Melanie Verwoerd

Dancing to the politician's medley of 'It Wasn't Me'

2018-01-31 08:40
Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu testifies during the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings. (Alet Pretorius, Gallo Images, file)

Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu testifies during the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings. (Alet Pretorius, Gallo Images, file)

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Last week our politicians (not for the first time) reminded me of a group of toddlers. 

For once it had nothing to do with them throwing their toys around in Parliament – although I am sure we will see lots of that if President Jacob Zuma insists on going ahead with SONA next week.

It was the tsunami of "it wasn't me" behaviours that reminded me of belligerent 4-year-olds. 

The week started with the DA trying hard to pretend that no blame can be laid at their door for the looming Day Zero. Helen Zille, after tweeting a photo of her well manicured toenails in a bucket of water, (can someone PLEASE shut down the woman's Twitter account?) blamed the Weather Service for bad predictions and the national government for a lack of bulk water supply. 

Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane responded that it wasn't her (or the national government's) fault, but blamed Capetonians for not saving enough water. 

DA leader Mmusi Maimane sent a text around saying he had taken over the water crisis (we thought Helen I-wash-my-feet-in-a-waskom-Zille was), because he wasn't happy with the way it was handled till now (read: Patricia de Lille was to blame). 

In the meantime, Capetonians could not care less who is to blame. They are too busy panicking about what they are going to do in about 72 days from now, when the taps run dry. 

A thousand miles away, Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini, in between correcting the translator's interpretations of her answers, told us that she had no part in the Sassa dramas. Apparently, the fact that millions of grant recipients nearly did not get their money and that the whole debacle has cost the state a fortune had nothing to do with her as minister, but was the fault of the CEO of Sassa at the time, Thokozani Magwaza. 

If it wasn't so sad it would have been funny. Her angry glares at the unflappable Adv. Geoff Budlender and attempts to sidestep questions critical of her actions were extremely entertaining to watch. 

However, the TV channels should have perhaps warned that it was not suitable viewing for toddlers – just in case they were taking notes. Imagine thousands of toddlers around South Africa giving parents the "Bathabile glare" and pointing a finger at their innocent brother or sister when confronted with unacceptable behaviour! It could get ugly.

On the same day, not far away from the Sassa inquiry, the horror of the suffering of psychiatric patients continued to be exposed at the Life Esidimeni hearings. Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, under whose watch it happened, finally returned from overseas and came to the hearings. She mumbled through a statement at the speed of light, until Judge Dikgang Moseneke told her to slow down. Then the ducking and diving and blame games began. 

Her message? "Blame the officials. It wasn't me." How unbelievably painful that must be for the relatives of the 143 patients who died and the more than 60 who are STILL unaccounted for.

Of course, it wasn't only the politicians that were listening to Shaggy's "It wasn't me" on their iPods this week. At the Eskom inquiry in Parliament we saw some spectacular memory loss and denial. 

Former Eskom CFO Anoj Singh could not remember much of anything – except that he was not responsible for anything. Head of Generation at Eskom Matshela Koko also said that he had no involvement in the Eskom-Tegeta (Gupta) strategy – it was all to be blamed on someone else. 

Let me say to all the "it wasn't me" people: "SHAME ON YOU!" Whilst dripping with wealth, many of you have wasted billions of taxpayers' hard-earned money that should have been used to uplift the poorest of the poor. 

Others played with people's lives as if they were lifeless objects and caused unspeakable suffering. Instead of solving the problems that you are/were being paid to take responsibility for, you all continue to blame others. 

This spineless lack of responsibility and vacuum in moral leadership is most probably the worst legacy of the Zuma era. It has infected every corner of our society and needs to be eradicated fast, because like flesh eating bacteria it is tearing the fabric of our nation apart. 

As citizens we must demand that Cyril Ramaphosa restore some of the integrity and moral leadership that South Africa was admired for around the world after 1994. 

Because, to quote former US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall: 

"We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent from a nation that has buried its head in the sand, waiting in vain for the needs of its poor, its elderly, and its sick to disappear and just blow away. We must dissent from a government that has left its young without jobs, education or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because South Africa* can do better, because South Africa* has no choice but to do better."

(*my edit)

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    life esidimeni  |  eskom inquiry

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