The F-word: Rulers who don’t play by their rules

2013-05-06 10:00

If ever we were in doubt, we should not be any more. The art of doublespeak has become official state policy.

The state is forever saying something and doing the direct opposite. They ask one thing of the citizen and don’t take their own advice.

The latest Gupta embarrassment is a case in point.

Our political leaders are forever telling us nobody is above the rule of law, yet guests of a politically connected family are able to circumvent the most basic of rules when entering a foreign country: that of presenting a passport at customs and, if you have anything to declare, doing so there.

In effect, the Gupta guests were no different to those who crawl under a fence, except that they were brazen enough to do this in full view of the authorities.

Instead of what correctly should have been called illegal immigrants being rounded up and sent back to where they came from – as happened with some Nigerians arriving here with alleged fake yellow fever certificates – they stayed on and enjoyed what their hosts’ money was able to buy.

At every given opportunity, the state appeals to the rule of law, divine teachings or that all-embracing “it is unAfrican” to appeal to a sense of right or wrong. Yet when faced with the same situations, they hide behind opaque rules and documents such as the presidential or ministerial handbooks.

Members of Parliament also keep their business interests safe from the public eye through their own confidential register.

The special dispensation given to the Guptas is starkly different to what small subsistence businesses are faced with. While the Guptas literally have a free ride and the likes of BHP Billiton enjoy subsidised electricity rates, small businesses are now faced with a myriad laws intending to make their already hard lives even more difficult.

Not content with wanting those who sell liquor on Sunday to stop, it now wants everyone who sells anything to register and have a permit.

As the state argues, with its envisaged ban on selling alcohol on Sunday, this is for our own good.

While there is every reason to believe there will be those whom the state successfully flushes out, the majority of its victims will be those caught in the crossfire of a gun battle they did not even know was happening.

It is the classic case of those who have a hammer as the only tool in their box seeing every problem as a nail.

It seems, for the state, the only way to deal with the social problems affecting the majority is to legislate. For the elite minority, the rules are, however, negotiable.

Small businesses, including taverns, are a direct outcome of a socially engineered project.

According to the state’s own numbers, there are 4.5?million jobless South Africans, excluding the 2.3?million who have given up the search for jobs.

So, with about 7?million people unemployed, it is a no-brainer that many will attempt to find ways of making a living.

The majority will try to do this legally by trying their hand at selling goods like loose cigarettes at street intersections or services such as hairdressing from their shacks. The state now wants to enact a law, the Licensing of Businesses Bill, to make life that little bit harder for them.

One is tempted to suspect the state wants a reason to criminalise its own citizens.

As is the case with the liquor laws, the state says this is for these businesses’ own good.

But it is getting ridiculous. The state cannot on the one hand say it encourages entrepreneurship and do whatever it can to kill it. It cannot celebrate April 27 as the day South Africa became free, yet continue treating citizens as children who need the state to nanny them.

The nation-building project demands that leaders lead by example. They must not make laws that are nothing but a burden to citizens, especially if they and their friends have no intention of following them.

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