Dethroning our Numero Unos

2017-11-26 06:13
FILE: Robert Mugabe in 2016. (Jekesai Njikizana, AFP)

FILE: Robert Mugabe in 2016. (Jekesai Njikizana, AFP)

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The term Numero Uno (Number One) is used in this article to refer to anybody who puts desire for wealth and power for themselves and for compliant family members, friends and toadies first, with little or no concern for the good of others, or for moral integrity and truth. Idi Amin, Robert and Grace Mugabe, with her disgusting extravagance and that of their sons – as reported in City Press on November 19 – our own corrupt elements and all who are involved in state capture are obvious examples.

South Africa is cursed with an outbreak of this evil. It is a deadly danger, at times literally so, as when rivals for power and wealth are assassinated. But even without resorting to murder, our Numero Unos are a serious evil doing grave damage to our wellbeing.

Here is why. These corrupt and greedy individuals divert resources earned by honest, hard-working taxpayers from those who are ethically and legally entitled to them: our children and the poor who need medical care, but also from the rest of us who depend on well-equipped, reliable police services, fire brigades, good infrastructure and more.

That makes these Numero Unos little more than disgusting financial parasites who prefer to rob others for personal gain to the slow, hard work of building honest wealth.

The plague of the Numero Unos is, however, not just a matter of stolen money. When it extends to state capture, it paralyses vital parts of the institutions and structures needed for democracy to function properly and for justice to prevail. This happens when members of the police, public prosecution, public broadcasting, utilities and even public education are sucked in by the lure of financial favours. Instead of serving the public without fear or favour, they look after their own pockets, exchanging honour for cheap loyalty with those who have captured their souls and who reward them with fatness.

That such developments harm truth, justice and the economic wellbeing of the nation is obvious. Therefore the rest of us, the decent, honourable people of the country, must stop these Numero Unos and remove them from power permanently and decisively. Otherwise South Africa will end up a doomed gangster state – doomed because this evil merely consumes the wealth created by honest, hard-working people and emaciates the nation. It encourages tax evasion by angry citizens, emigration of essential, skilled people and results in a shrinking pool of taxpayers.

How can we rid the nation of this curse? Waking up to its deadly danger is a good start. Talking about it with friends, family and colleagues is another step we can all make. Our religious leaders must preach and pray about it as powerfully as they can, whatever their faith. Building a register of everybody we know to be implicated in corruption and state capture by our ethics agencies must happen so that they can receive their just recompense once they have been disempowered.

Next, we can show our contempt for these Numero Unos by publicly mocking their evil. Here is one way of doing so, based both on a style of satirical verse created by the American poet Anthony Hecht and on the isiZulu word fezela, for scorpion, which is a reminder of the lost anti-corruption work of the disbanded Directorate of Special Operations or Scorpions.

Fezela! Fezela! The Numero Unos

Approached by their cronies

Seeking money to make,

Answer them all with a wink and a nod,

Saying ‘Why should we make

When we can just take!’

This article ends with a warning and a promise to Numero Unos who persist in their wicked ways. It has been said that the most important truth about the world at this time is that the economic have-nots – the poor and oppressed – are coming for the haves. While this is certainly happening, it is not the most important truth. More important still is for our Numero Unos to understand that the moral haves, who are the great majority of our people, are coming for the moral have-nots, like them. We will keep coming until South Africa is purged of their evil, just as we have been seeing from decent Zimbabweans. Mercifully, we no longer execute those convicted of gross evil, but we can lock them away for life. Better would be for our Numero Unos to mend their ways while there is still time, but time is running out.

Prozesky is a former academic specialising in ethics and religion. He now works as an independent researcher, writer and educator in these fields

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