Time to decide if we go the way of 'Mr Kigali' or the way of the Nkandla Crooner

06 January 2019 - 00:00 By justice malala

You may have missed them amid all the festive cheer. They were just two, seemingly unrelated, not-so-big stories that appeared over the past week. Yet they deserve our keen attention because they illustrate the differences between countries that thrive and those that wither, decay and die.
The first story is that the twitterati have blessed finance minister Tito Mboweni with a new nickname. They now call him "Mr Kigali" following his tweets praising the cleanliness of the Rwandan capital city.
The festive season was full of what the young ones call "clap-backs" (robust, funny rebuttals) of his newfound admiration for Kigali and his disparagement of Joburg's dirty streets.
Is Mboweni wrong to admire Kigali so much, though?
Ask any South African who has visited Kigali what it was like and most will tell you that they want to set up a business there. They will regale you with tales of the country's vision, resolve, single-mindedness, pragmatism, policy certainty and, yes, cleanliness.
Here in SA we have the eThekwini municipality. The central business district is filthy, decrepit and crime-ridden.
In December, the Hawks announced that they were investigating allegations of corruption and fraud related to the award of a R45m refuse collection contract to four contractors in December 2017. The R45m was reportedly meant to cover six months of operations but was depleted within a month.
Now we hear (that's the second story) that the same eThekwini municipality that cannot clean its own streets has struck a deal with corruption accused and former state president Jacob G Zuma, to record his favourite struggle songs. The city sent a special delegation - at ratepayers' expense no doubt - to the Nkandla Crooner's homestead to request his participation.
Enough ink has been wasted this week lambasting the municipality's spectacularly moronic decision. It doesn't take a genius to recognise that this is yet another attempt to line Zuma's pockets with public money as he fights the corruption allegations against him. Believing that the project will in any way preserve "the history and the important role liberation songs played in the struggle" is as daft as believing that the Nkandla swimming pool was a fire-fighting measure.
The Mr Kigali and the Nkandla Crooner stories matter because they underline what makes a country work and succeed, and what doesn't. Rwanda has many problems, but in its seriousness in carrying out just a public cleanliness programme (it has many other excellent projects) it shows you that it can make a decision, implement it and carry it through to success.
The Nkandla Crooner story reminds you once again that SA - at least the SA of Jacob Zuma and his dwindling number of apologists - is about the looting of public monies.
You can see that Mr Kigali (I believe that Mboweni should wear the name with pride) is a man who has some of the right instincts about governance. Before delivering his medium-term budget policy framework three months ago, he was asked about the impact on the fiscus of Zuma's bloated cabinet that President Cyril Ramaphosa inherited (and did nothing about).
Mboweni replied: "If he [Ramaphosa] asked me about the size of the cabinet, I would say preferably not more than 25."
The battle we have now in SA is to choose: keep on playing in the sea of mediocrity of the eThekwini municipalities of this world or follow the path of Kigali. For nine years under Zuma we were in eThekwini. We are still battling to recover.
It can be done, though. In Ethiopia in April 2018 we saw the arrival of a young new leader, prime minister Abiy Ahmed, and the swift and resolute implementation of a wide range of confidence-boosting measures. Opposition parties have been unbanned and invited to participate in ensuring a free and fair election next year; exiles have been welcomed back without fear of reprisals; borders are opening; women are taking up leadership positions. Journalists have been freed from jails.
It's not a miracle, just as our peaceful transition here in SA was not a miracle. It's a choice made by leaders and the people they lead. Countries that succeed make tough choices. Tough choices such as the ones we have to make about the matric results, for example.
This week, glowing improvements in the matric results were announced. Good. Yet no politician spoke about the 400,000 children who have been frozen out of the system in the past 12 years and so didn't get to matric. Talking about these children will lead to us finding solutions for them (and us).
In this year's elections we have to choose between two paths: Mr Kigali or the Nkandla Crooner. We have to choose between those who can identify policies that work and implement them despite the pain this entails, and those who will loot the fiscus while singing and dancing.
The elections will be here soon. Time flies. Memories fade. The one thing we would all do ourselves a favour by clinging on to as we enter the ballot box are the images of Mr Kigali and the Nkandla Crooner. Who would you prefer?..

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