#Justice4Vernie: 'ANC unleashed subtle apartheid tactics on its own people'

2019-03-05 05:00
A tribute rally was held for the late Vernie Petersen at St George’s Cathedral on 2 March 2019. (Neil Cole)

A tribute rally was held for the late Vernie Petersen at St George’s Cathedral on 2 March 2019. (Neil Cole)

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With the greatest of respect, I would like to greet everyone in attendance at this tribute gathering for Uncle Vernie Petersen.

I would like to send my special greetings to his family, his wife, aunt June Petersen, and his sons Ruari and Dylan Petersen.

I stand here today as a representative of my family, the family of the late Mr Lennox Garane, to offer our solidarity to the Petersen family. More specifically, I stand here to voice my family's unreserved support to the call made by Uncle Vernie's comrades, friends and family – the call for #Justice4Vernie.

It is common cause that this event has been precipitated by the revelations of the state capture commission testimonies of Angelo Agrizzi and Dennis Bloem. The subsequent call for an investigation into the circumstances that led to Uncle Vernie's death is a noble one; and acceding to this call by the relevant institutions is a correct thing to do.

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It is a sad thing that it had to take a confession by one of the agents of perversion of our society for our people to realise the depth of the rot in public administration. This, in spite of many reports in the media that depicted Uncle Vernie's many challenges with his political principals as a result of his stance against corruption.

Why was Dennis Bloem a lone voice in support of Uncle Vernie, at least publicly? We need to ask ourselves as a society, why didn't we listen to Uncle Vernie? Why does the word of a reformed corruptor, if he is reformed, hold more weight that the victim's? Our people need to answer these questions for themselves and decide the future that they want to have.

For far too long, noble civil servants and state officials have borne the brunt of the rotten South African body politic transmitted into state organs. I have come to realise that there are many individuals who share similar experiences with Uncle Vernie; some of whom gave in and are now scared to talk for fear of incriminating themselves.

More concerning, though, is imagining how many people not as prominent as Uncle Vernie, have met their untimely demise after following their good conscience. How many judicious servants have been lost for refusing to assimilate into this culture that now dominates our public service and administration – the culture of looting with no regard to the suffering masses of our people?

It is reported that Minister Ayanda Dlodlo will establish a "Technical Assistance Unit for discipline, ethics and integrity" to institutionalise enforcement mechanisms to combat corruption and to increase accountability across all state organs. We do trust that these administrative reforms will also capacitate the Public Service Commission (PSC) and perhaps address matters of its jurisdiction over Parliament.

We live in a time where it is evident for all to see that the average South African politician's conscience has been perverted. Very few politicians are conscious of their primary obligation – TO BE THE SERVANTS OF THE PEOPLE. State officials are an important instrument in the value chain of delivering services to the people. For every corrupt politician there is, at the very least, one equally corrupt public servant (often corrupted under duress).

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Political executive authorities or office bearers can only execute their corrupt practices through a compliant administrator. We are here to salute those like Uncle Vernie who stood up for what is right. This choice came with vilification, betrayal and castigation by his own comrades. However, I am particularly appalled by the lack of protection for this calibre of public servants.

There exists no adequate proactive mediatory administrative justice mechanisms for the safeguard of state integrity and operations. The little that exists is easily manipulated and manoeuvred with ill intent. It is on record how the system failed individuals like Uncle Vernie and my own father, Lennox Garane.

My father's demise by his own hand was the last possible shout at all those with control of levers of the state power to take heed. It was also intended to be the loudest noise a human being can ever make for attention. We are here today, five months after my father's passing and eight years after Uncle Vernie's passing but we are still short of ears to listen.

In addition to calling for justice for the two giants I consider heroes, Uncle Vernie and my father, we need to have a singular cry for the South African public servant. The PSC roundtable report on causes of unfair treatment in public service paints a dire picture for our public servants. The report shows an increasing submission of grievances such as unfair treatment and workplace bullying. According to the PSC, "fair treatment, essentially fair labour practice in the workplace is a human rights issue". I dare say that this is but a manifestation of the deep corruption in our state organs.

ANC unleashed subtle apartheid tactics on its own people

Honest South African public servants are under attack from the same government they entrusted with upholding their human rights and dignity. Therefore, we should never be scared to say that it is a black government, it is the ANC government that has gone rouge and has unleashed subtle apartheid tactics on its own people.

It is clear to me that those we have elected to lead society have abandoned the values and principles upon which we, the masses, elected them. Otherwise, people like Uncle Vernie would have found the necessary protection from some of the structures to which they had reached out, including Parliament.

I have special appreciation for people like Mr Dennis Bloem who stood for principle during his time as chair of correctional services committee – all that he did despite knowing it compromised his political career. May his bravery and uprightness inspire many to follow suit.

People engulfed by hopelessness

Now, it would be amiss of me to come here and talk about the grievances about the civil service and generally the citizens without attempting my own diagnosis of the problem. What is the problem with our state? How do we find ourselves here? And, how do we extricate ourselves from this mess?

I cannot count the number of people who reached out concerned about my safety after my family's call for justice for my father. RIGHT THERE! There lies our problem! What I deduced from all the concerns was that the people are acutely aware of what is wrong but are engulfed by a deep state of resignation to hopelessness. Tyranny has been normalised so much that our people have internalised it as a way of life.

The people must refuse to normalise what is abnormal; must refuse to live life in the prison of fear at the hands of those entrusted with serving them. When people like my father and Uncle Vernie continue to stand up to tyrants alone, there can be no hope for our society. Only if society rises up against this post-apartheid tyranny shall we see change.

My family and I would be saddened to hear of another public servant denied justice. If the ruling elite cannot root out rouge elements within its ranks, it is only the people who can root out rouge elements within society. Democracy is very simple – you elect your servants, make them account to you, if they serve you earnestly give them more power; if not, revise your step one.

Today, we are reminded of a small part of our history where men and women were subjected to great overt brutality at the hands of apartheid machinery. The tactics applied sought to subjugate one race to another and to the benefit of one race at the expense of another. Our ancestors fought this evil so that none of their offspring may live in a society where one man or woman views themselves superior or inferior to another.

We now find ourselves in the same societal makeup, except that the current great divide is no longer race but political class (within which there is also political ranks) and also moral code. The people need to send an emphatic message to the political elite the best way they know how. Today the weakest and most wicked amongst us are entrusted with too big a responsibility, too grand a collective ambition for their moral compass.

An American civil rights movement veteran Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) taught us that "a people struggling for their freedom cannot depend on an outside force to push them into motion, they must have an internal dynamism of their own". Honest public servants should not wait for the perpetrators of their injustice to bring justice. If the state cannot establish sound accountability structures for protection of our honest public servants, our people need to organise such structures outside the state establishment.  

May the spirit of Uncle Vernie and Lennox Garane multiply! Thank you.

- Sithembiso Garane is an investment professional and the son of the late Lennox Garane. This is a speech he gave at a tribute rally for the late correctional services boss Vernie Petersen at St George's Cathedral in Cape Town.

Read more on:    vernie petersen  |  psc  |  public servants

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