From ticket frippery to feudal thuggery

2010-07-03 00:00

HOW churlish to berate state entities for spending a piffling R50 million on World Cup tickets. Especially given that South Africa has already spent in excess of R40 billion to underwrite the event.

After all, this kind of schmoozing is an established marketing practice: stroking the egos of important clients in private hospitality suites at major sporting events. It supposedly builds relationships and cements deals in a convivial atmosphere.

There is, however, a world of difference. On the one hand, one has corporates spending revenue earned from sales to generate future profits. On the other, one has government departments spending taxes harvested from wealth creators to create fiscal shortfalls that they will recover from, umm, wealth creators.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan warned ministries, municipalities and parastatals months ago against such “wasteful, fruitless and irregular” expenditure. Yet, extraordinarily, many officials took not a blind bit of notice, and instead happily dipped into the taxpayer’s pocket to acquire tickets for themselves, their families and their cronies.

While the amounts are trifling in comparison with the hundreds of millions in state funds embezzled every year, the incident has important implications. These officials are unabashed about defying government regulations and ministerial edicts because they know that as deployed African National Congress cadres, they are shielded from any serious repercussions. This is the pot-holed track to unrestrained kleptocracy and is crippling to democratic governance.

Interestingly, the ANC Youth League, which has threatened to make opposition-run Cape Town “ungovernable” over the Khayelitsha “open toilets” dispute, is silent over officials wasting the funds of ANC-run municipalities and paying up to R14 800 a football ticket, while council offices country wide are regularly torched over service delivery failures.

It is difficult to feel that sorry for the Democratic Alliance over the toilet wars — in which it has been smeared as indifferent to black dignity — because it walked doe-eyed into an entirely predictable political ambush. But as with the football ticket frippery, the almost laughable fracas over what materials lavatories should be clad in is a reminder of corrosively anti-democratic elements within the ANC.

Helen Zille, the DA leader and Western Cape premier, argues in her online column that the “open society” envisaged in the Constitution exists only for a minority of South Africans. Millions of people “fear speaking their minds, taking their own decisions, if these contradict the position of the collective — ironically a small clique of self-appointed … gatekeepers … who use intimidation and violence to impose their views”.

Zille draws an analogy with Africa specialist Robert Guest’s description of “thugocrats” in Somalia, where nothing happens without the permission of the local warlord. There is unfortunately another South Africa just beyond the confident nation of the World Cup, she writes. “It is a South Africa in the grip of feudal authoritarianism”, where thugocrats intimidate those who differ from them and dispense patronage to those who acquiesce.

“This is the foundation of the closed, crony society that results in endemic corruption and eventually, a criminal state,” writes Zille.

That Zille is smarting over the lavatorial thumping her party has taken should not detract from the accuracy of her observations. The intimidatory tactics that the ANCYL used against the DA in Khayelitsha are not that different from the intimidation of those ANC Youth League members who dare challenge the views of the Julius Malema leadership.

Nor is that, in turn, many steps removed from thugocrats who declare “their” communities to be no-go areas for supporters of other political parties. Nor is that, in turn, far removed from first extorting money from shopkeepers who are refugees from elsewhere in Africa, then later torching them.

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