KZN: The cheap promises of thieves

William Saunderson-Meyer says that instead of begging the ANC not to steal (again), SA should simply boot them out


It’s the kind of plea that a helpless father might in a different, more servile era, have written to his daughter’s abusive spouse.

In essence, it beseeches the cad not to abuse – as he sadly so often has done in the past – the battered woman whom he professes to love. The father intimates that the reward for such a change in behaviour would be to burnish the sullied family name.

Despite the high hopes expressed in the heartfelt entreaty, the tone is resigned. The writer is going through the motions, expecting to be disappointed, yet again. There’s no agency here, just the weight of disempowerment.

What I’m talking about is not a Victorian daddy writing to his bounder of a son-in-law. Rather, it is last week’s plea by the eponymous Ahmed Kathrada Foundation – honouring the African National Congress anti-apartheid activist and claiming to strive to advance good governance – on the occasion of the KwaZulu-Natal floods. 

It is addressed to the ANC government that the Foundation supports. As is proper for a supplicant, the writers remember to be polite: “Please do not repeat the Covid-19 experience – don’t steal,” reads the headline. 

Instead, they write, we South Africans must learn from Covid. “Let us use the rebuilding programme to start a new process of transparent, cost-effective and participatory governance”. 

“Trust is earned… This is an opportunity for the government to start earning it by doing what is in the interest of the people and not of the bank accounts of a few.”

Similar plaintive sentiments have since been voiced by others within the governing tripartite alliance, by scores of opposition figures, and by thousands of ordinary South Africans on social media. We all say pretty much the same thing that the Kathrada Foundation is saying. Few of us reflect how outlandishly inappropriate it is that a nation’s inhabitants have to go onto their knees and beg their government not to steal their money during a national disaster.

To do so is not an appropriate response in a modern democracy. This is feudalism, it is serfdom in anything but name. 

Anywhere else in the world, there would be an angry kickback. The scum would be out on their taxpayer-padded backsides at the very next election.

Instead, in South Africa, we touch our forelocks, bob our heads, and wait patiently for Jesus to arrive. We grovel and beg ANC politicians and officials to behave like human beings. What’s wrong with us?

It’s not as if the ANC fat cats are listening. The moment that the KZN emergency relief funds and goods started flowing, the cadres were ready with their piggy snouts in the trough. 

No sooner had an enormous stock of donated foodstuffs and clothing been assembled at Durban’s Virginia Airport, than eThekwini municipal officials pitched up in trucks and bakkies to load them up for “delivery”. Vanessa Knight, the chair of the local ratepayers’ association, who was coordinating the distribution, had to park her car in front of the municipal convoy to prevent the unasked-for assistance.

After initially insisting that Knight was wrong in her suspicions of skullduggery and that everything was kosher, eThekwini eventually conceded that it was “a mistake” to have tried to spirit off the supplies. Oops!

Just two days earlier, announcing that R1bn had been set aside by the province for flood relief, KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala said that the ANC had “learned a lot” from the looting of Covid relief funds. This time, there would be “fiscal prudency (sic), accountability, transparency and openness”, he promised. “No amount of corruption, maladministration or fraud will be tolerated.” 

Greed, entitlement and selfishness, however, seem to be okay with the premier. The following day with water supplies cut off in much of the province, Zikalala summoned a home delivery to his La Mercy mansion: a whole water tanker, just for the use of his family.

When the video went viral on social media, Zikalala at first claimed that it was a contemptuous slander by the opposition and that the footage had been digitally manipulated. Only when the evidence from his neighbours became incontestable, did he come clean. 

Zikalala apologised. Not digital manipulation after all but “a mistake”. It would “never happen again” Oops!

None of this is in the slightest surprising. More than two years ago, announcing that billions of rands of private, international and taxpayer money would be collected for Covid relief, President Cyril Ramaphosa tried to preempt public cynicism with the promise that “not a cent” would be stolen. 

He was right. It was not small change that was pocketed but billions. 

Of the R30.7bn of Covid emergency funds spent over the eight months that the Special Investigations Unit audited, at least R14.2bn was stolen. In other words, one out of every two rands that passed through the sticky fingers of a Ramaphosa administration that claims to epitomise clean governance and the best instincts of the ANC, was stolen.

What organisations like the Kathrada Foundation are achieving with their well-meaning but effete interventions is the opposite of what they intend. By pandering to the ANC they are not advancing democracy, but retarding it. 

The so-called “reformist” ANC is a myth. Ramaphosa’s reformists may be stealing at a more pedestrian pace than the Zuma cabal, but that is all. There has been no Damascene conversion to probity and good governance under Ramaphosa. 

A government exists to deliver public goods. A political mafia exists to deliver the public of its goods. It’s not difficult to see into which category the ANC fits best.

At some stage organisations such as the Kathrada Foundation – and our civil society is full of similar organisations set up, often with foreign donor funding, ostensibly to support democracy but in reality to support the ANC — are going to have to take a stand. So, too, are the millions of disenchanted ANC voters who have sullenly withdrawn from the political process, instead of supporting another party. 

They are going to have to come to terms with the fact that the ANC cannot be salvaged. It needs to be jettisoned. They need to move from mealy-mouthed rebukes to resistance. 

It is obvious from the outpourings of public scorn that greeted Ramaphosa's and Zikalala's promises on emergency flood relief, that no one believes a word they say. That’s a dangerous position for a political party, and a country, to be in.

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