutions, Menzi Simelane, who started a fundamental restructuring of his department all on his own, without the knowledge of his minister or parliament.

Acting like a politician

Simelane must have thought he had carte blanche - he was, after all, appointed as a reward for his hatchet job on his predecessor, Vusi Pikoli, despite the Frene Ginwala enquiry calling him some very unflattering things like being unreliable and lying.

Simelane was the one, shortly after his appointment, to declare that prosecutorial independence does not equal independence from the executive. We know what you mean, comrade (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

But the best example of a civil servant acting like a major politician is the director general of the department of Labour, Jimmy Manyi.

Known for his angry outbursts against certain population groups in South Africa, Manyi this week launched an outrageous and rather bizarre attack on South Africa’s constitution, even criticising his own employer.

Manyi had it against the clause in the constitution guaranteeing property rights and stated the constitution did not promote transformation.

But here’s the real clanger: “Why is it that the media can have a field day railroading the office of the president with impunity?”

So now the director general of Labour is demanding that the freedom of the media be curtailed? Media freedom, now by far the strongest pillar of our democracy?

How quickly the forget

Manyi is clearly a Zuma man. How quickly the Zuma groupies have forgotten how they had insulted and demonised Thabo Mbeki when he was president.

Manyi says the media’s “disrespect” towards the president’s office is a reflection of the media’s “disrespect of African culture”.

Where was the “respect for African culture” when the ANC Youth League, the Communist Party, Cosatu and others in the ruling alliance called Mbeki the nastiest names imaginable and showed him rude signs at the 2007 Polokwane conference?

Manyi is sounding more and more like Julius Malema every time he opens his mouth.

His excuse is, of course, that he said these things as president of the Black Management Forum rather than as director general of Labour.

It would be like Jacob Zuma saying he believes Robert Mugabe is the African Messiah, and then declaring that he didn’t make that statement as president of the country but as the chief of his village of Ekandla.

Jimmy Manyi can say anything he likes as head of the BMF where his members can vote him out when they don’t like him.

But you and I didn’t vote him into office and we can’t get rid of him. He is an employee of the department of Labour - an extremely well-paid one at that.

Ethical code of the civil service

We as taxpayers don’t pay him to make policy or ideological pronouncements, only to run a department whose policies are determined by Parliament.

At the very least Manyi should be forced to resign from his position in the BMF.

But the first option should be that he be sacked from the civil service so he can practice his politics of intolerance and populism as a private citizen.

And we as citizens and taxpayers should demand that civil servants henceforth be compelled to stick to the ethical code of the civil service and refrain from acting as elected politicians.

Perhaps they will get more done that way.

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