Nene's demise illustrates havoc Zuma sowed in civil service

Former president Jacob Zuma waves to the crowd on his way to court in Durban. Photo: Reuters
Former president Jacob Zuma waves to the crowd on his way to court in Durban. Photo: Reuters

Thembinkosi Gcoyi

The downfall of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene is a painful blow to the #thumamina agenda. As a bulwark against the destruction wrought by former president Jacob Zuma, Nene is deserving of our highest praise for his steadfastness in rebuffing efforts to sell our country to the highest bidder.

It is a supreme tragedy that having withstood the onslaught against him, he has compromised himself by withholding information that can be deemed to be in the national interest.

Many South Africans are currently at a loss about what to make of his downfall. Many are disappointed by his lack of honesty, especially because he had the opportunity to share his story at a time when it was "safe" to do so.

Many would like to believe that there must be genuine reasons why he chose not to admit to his many Gupta meetings considering that he views them as being harmless and inconsequential. Still many others believe that he was stupid by not revealing these, even though his actions after his frequent visits to Saxonwold clearly demonstrate integrity and good sense.

One is inclined to believe Nene made a mistake in withholding information about his meetings with the Guptas.

My preoccupation is not with Nene, per se. Rather, it is with the havoc that has been wrecked on many a political and civil service career by Zuma's administration, Nene being simply one of the good people we are about to lose for good.

Since 2009, South Africa has experienced a high rate of attrition in its public service. Capable civil servants have either been compromised irreparably, or simply threw in the towel to seek greener pastures elsewhere to avoid the inevitability of power exertion by crooked politicians seeking easy access to public resources. Pick a department and you will find a casualty fitting into one or other of these two categories. 

Many public servants have had their careers cut short by the nefarious deeds foisted upon them by political principals. As more skeletons, nyana or otherwise, tumble out of the proverbial closet, more people will find their careers prematurely terminated because they were compromised by their political principals.

In our euphoria, we should not neglect to ask ourselves fundamental questions about the kind of state we have created; one which allows politicians the kind of power they wield over the civil service to the detriment of the common good. As long as our system of governance makes it possible for politicians to run riot over public servants, South Africa will continue to be faced with variations of the state capture phenomenon.

Truth be told, most of our politicians from across the political spectrum have or are going to establish unpalatable connections in the normal course of their political duties. This is inevitable. In my view, this does not matter. What matters is whether they have the ability, institutionally, to act in the service of these relationships and to the detriment of the general public. Unfortunately, they do!

Over the course of our democracy, our system of governance has demonstrated an alarming inability to prevent politicians from using the levers of state to advance the interests of non-state actors. In the process, good people who have worked diligently to build their careers have been put at the mercy of power drunk politicians willing to compromise the very republic they swore to protect to achieve their ends.

The destruction wrought on South Africa by Zuma and his acolytes is testament to the weaknesses of our state. We have allowed politicians too much power in determining our future. Not enough power has been vested in the public service in a way that protects civil servants and that empowers them to hold their ground against intrusion by politicians, who by their vocation, are temporary and transient.

Civil servants should not require inner strength to do their jobs diligently. Going to work should not induce anxiety because political principals are given the power of life and death over the careers of people who are trying to serve all of us and to make this country a better place. Rather, we should build a system that celebrates excellence and fosters creativity, innovation and ingenuity to surmount the daunting challenges facing South Africa. We should understand and accept that the public service requires the best talent for it to contribute to the achievement of a better South Africa for all.

The hard job of rebuilding government is upon #thumamina. Institutional protections should be our first port of call to ensure that good people are able to do their jobs without fearing political principals and their whimsical nonsense.

- Thembinkosi Gcoyi is the managing director of Frontline Africa Advisory. Follow him on Twitter: @tgcoyi

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