I cannot say I was surprised, though saddened, at the outcome of the recent survey released by research company TNS South Africa, last Tuesday that indicates that the perception that corruption is fast becoming a way of life in our country is ‘becoming completely entrenched’.
What saddens me most about the picture painted by the survey is the implication this has on me as a public servant.
You see two months ago I composed a yet to be published poem titled The Patronage of Saints, which for the benefit of driving my point home I reluctantly publish now on this platform.
The Patronage Of Saints
How reliable is the memory of those moved by political or material ambition
Foes drink from the same cup
Justice is blindfolded
Moral consciousness is perverted
Such is the sway of patronage
The patronage of saints
When the elect are assured of their undeserved lot
From the cake of public funds
When the state machinery is deployed at wanton by those holding key to patronage
Then the nation is deprived of its public faith
The betrayal of the patronage of saints breeds moral degeneracy
Moral degeneracy is home to a conscienceless society
You may be wondering, what has prompted a young civil servant like me, besides considering myself a poet of sorts, to compose such as piece, which seems more like self-indictment?
Like an employee of any company who might be deemed to be doing well by those hoping to break into the job market, I do not find it strange time and again when family members and people around me in general ask me, “How do I get a job at your municipality, how do I get in”? Considering their circumstances I think it is only fair that they ask, after all there is a zulu saying that goes ‘indlela ibuzwa kwaba phambili’ meaning the road ahead is known by those who have travelled it.
Equally so, given the nature of my work I am also not surprised when service providers, especially emerging entrepreneurs, ask me “How do we get access to those tenders?” Given that I work at the heart of my organisation’s communication system, I, after all ought to know which doors to direct these people to.
My poem was birthed out of an attempt to capture the collective loathsome feeling that I have been picking up over the seven years I have been labouring at provincial and local government level.
When you are constantly confronted by the reality that emerging entrepreneurs and ordinary people on the ground are no longer worried that they might be asked for a bribe when they visit institutions where they are supposed to get constitutionally guaranteed services, instead now you become worried that they will want to bribe you, then you know that ‘the nation is deprived of its public faith’ – people have lost confidence in the notion that it is still possible in this day and age to make an honest living.
Personally I have had instances, and I know so has many of my colleagues, where in my line of work I have helped someone in a way they did not expect from a public servant, and that prompted them to feel I deserved a special kind of gratitude beyond the words thank you. In all instances those that I helped were shocked that I expected nothing more in return.
The implication of the deafening outcomes of the survey by TNS South Africa means that the commitment to the spirit of public service which many of us public servants try to embody is continuously thwarted by the few of us who continue to undermine the trust that once accompanied the offices we hold.
The collective loathsome feeling I referred to earlier is a national state of affairs –
whether real or perceived – that has left the citizenry with a helplessly bitter taste in their mouth.
From the lower to the upper echelons of the public service system there is an urgent need to rewrite the moral code that defines who we are and how we conduct business. Those of us that have chosen the path of civil service must abandon the Hollywood aspirations which are not congruent with the offices we occupy.
We need to take a hard look in the mirror and accept that there is no smoke without fire. Once we have done that, we then have to extinguish the fire and clear the room of public perception of the smoke that threatens to choke the life out of our collective moral consciousness.