This tjatjarag nation will reveal its mettle

2012-01-28 11:56

This week I debated the leader of the opposition in Parliament, Lindiwe Mazibuko, on whether young professionals have a bright future in South Africa. Duh! Of course they do.

“Africa is the new hot” was the mantra out of the World Economic Forum in Davos this week – especially if you are young, gifted and professional. A skills-starved economy soaks up the skilled, and it’s a myth that employment equity displaces white talent.

The debate was about the future of young professionals, not the 3 million poor and unemployable young South Africans who have no way in. Unless we find them a way in, the desirable future that glimmers so tantalisingly on the horizon will pale.

But to be professional and, therefore, middle class means a good life here. Some people who live on the comfy side of the Gini coefficient, however, take joy in believing that life in South Africa is like existing on the bottom deck of the Titanic. That we are about a block away from Shit Creek.

For a while, as we studied and reported on the patterns of corruption, I thought it had us beat. That we were officially a corrupt nation. If you put macro- and micro-patterns together, it added up.

Auditor-General reports, plus the value of losses to corruption tallied by the Special Investigating Unit, come to roughly the same figure – that about R25 billion has been lost to corrupt practices and mismanagement over the medium term.

The tender system has been subverted by cronyism and a bastardisation of preferential procurement – a good policy turned sour as it was originally meant to use the ample state budget as leverage to build a class of entrepreneurs. All we’ve constructed is a generation of tenderpreneurs who fuel public sector inflation by overcharging for most things from pens to pharmaceuticals.

As the shame that is Limpopo shows, often these tenderpreneurs are politicians and civil servants, or exist in corrupt and symbiotic relationships with bent businesspeople.

Our series of investigations into the business dealings of the (still incumbent) ANC Youth League president Julius Malema showed he and his cronies had commandeered tenders in housing, infrastructure and pharmaceutical procurement through breathtaking systems of state outsourcing, all of which are under investigation by the Hawks and the Public Protector. It looks like larceny, though the final verdict is not yet out.

But as usual, this tjatjarag nation will reveal its mettle. The Treasury investigation and takeover of the provincial coffers may well be politically convenient, but it is way overdue, if poorly planned. The looting had to stop.

As journalists, we know the appetite to fight corruption is big if the numbers of whistle-blowers we deal with is anything to go by. But to be at the launch of the Cosatu-led Corruption Watch on Thursday was to witness the beginning of a fight we can and must win.

The organisation (or movement, as it must become) is a carefully constructed United Democratic Front of civil society weighted against the greatest cancer of our time. Union-led, it has representatives from civil society, including churches, the judiciary, business and politics.

It leverages social media like Kenya has done to develop a mass-based system of allowing ordinary people to rat on corruption. Clever people analyse the patterns to find hotspots, draw up investigations and use their political connections (read Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi) to put pressure on officials to act.

I pray it will work – that the gory eat-fest of conspicuous consumption that has come with the era of political tenderpreneurs can be beaten. It never suited this fine country and on Thursday, we began to say “Enough!”.

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