What Does Shame Ever Achieve?

2013-03-03 19:01

We would like to think Jackie Selebi was ashamed after his conviction for corrupt doings, that prison taught Shabir Shaik some valuable wisdom about life, and that Tony Yengeni would make a great speaker on the motivational circle.

Then again, we take one earnest look at Kenny Kunene and his lifestyle, and we are doubtful.

Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe, whose recent announcement that his department would now name and shame state officials found guilty of corruption was received with measured optimism, seems to think that people of today are as shameful as they used to be when pregnant teenage girls where wheeled off to a relative’s farm, away where they would not cause untold shame to their families. Being named and shamed, Radebe is willing to gamble, will be so horrendous a thought to the would-be perpetrator today that they will decline the brown envelope just as the dodgy contractor sitting across them on the restaurant table surreptitiously hands it underneath.

But, of course, we know better.

We are, by now, used to hearing high-profile state officials profess to the inverse even as the truth has reached the attention of the public—Bill Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”; Leo Mugabe on poverty in Zimbabwe, “No one is starving—they are driving nice cars!”; Thabo Mbeki after an outbreak of xenophobic attacks in 2008, “There is no crisis”.

The ANC surely knows there is little it can expect in the form of positive results. We know corruption is a big problem in the South African government. But, as Radebe has admitted, naming and shaming does little but convey the message to the public that the government is doing something. Which is probably what the ANC really wants. Yet, as Corruption Watch and the DA have said, there continues to be a wide difference between those taken to court (or through some form of disciplinary process) and those who are convicted.

Hence I ask: What does shame ever achieve?

In “The Suit”, a Sophiatown parable by Can Themba, an unfaithful spouse is unable to endure any further shame at the hands of her husband and commits suicide; in Chinua Achebe’s “No Longer At Ease”, Obi Okonkwo brings disgrace to all of Umuofia such that a certain Mr Green, who is Obi’s boss, is not shocked, as the rest of Umuofia is, at Obi’s great fall—even with the best education, a promising African yields to the lures of corruption—but that Obi did so for a pittance.

When asked, in Genesis, of the whereabouts of his brother Abel, Cain offers the lie: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

For an ANC which has seen, under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma, corruption levels rise to unmatched levels and a membership that has taken a liking to alluding to Christian lore in fashioning its own story, shamelessness has only brought us rising dissatisfaction in the form of countless protests.


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