Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba. Picture: Jabu Kumalo
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In the lead up to the "hotly" contested ANC Mangaung elective conference in 2012, President Jacob Zuma coined the term "clever blacks", an insult he fashioned for urban black South Africans who he believed had become "too clever".
For President Zuma, these men and women were the embodiment of that which he abhorred and had work tirelessly to suffocate in the African National Congress (ANC) – intellectualism.
Intellectualism – particularly in politics – is not just a dedication to the contest of ideas; a contest which serves to shape policy that ought to positively impact South Africans.
Beyond this, intellectualism is lumped with other deeply important values and ideas for the furtherance of our collective common good. Those viewed as intellectuals are also expected to hold the highest levels of integrity and independence.
Given the president's track record and the company he elects to keep, it is easy to understand why he would reject those who display even a hint of these characteristics; preferring those who are subservient and beholden to him to be at his side.
As we all know, the president has a knack for turning these people into his useful fools. The image of a seemingly distressed and sweating Nathi Nhleko, the then minister of police, desperately trying to explain away the president's Nkandla scandal, is forever imprinted onto our collective memory.
Of course, some of these individuals allow themselves to be used for what they can gain as well. ANC veterans, for example, can be fervent supporters of the president one minute and swing to firm critics the next – many of them berating Zuma and his Gupta cohorts. Is it their intention to support the ousting of the president, in the same way they supported him to usurp Thabo Mbeki, so that they themselves can feed from the trough of plenty?
I find it dishonest that the ANC veterans are silent when it comes to the corruption of their members who are exposed daily by the City of Johannesburg, members of their rank who show no regard for the people they're stealing from. Where is the integrity of the ANC?
I would wager this blind eye can be explained by the sudden pinch felt by some in the ANC who no longer have access to the metros' purses. I think it would be fitting for the ANC to come out and say exactly where they stand on corruption in the metros, once and for all. In fact, I challenge them to do so.
In the City of Joburg, we have been actively fighting corruption, but from what I have observed, this hasn't gone down well with the ANC.
During my 30 plus years in business, and now over 14 months in government, I have had ample encounters with so-called clever blacks.
These are men and women who keep us honest as leaders, who poke and prod at the world around them in order to better understand it, and who possess the skills, and importantly, the optimism, needed to carry our country forward.
It pains me to say that, during my time in government, I have also witnessed how some of these very same black people have been corrupted by the culture enforced by the ANC in the past.
Having a seat at the ANC's table was once a hotly contested prize. It was a symbol of economic emancipation, power, and success – alluring bait for anyone.
Captured by this promise, many of our people, some of whom were truly talented professionals, entered government as cadres to the (fallen) movement.
If we are honest with each other, the problem with cadre deployment is that it serves as a building block for what we call state capture today. The very notion of state capture relies on the existence of cascading patronage networks, starting at the very top of government and devolving to employees in lower structures. It also relies on a carefully nurtured culture of corruption and willful mismanagement within government.
And so, inducted into this environment, those who would otherwise be upstanding and sober-minded individuals become corrupted automatons charged with doing the bidding of ANC leaders who care only for their interests, at the cost of residents, and sometimes even their own cadres.
In the City, I have witnessed seemingly competent black, and some young, professionals sacrifice their reputations and careers, either because they assisted in the facilitation of corrupt dealings, or because they are so deeply rooted in defending the former regime's position that they, in turn, position themselves as obstacles to the new government.
The question is, what is there to defend?
The ANC-led administration presided on close to R16 billion in corruption.
This level of corruption would not have been possible without "loyal cadres" who, by deed or omission, failed to act against the corruption they saw, because they themselves were so captured.
Indeed, since beginning the fight against corruption within the City, we have uncovered over 2000 cases that demanded investigation.
Sensing the changing times and rising waters, 13 employees, some of whom include senior city officials, chose to abandon ship rather than face accountability for their part in the ANC-sanctioned levels of corruption uncovered.
For these I can only say, you may run, but there will be nowhere to hide. The rule of law will catch up with you.
In the fight against corruption, we have suspended over 100 employees to date, while others have been dismissed from service or even arrested and sentenced.
These were men and women who, but for the influence of the ANC, could have meaningfully contributed to the residents of this city.
I urge talented black professionals working in or looking to join to the public sector to embrace a professional, non-partisan, honest, and accountable attitude to their careers.
Let us end the ANC's destruction of professional black talent.
Nothing bothers me more than seeing such immense potential destroyed.
- Mashaba is mayor of the City of Johannesburg.
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*The headline of this article was modified after publication.
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