Prince Mashele

SA too great to be destroyed by fools

2010-08-16 13:00

Not long ago this year, our nation was made to benefit from free political drama. The main actor in this was Cosatu’s Secretary General, Mr Zwelinzima Vavi. On behalf of his organisation, Vavi publicly read out a statement to register Cosatu’s concern that President Jacob Zuma remained silent about allegations of corruption levelled at some of his ministers.

Not unexpectedly, the ministers concerned were livid against Vavi, and indeed Zuma continued to remain silent. As we held our breaths to see how the drama would end, the ANC dramatically entered the theatre; it threatened to haul Vavi before its disciplinary committee.

Invariably, grotesquely theatrical moments in drama leave observers with dropped jaws. And so did the ANC choke our collective soul as a nation. In a kind of corruption-vs-society scenario, few would believe it to be true that the ANC could adopt a pro-corruption posture.

In its 2009 election manifesto, the ANC is unambiguous about its commitment to fight corruption. It states clearly “Corruption must be stamped out”. Therefore, when Cosatu calls for allegedly corrupt ministers to be investigated, readers of the manifesto would quite logically expect the ANC’s political morality to side with Vavi, rather than with the ministers.

In line with the spirit of the ANC manifesto, Cosatu was right in calling for President Zuma to investigate the ministers, since Zuma is the leader of Cabinet. His unwillingness to investigate – and the ANC’s threats to charge Vavi – leaves us with no option but seriously to doubt if Zuma is indeed committed to the manifesto of his party, which says “Corruption must be stamped out”.

Who will investigate who?

While our nation continued to wonder as to when President Zuma will finally institute an investigation against the ministers, the theatrical moment got even more unbelievable. Serious allegations now dominate our newspapers that, beyond the near-dearth Schabir Shaik, Zuma is currently being corrupted by a family from India, the Guptas. The Kumba/ArceloMittal saga – in which the Guptas and Zuma’s very own son were controversially involved – conjures up kleptocratic images, reminiscent of former Zairian leader Mobutu Sese Seko, who used his office to amass wealth. Suddenly, the Zuma surname seems to have become a winning business formulary.

When corruption allegations were levelled against ministers, Cosatu thought that Zuma was the suited higher authority to institute an investigation. Of course, this did not happen. Now that a cloud of corruption hangs over Zuma himself, a more difficult question demands answers: Who will investigate who? As for the ANC, we now know that the party sides with those who are alleged of corruption. Therefore, we can rest assured that the party will threaten anyone who would dare call for Zuma’s investigation. Fortunately, the author of this column is not a Cosatu Secretary General, he would certainly be charged for expressing an opinion.

All this happens against the backdrop of concerted efforts to prevent the media from reporting critically about acts of corruption on the part of those who hold public office. There is a party spokesperson with an interesting dental formula who is on record saying that journalists must be jailed. Coincidentally, this spokesperson comes from Mpumalanga, a province where politicians who speak against corruption literally get killed. If the mooted media tribunal does not succeed in silencing journalists, one can only hope that what happens to honest politicians in Mpumalanga will not happen to journalists, or to the author of this column. As we have all witnessed, the jailing of journalists has already begun.

Parallel to efforts to silence independent media, the public broadcaster – the SABC – is brazenly being remodelled as a media desk of the ANC. Recently on Siki Mgabadeli’s show, the new head of SABC news, Phil Molefe, comically announced what he calls his “new strategy”, which is a rehash of the ANC’s five priorities: jobs, crime, health, education and rural development.

While these priorities are indeed noble, it is rather strange when the head of news of the national broadcaster parrots them exactly as they appear in President Zuma’s speeches. Should we be surprised, therefore, that the SABC does not tell our nation that there are allegations that the president is corrupt? Imagine the SABC being the only source of information for us; would we have known how dirty our politicians are by watching news at seven?

Protect freedom of expression

We must not forget that the threat to clip the wings of the media is a matter far bigger than the clamour to protect silly journalists; it is a fundamental question of the freedom of expression. Unlike that of an animal, the human spirit has a natural urge for self-expression that politicians – however drunk with power – must never be allowed to trammel. In an article published in 1940, entitled Freedom and the Colleges, acclaimed philosopher Bertrand Russell makes this point with unequalled eloquence:

Let it be remembered that what is at stake...is the freedom of the individual human spirit to express its beliefs and hopes for mankind, whether they be shared by many or by few or none. New hopes, new beliefs, and new thoughts are at all times necessary to mankind, and it is not out of a dead uniformity that they can be expected to arise.

Imagine if all of us were like Phil Molefe, whose “new strategy” reproduces a dead uniformity with Zuma. Imagine if the thoughts we hold as individuals were to be expressed only if they are shared by many. Imagine if the freedom of the individual human spirit to express its beliefs and hope were to be threatened by the possibility of being punished harshly by a media tribunal, or suppressed by an apartheid-like Protection of Information Bill, introduced by latter-day looters of public funds who masquerade as leaders. This might please an unintelligent spokesperson from Mpumalanga, but it would certainly do very little to release the natural urge of the human spirit freely to express itself.

Corruption has brought our nation speedily to the brink of collapse. Like cancer, money has spread into every corner of South Africa’s body politic; a colossal social catastrophe is imminent. Many in society now see politics as a great stage of clowns; the integrity of our public institutions has been hollowed out. The most talented in our communities no longer feel the urge to serve the public, and the stage is left completely to the dumbest of fools. The danger of foolishness is that when it fails to persuade, it resorts hastily to force.

In times like this, all truly patriotic South Africans have a national duty to tell the truth about the unfolding drama before our own eyes. We must seize every space and opportunity to make it known that Zwelinzima Vavi is right in calling for an investigation against allegedly corrupt Ministers, or the President himself. If we do not do this, we will not have answers when our children ask: Where were you and what did you do when South Africa began to degenerate?

- Prince Mashele is Executive Director of the Centre for Politics and Research (www.politicsresearch.co.za) and a member of the Midrand Group

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