Tjatjarag: Are we going to walk away from Nkandla?

2012-11-10 10:31

In a course I do with the Africa Leadership Initiative, we study a parable by Ursula K LeGuin called The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

Omelas is presented in its opening pages as a utopia: the people are at leisure, living the good life, and all is beautiful.

But Omelas has a dark secret.

Buried in a dirty basement of this “perfect” place is a child of indeterminate age. She or he is dirty and unkempt, and wails.

But the people of Omelas are warned against visiting or helping in any way or their way of life will be imperilled.

Most of the townsfolk enter the pact, exchanging social solidarity for the good life.

But some walk away, never to be seen again.

The leadership initiative is a two-year course moderated by the US Aspen Institute with the aim of turning successful leaders into impactful ones who will not walk away.

Omelas is a metaphor for all the things elites tend to ignore to maintain the status quo: poverty, the wealth gap and joblessness.
The course tries to make people aware of all our Omelases and how, in the end, it’s impossible to walk away.

South Africa’s spirit is generally a can-do one: we are a muck-in, do-good, straight-shooting and tough-talking people.

But because of past pain and a history in still-sharp relief, we tend to walk away when things get too tough. Who can blame us, coming from a system that for decades felt intractable?

Put an Aids story on the front page these days and your readers won’t pick it up.

While a gifted health minister has turned the prevention, treatment and care of people infected with HIV or Aids into a normal part of public life, there were years when we averted our eyes from a challenge that felt like a bridge too far.

The aftermath of Marikana is proving the same. A front cover we designed to remember all the dead miners was spurned by readers. This as a century of migrant labour and a low-wage economy has caught up with our mining industry. Fatigue will set in soon. We know it shouldn’t, but it does.

Nothing I’ve seen suggests we possess the will to deal with the fallout. In the past month, I’ve detected the next thing we will walk away from: corruption.

Too big. Too nasty. Too entrenched. Too hard for a country whose people want to party like there’s no tomorrow.

On the Nkandla splurge, there is a frustration with our profligate president’s spending on his posh pozzie, but we are going to walk away.

Several people whom I’ve spoken to in the past week, and regard very highly, have sipped the Kool-Aid.

“No, but JZ paid for the upgrade, he said so. Government only paid for security.” Okay.

But, as we’ve shown in City Press, the public works department (that’s us, the citizenry) has paid R248 million towards the Nkandla upgrade.

The Ministerial Handbook allows for private residence security upgrades of R100 000 and that’s it. We, the citizenry, have picked up the tab for lifts, air-conditioning, construction and other items a thousand square miles removed from any definition of security.

Consultants have creamed it to the tune of R44 million. But the ANC is so sold on its mantra of continuity and unity that it is going to walk away from this. And, I think, the public will follow, too damn tired of graft to put up a fight.

And, so, we will become like Omelas, Italy, Colombia and Nigeria, places where corruption is tolerated and embroidered into how
we do business.

But Nkandla is taking it too far. It is, in my opinion, naked corruption, where transfers are made straight from the fiscus to the first citizen.

It’s not Oilgate, the transfer of tender profits to the governing party; Chancellor House, the granting of contracts to the ANC’s funding arm; or On-Point, the sophisticated procurement chicanery of Julius Malema and his ilk.

It is direct enrichment covered up by an old apartheid law. How can we walk away from this?

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