SA's recovery must start with shunning all the power-drunk politicians who abuse their positions

02 September 2018 - 00:00

One of the first things Mongameli Bobani did as Nelson Mandela Bay's new mayor was to swivel in the chair in the mayoral office in front of the media. It was aimed at riling his arch-rival, Athol Trollip, who had been warming that seat before he was voted out in a motion of no confidence.
Bobani playing with the office furniture was a depiction of the state of South African politics: puerile, disengaged from public service and driven by showmanship.
This was also evident in the EFF's attempt to oust the mayor of Tshwane, Solly Msimanga. The party was determined to remove him from office, but only through its own motion of no confidence. The EFF members walked out of council when they did not get their way and their pact with the ANC fizzled out.
If he remains mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Bobani will preside over a R12-billion budget in a city with stark inequalities and substandard services in poor areas.
But for him, this has been all about the thrill of the kill, not doing better than Trollip. The appointment of convicted ANC councillor Andile Lungisa to the mayoral committee in charge of infrastructure and engineering shows Bobani does not care about the optics.
The DA's only fig leaf for its numerous scandals and internal turmoil is that it is not as bad as the ANC. Its cavalier attitude makes working with other parties virtually impossible. The DA will pay the price for its arrogance when it tries to co-operate with other parties, either before or after the election next year.
The political scene is dismal and there is really no party that you can confidently place your trust in without the onset of buyer's remorse a few months later. It will be a gamble to make a cross on the ballot paper next year knowing that that choice has to stand for five years.
The governance failures in municipalities, provinces and at national level are a direct result of the conduct, outlook and work ethic of political office bearers.
As the state capture commission of inquiry unfolds, it becomes increasingly apparent how the state was repurposed to serve the Guptas rather than the citizenry. The Gupta brothers were able to sink their tentacles into the state system because there were so many pliant, corruptible people willing to succumb to them while principled people who resisted were punished.
Former government spokesman Themba Maseko, who was an adept and committed public servant, testified this week about how Ajay Gupta flaunted his political influence, telling him Jacob Zuma came to dinner "at least once a week" and ministers regularly went to his house.
Gupta threatened to deal with him if Maseko did not comply with his demand to direct the R600-million government advertising budget to the family's media entities.
"Your only job is to make sure that the money comes to me," Gupta apparently told him.
Maseko said Gupta added: "This is how the system works now."
This is consistent with the testimony of former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who said Gupta told him: "You must understand, we are in control of everything." At one point, Jonas said, Gupta astonishingly asked: "You think it is illegal?"
Considering the fact that no current or former ministers who came under pressure from the Guptas have yet stepped forward to divulge what they know, clearly it was not only the brothers who were unable to distinguish between what is legal and illegal, and what constituted unethical behaviour.
The Zuma administration appeared to often cross the lines of constitutionality and legality in service of the Guptas. Maseko testified how he was unceremoniously removed as director-general of the Government Communication & Information System (GCIS) at a cabinet meeting. This was after he had defied an order from Zuma to help the Guptas.
Acting government spokesperson Phumla Williams testified how she was demoted by former minister Faith Muthambi while she was on leave, and how Maseko's successor, Mzwanele Manyi, suddenly changed tender processes at GCIS set down by the National Treasury.
Williams told how she had to caution Muthambi that they needed to ensure a "clean administration".
"I had to," Williams said. "The minister wanted me to do an illegal thing."
Muthambi, like many others in government, appeared to see herself as above the law and invincible.
She demanded in formal correspondence that Williams address her as "honourable minister", despite this only being necessary in parliament.
Maseko told deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo about the brain drain from the government as a result of capable civil servants fleeing to the private sector or being removed for "being a hindrance to the Gupta family's state capture endeavour".
He said: "If the public servants who left had been retained, there would be less instances of poor service delivery in the country."
SA needs a capable state populated by such people. The recovery process must start with the shunning of the awful, power-drunk people who abuse their positions and have no sense of duty to the nation.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.