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Wed Apr 16 06:11:17 SAST 2014

Democracy devalued

Justice Malala | 19 November, 2012 00:03

We are led by men and women who, as someone said, know the price of everything. They can, like our communist Higher Education minister, give you the rand price of a huge new car for themselves.

But they have no clue about the value of anything.

Our institutions are the most valuable possessions we have. Among them are a robust, democratic parliament, an independent judiciary, an accountable executive and state organs - such as the National Prosecuting Authority - that act in the interests of the people and not the political elite.

The value of these institutions and the culture they engender - free speech, fairness of legal proceedings - is limitless. They make us who we are: a great democracy, a great country, a place the world admires.

But these institutions and freedoms are being devalued by these men and women, these leaders. They have not grasped that if they keep a comrade out of jail today by trampling on one of our institutions the consequences will be massive and our children will pay the price.

On Thursday, the commander-in-chief of the good ship South Africa stood up in parliament and told us that he was "aggrieved" because he had been "falsely" accused, and that he and his family paid for the vast compound that is his private home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. But newspaper reports based on leaked Public Works documents conclusively show that the taxpayer has shelled out about R240-million for upgrading his home.

"All the buildings and every room we use in that residence was built by ourselves as family, and not by government .

"On TV, they showed the house that I paid for. And they lie that it has been built by government. It has not been built by government."

Zuma went on to say that he "engaged the bank and I'm still paying a bond on my first phase of my home".

It was quite a performance. It now seems that it was all a lot of hooey. City Press newspaper reported yesterday that there is no bond on the homestead. I am waiting for Zuma to provide proof that he indeed has a bond.

Parliament is an institution of the people. It is where we send our representatives to ask questions and call the executive to account on our behalf. It is in parliament that our democracy is seen in action.

To stand in parliament and tell falsehoods is to spit on our democracy and to trample on our institutions.

On Thursday, Zuma still did not provide answers - or any documentation - about Nkandla. He obfuscated. The price of his long-winded non-answer is his continued stay in power. What he has done, however, is to devalue us and our institutions.

He is a man who sits in the highest office in the land for no other reason, for no other attribute, than that he is a master at devaluing the institutions of our democracy.

So it has been for the three years of Zuma's tenure. The Sunday Times reported yesterday - with depressing familiarity - that the country's top prosecutors were "overwhelmingly in favour of pressing ahead" with the corruption case against Zuma in 2009 despite the emergence of tapes allegedly showing a conspiracy against him. But the NPA was forced to drop charges and today Zuma's lawyer has defied court orders to produce the tapes that purportedly exonerate him or prove his case.

The courts are being shown the finger. If the highest office in the land can do this, what is the chance that our children will not be doing it in the future?

After all, if the president can break the law then the rest of us might as well do so too.

It is not just our institutions that are being devalued. It is happening across the board, with many of our politicians acting in a way that one wonders if they have any regard for the value of the freedoms we enjoy.

The Basic Education Department's behaviour this year in failing to give books to children for up to eight months of the school year tells us something about what value this administration places on education.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande's support for insult laws to protect one man, Zuma, demonstrates that he cares not a jot about the value of a democracy that debates with vigour the actions of the person it has put in power.

In his and his party's narrow, closeted view, protection for Zuma trumps the robust debates we must have about our presidents today and in future.

What we have built in 18 years is of great value.

We need political leaders who appreciate that we are about the country and its people, not the individual leader.

Many in the Zuma administration don't have a clue.

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Wed Apr 16 06:11:17 SAST 2014 ::