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Another Commission of Inquiry: pass the air-fresher.

23 October 2012, 14:18

Warning: This article contains toilet humour and pungent truths that some might find offensive.

The farce of inquiries

In South Africa, a commission of inquiry is very much like the apple-scented air-freshener in the bathroom. The truth is that crap just happened, we all know it, and no amount of air-freshener will convince anybody otherwise.

South Africa’s never ending stream of commissions of inquiry leave a bad smell. They are farcical attempts (and were during the apartheid regime) to convince the public that “government takes this matter very seriously”. So seriously, in fact, that it is prepared to spend millions of taxpayer Rands and even claim the resultant jobs in its figures on reducing unemployment.

The commissions create jobs for commissioners, stenographers, refreshment vendors and stationery suppliers… all in an attempt to obfuscate (an excellent word for stirring up the dust to hide the real issue) the real crisis until current interest has sufficiently waned. The government of the day can rest assured that another mess of monumental proportions is waiting just around the corner, soon to be stepped in by an investigative journalist, and ultimately, held aloft by an ANC spokesperson to proudly trumpet the government’s commitment to fighting against crime and corruption.

The wonderfully circular repetition of commissions of inquiry means that a new one can be fired up, yet more jobs can be “created”, former judges hauled up to Johannesburg from their boring lives of retirement in some quiet, dusty, Karoo town, and all those pesky, existing inquiries quietly relegated to a dusty retirement of their own.

Previous Commissions of Inquiry

In 2003, the Hefer Commission into Bulelani Ngcuka’s alleged role and involvement as an apartheid spy, was continuously thwarted by uncooperative witnesses, including South Africa’s president.

The dubious Donen Commission of 2006 eventually released findings of questionable completeness and with the real issues unresolved. That ineffective commission involved the UN oil-for-food scandal - Oilgate. South Africa’s current deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe allegedly paid bribes to secure oil consignments for South African companies, while a company that worked with housing minister Tokyo Sexwale allegedly paid kickbacks to secure oil supply contracts.

Menzi Simelane lied like a cheap watch in giving evidence before the Ginwala commission of 2008. The commission was essentially established to assess whether Vusi Pikoli was fit for the office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions – a position, one might assume, that requires a candidate of impeccable of integrity. The lying witness was later appointed deputy national director of public prosecutions!

The arms deal inquiry

Approximately a year ago, Zuma finally consented to and announced the terms of reference for an inquiry into the multi-billion rand arms deal, under enormous pressure from the challenge to the Constitutional Court by super-campaigner, Terry Crawford-Browne.  The country’s president was forced into a position where many ANC politicians’ dirty laundry would be aired in court or he could buy some time and announce a commission of inquiry.

That commission has two years to do its work – or perhaps more accurately, the ANC has two years to push through its bill suppressing media reporting, the “secrecy bill”.

Rather inevitably though, a few cracks are already starting to appear in the ANC’s commitment to uncovering the truth about bribes paid in the arms deal. The fact that bribes were paid is not even an issue requiring investigation – it is common cause to all except ANC bribe beneficiaries and myopic loyalists.

Just a few days ago, the Director General in the Department of Justice, Nonkululeko Sindane, put on her saddest face and bravely stopped just short of shedding tears, while explaining to a parliamentary portfolio committee about the resources that this inconvenient Arms Deal Commission were chewing up. Her poor, little, strained face tugged at the heartstrings of all those compassionate ANC members and only the unfeeling opposition MP’s raised their eyebrows in disbelief.

Her gloomy tale would have us believe that the R40 million arms deal inquiry is diverting funds and energy from the Justice Department’s core functions. One can only understand this to mean that getting to the truth of the arms deal should rather be left to the Department of Agriculture, where it can be buried on nationalised farmland.

Marikana Commission

Conveniently, we now that we have the more immediate urgency of the Marikana Commission to distract us.

The astonishing part about our apple-scented air freshener, where South Africa is concerned, is that at least the fellow who just had the crap comes out of the bathroom looking vaguely sheepish. Not so, for our shamelessly corrupt and criminal political elite. Mostly, they walk out, head held high, without even bothering with the air-freshener of truth.

With comforting predictability, enter centre stage Jacob Zuma, our own paragon of virtue. The dancing and grinning stops only long enough for a sombre pronouncement, some heartfelt sympathies extended to grieving families and government’s firm commitment to getting to the bottom of this. The only bottom that the energetic president really seems interested in, is the lithe bottom of another maiden, charmed by his smile, enviable dancing confidence and incomprehensible wealth. I digress…

South Africa’s president recently neatly sidestepped the cause of discontent that gave rise to the latest Marikana commission of inquiry and, to the utter astonishment of spectators, managed to hurtle forwards while clinging to the presidential political ball.

Conference at Mangaung

One can already imagine ANC supporters rousing themselves from their slumber behind government desks so that they can furiously hammer out some witty retort that they are ANC supporters and not Zuma supporters. He was the leading candidate in the previous election, is probably the leading candidate in the next, and so quite simply put, voting for the ANC will put Zuma in the driver’s seat – it really cannot be a surprise to anybody. For as long as a man with 783 unanswered criminal charges of corruption, money laundering, racketeering and bribery against him is an acceptable face for a political party governing a country, expect more commissions and nothing of substance.

At the ANC elective conference of Mangaung to be held soon, the leader of that party who will take this country forward, or further backward, will be decided.

The ANC can spray all the air-freshener they want, but we all know what they just did… had a crap on your vote.

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