What would Mandela do?
South Africa and the world celebrate Mandela Day today. We should all be doing our bit to honour the man who represents the very best we can be: ethical, moral, activist, true and generous.
Yet the South Africa we are living through makes me feel sick about Mandela Day. Our body politic is rotten. Our democracy is deeply compromised. Our politicians say one thing and then do the opposite.
Our country is going through a firestorm of corruption, and nothing is being done about it. If there is anything to learn from our politicians, it seems, then it is that corruption is allowed to flourish in our land.
For months now we have had a man, Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka, in office despite the fact that he abused his office by flying off to Switzerland to visit a girlfriend who was sitting in jail on drug-related offences.
The case is clear and the evidence cannot be contested. Yet the man remains a representative of President Jacob Zuma and the people of South Africa.
Now we have Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report into the scandal of the police building leases in Pretoria and Durban shows that this is a woman who is at best incredibly incompetent.
Madonsela said Mahlangu-Nkabinde failed to co-operate with her investigation and that her conduct "failed to meet the requisite stewardship expected from her".
Mahlangu-Nkabinde ignored legal advice from two senior counsel advising her against signing the lease deals. She also went against an internal inquiry by her office that found that the agreements were illegal.
Civil servants such as the public works director-general and other senior staffers were put under immense pressure to push the deals through. Why?
Yet today Mahlangu-Nkabinde, a Zuma appointee, remains in office and from past practice it is unlikely that anything will be done about her extraordinary transgressions. It also remains a mystery why she was in such a hurry to sign these dodgy leases after the firing of Geoff Doidge, a man who had put a halt to this nonsense.
What is even worse is what are clearly politically motivated smear campaigns against crime-fighting institutions. Madonsela has had her name besmirched by clearly trumped-up allegations that she was involved in fraud and corruption. The aim was no doubt to draw attention away from her courageous work.
Now it is the head of the Special Investigating Unit, Willie Hofmeyr. The man is being investigated for corruption. It seems in his case, too, that he has ruffled too many powerful feathers.
We have seen this storyline before. The Scorpions crime-fighting unit was investigated and shut down in exactly the same fashion. Soon, and very soon, Hofmeyr's unit will be accused of even worse things and will be shut down.
How long the Public Protector will survive is up for debate. Unlike some of her predecessors, who soiled the office by doing the bidding of political bosses, Madonsela has restored credibility and pride to the office. Now they want to destroy her.
It is impossible not to side with Cosatu when it called for Zuma to allay fears that the country is fast becoming a "corruption-ridden banana republic".
"Allegations of corruption and the misuse of public funds are piling up . . . . While we welcome the probes being made by ministers like Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, the president needs to allay fears that ... we are sinking into a corruption-ridden banana republic," Cosatu said.
Cosatu will wait for a long time. Just as he failed to act against Shiceka, Zuma will not lift a finger against Mahlangu-Nkabinde as well as those who are implicated in looting the state with these tender deals.
Moshoeshoe Monare, the executive editor of The Star newspaper, says the problem is that we have "normalised" corruption. He is right. Our kids are growing up seeing corruption of the nature of the SAPS deals sitting cheek by jowl with Mandela Day. This cannot be right.
Yet this is what is the norm now. There will be smiles and picture-taking as we celebrate Nelson Mandela's birthday. Noble words will be said. The truth is that the values of Mandela and his comrades, such as Walter Sisulu and OR Tambo, will not be part of this exercise. Today's activities, for our political leaders, will be mere public relations. The wool will be pulled over our eyes as the looting intensifies.
What can be done? Such looting will continue so long as citizens keep quiet. Such looting will go on so long as citizens say nothing.
What would Nelson Mandela do? He would make a tremendous noise. He would fight against the looting of taxpayers' money that should help the poor.