Time to restore standards in public life
Do you remember when President Thabo Mbeki appointed his deputy, Jacob Zuma, as the chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Movement? Was that a supreme act of cynicism on Mbeki’s part? Or was he just blissfully unaware of what Zuma was made of? And what happened to the Moral Regeneration Movement? Does it still exist?
With time for reflection on my hands aboard the ship Seabourn Sojourn, after crossing the North Pacific Ocean from Japan, we were approaching Kodiak in Alaska where we landed on Wednesday. I had the privilege of delivering my talk “Mandela and de Klerk – unlikely partners who changed history,” to an appreciative audience. This was one of a series of eight talks on different world affairs topics.
Partly because of Mandela and de Klerk and the standards they set with their efforts to take South Africa from a dark past to a constitutional democracy, our country enjoys a good reputation with the sort of well-heeled people who do these cruises. Mostly Americans, British and Australians, there is a surprising awareness among these friends of ours that things are now going wrong in South Africa. This perception has gained worrying ground since our cruise to Australia and New Zealand at the beginning of last year.
In discussions with part of the audience, I gained the firm impression our foreign friends who visit us, trade with us, invest in us do not want to believe that the country is going the way of many others that started out so hopefully and then deteriorated into Third World failures. I always do my best to avoid slagging off my country when I am overseas but I find increasingly that people are becoming steadily more aware of the rot of the Zuma years.
A traditionalist with around twenty or so children, a colourful array of current wives, a fiancée, a prominent ex-wife and rumours of being a close friend of sundry other women, some of them occupying important appointed positions in government and in state owned enterprises, would always be a figure of interest to the rest of the world.
Compared with their boring leaders who do not have the time, even if they have the inclination, to be a good husband and partner to so many, President Zuma would always be remarkable. If his uniqueness were limited to that, it would not be so bad, leading only to ribald humour from those his own age who marvel at his energy.
But it is not limited to marital and other energetic arrangements. The criminal charges that await, the allegations of corrupt relationships with dubious friends, convicted of or accused of capturing the state and the general sleaze surrounding the president, his party, his government, the provinces, local government and state owned enterprises, makes one ashamed to be a South African. It also makes one wonder whether loyal ANC supporters are also ashamed. Not to speak of those who serve in government at various levels: one is tempted to ask: “Do you have no shame?”
Scarcely a day passes without some new corruption scandal or criminal conduct on the part of some official or politician surfacing. Scarcely a week passes without the courts having to intervene to check unconstitutional and illegal behaviour by the government, the members of which have sworn to uphold the constitution of which we are so proud. Criminal action from our deeply flawed justice system seems increasingly slow and erratic.
Why are so few of the crooks in jail? It is only our judiciary that imbues confidence in justice; beware the day when the ANC starts tampering with the appointments to the judiciary to see to it that “reliable judges” are appointed. As a former member of the Judicial Service Commission, where I served for some years, I am absolutely satisfied that our largely transformed judiciary still meets the highest standards of competence and integrity. Long may that continue.
Since the eruption of the latest Brian Molefe scandal, I have waited anxiously for days to read from Alaska that the president has fired Minister Lynne Brown for lying in an affidavit, fired Ben Ngubane and the entire board of Eskom for incompetence and lack of integrity and told Brian Molefe that there are some limits that greed, grasping acquisitiveness, corruption and lying should not exceed, even in an ANC government renowned for exactly those qualities. At the time of writing the matter is before the courts, like so many other issues, and it is not clear to me what is likely to happen.
There has been no report of action by the president and one wonders what it would take for President Zuma to get the message and act in the interests of South Africa. Is this not the time when the aspirant presidential candidates, Deputy President Ramaphosa and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma should stick their necks out?
They ought to issue a joint declaration saying that enough is enough. They could and call for a restoration of integrity and probity in public life. They could say there is a deep and overwhelming desire on the part of South Africans to be proud of their leaders. And they could issue a call to President Zuma to set the example by acting against Lynne Brown, Ben Ngubane and Brian Molefe.
If President Zuma chose to ignore such a powerful appeal, he would stand exposed as one who condoned corruption and the sleaze and we would be on our way as a country to taking a stand in favour of the restoration of standards in our public life. Surely that would be a worthwhile target for the two people who aspire to lead us by being elected to the highest office in South Africa. That action would excite and inspire our citizens and make our friends all over the world proud of us again.
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com
This article first appeared in The Star.