We let down our guard, Mandela Day will help us get it up again

16 July 2017 - 00:00 By Khehla Shubane

The time to remove Jacob Zuma as the president of the country and start the process to reorient and rebuild the institutions of the state is long past. Yet he remains. The country is in ferment and broad swathes of the South African public have good reason to believe that their government serves only the interests of those at its head rather than the people.

Even before the Gupta e-mails, the reshuffle of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene revealed the president ’s hand. The Nkandla judgment showed him to be a constitutional delinquent. The public protector ’s state capture report revealed the extent to which the president , with some ministers in his cabinet, conflated their private interests with those of the state.

The council of churches’ report detailed how public institutions were eroded and bent to serve the illegitimate interests of the president ’s family through the agency of the Gupta brothers.

Recently, Outa published Nowhere to Hide, a casebook that i nd icts the president and some ministers in a manner that could easily be litigated in court. Let’s not forget, too, that several cases are before the courts and could lead to the president being declared a criminal suspect and his actions irrational and have him probed for corruption.

Against the rage in society, law-enforcement agencies stand deaf and mute. In response to society’s disgust, the ANC majority in parliament has only acted to shield the president from scrutiny.

Outside parliament, ANC structures are impotent .

The recommendations of the ANC’s integrity commission were ignored. Its policy conference did not even feign to recognise the deep anxiety about the government ’s behaviour and direction.

It is easy to count the costs of the government’s behaviour. Our economy is in recession. Government debt is about half of GDP. Unemployment is higher than ever and rising. Mining and manufacturing will decline more and lead to further misery.

Government corruption and incompetence threaten the payment of social grants.While an airline is bailed out, an oncology department in KwaZulu-Natal cannot help patients for lack of money. The uneven and slow progress in improving the life of citizens is in reverse and may regress.

To this, the government has intimated that it would raid our pensions (prescribed assets) and put us in hock to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Efforts to ensure that South Africa stays out the clutches of international money lenders are under threat.

Our very sovereignty is under threat. Starting from when the Gupta family and their wedding guests landed, we have d is covered that the Guptas appoint ministers and direct those ministers; that they spy on politicians and citizens; and that they possess s tate secrets. The family’s interests and those of the president are the same.

How did we come to this and what will we do to stop it? Th e reasons lie in our electoral system, the concentration of power in the president ’s hands, the decline of the moral agency in the governing party, cynical conditions in the global economy, the usual sins of long incumbency, and so on. But the most important reason is that we, the people, stopped heeding the sage advice that the price of freedom is vigilance. We handed over the institutions of the state and democracy and did not guard the guardians.

That is why the conference of civil society organisations on Mandela Day is so important. It will launch various initiatives to stem corruption in the state and start strengthening the public sector in the manner envisaged in the constitution.

Foremost among those initiatives is the campaign to persuade M Ps to vote for the motion of no confidence. If they do not, civil society must mobilise to remove Zuma by all legitimate means available under our constitution. The conference is only a start for civil society organisations working together more effectively to confront the ills that afflict us: poverty, unemployment and inequality.

When South Africa’s democracy was born, the greatest mistake we made was to demobilise civic and civil rights organisations. The reasons may be many but, in the main, we believed that our institutions would always act in the manner set out in the constitution. No other government must be given this latitude again.Shubane is a political analyst and former Robben Island prisoner. He writes in his personal capacity