Where are the other voices?

2015-08-05 14:50

The nation waited with bated breath for the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela to give a press briefing in response to the recent acerbic attacks by the ANC MPs that are on the ad-hoc committee looking into the report by the police minister on the Nkandla upgrades. Minister Nhleko’s much-maligned report exonerated President Zuma and absolved him of the responsibility of “paying back the money” as the Public Protector report had instructed him to.

As we have come to expect from her, Advocate Madonsela held her own as she dismantled the flimsy and intellectually weak criticisms of her report. Point by point she crushed each of the “misstatements” and “distortions” that were contained in Nhleko’s report as well as the statements issued by MPs such as committee chair Cedric Frolic and Mathole Motshekga and the who claimed that the Public Protector’s report had misled the nation. She maintained her stance that President Zuma must pay back a reasonable portion of the public money that was spent on non-security upgrades at his private Nkandla home.

During her speech she echoed a sentiment that she had expressed a few times before; “I will go to court only under extreme circumstances because I believe the people of South Africa have to protect this office”. This time, more than any other, this uncomfortable truth set in. As much as we would like her to be, she cannot be the lone crusader in the fight against the proverbial forces of darkness in the civil service. It cannot be that the only voice of reason in a society littered with failed institutions like ours is the Public Protector’s office (joined every now and then by a smattering of opposition parties and civil society organisations).

Parliament has, by and large, turned into a rubber-stamp for the executive and the ANC is using its majority to defend, by any means, the President and his executive. The Themba Godi led Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) is a far-cry from the one during the Andrew Feinstein era which actually held the executive to account by asking uncomfortable questions. The soft gloves approach is only disturbed when it is drowned by points of order followed by chants of “Pay Back the money!” by the EFF mob in red. This is then followed by eloquent “sick man” speeches from the DA’s Maimane and the UDM’s Holomisa who’s stinging barbs riles up the ANC MPs and a shouting match usually ensues. Much posturing and political point scoring from all sides is put on display, and then… nothing.

The hitherto silent judiciary recently took a public and united stand when a court order to detain Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir was ignored he was allowed to fly off into the desert. The court order was followed with vitriolic attacks by senior ANC office bearers like Secretary General Gwede Mantashe who claimed that the judiciary was encroaching and overreaching on the executive’s territory.Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, supported by the most senior figures in the judiciary issued a statement condemning what they termed unacceptable gratuitous attacks. He warned had these had potential to delegitimize the courts.

One wonders where the rest of South African Society is. The SA Council of Churches has in the past issued stern statements asking the president to stop playing the court jester and take the concerns of the people seriously. Apart from this, they have not said much. The broader church movement which had been a reliable ally in the fight against apartheid is now largely silent. Perhaps they are too busy dealing with the embarrassment brought about by pop-up “prophets” who are feeding their congregants rats, snakes and petrol.

In fact, one has to ask: Where are other faith-based organisations?

Did the Moral Regeneration Movement perish in the fire outside the Johannesburg High court that engulfed pictures of “Khwezi”- Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser? Did the moral rectitude of COSATU and Zwelinzima Vavi fall with his pants when he infamously broke his marriage vows at Cosatu house? Did the SA Chamber of Business lose its’ voice in the same drain that sucked down the GDP growth numbers? Who will protect that office?

The EFF deputy president Floyd Shibambu wrote an article questioning the struggle credentials of DR Blade Nzimande the Higher Education Minister. the SACP leader is one of the most high-profile critics of anyone who seems to oppose President Zuma. Shibambu’s question gave rise to a Twitter trend: #WhereWasBlade? The SACP, obviously stunned and embarrassed at this jibe could only release a glib statement saying Nzimande was “progressive academic who was a combatant in the battle of ideas”. That was a creative way of saying “we also don’t know where he was”.

After the initial attacks to the release of the “Secure in Comfort” report by the Public Protector, her letter to the President was leaked to the media and a round of insults was thrown her way. Advocate Madonsela issued a statement indicating that she was not fazed by some of the criticism levelled against her because; she said, “a lot of those insulting me are old enough to have been in the trenches with me but they were not there”. She said she had served in the ANC and took up arms when it wasn’t convenient to do so and there were no benefits like there are now. In short, she stood up when it counted.

Years after the onslaught against the rule of law and constitutional democracy is over; when the battle is won or lost; I would not like for my unborn children to ask me: “so like dad, when all these attacks on the Public Protector’s office and assault on the integrity of the judiciary and other institutions were happening, where were you?”

*Akani writes in his personal capacity

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