JUDITH FEBRUARY: South African public life is awash with impunity


Last week a video circulated on social media showing former President Jacob Zuma riding about on a quad bike, apparently at Nkandla - the same Nkandla we paid for again and again. It is also the same Zuma who is too ill to appear before the Zondo Commission.

But we should not be surprised that he and his legal representatives have no shame. We have known that for a long time. Watching Zuma on his quad bike one wondered whether there would ever be a moment of reckoning for the man who, along with his cronies, looted the state? What point will there be to any testimony Zuma gives to the Commission?

Thus far he has favoured obfuscation and delay instead of using the opportunity he has said he craves, that of clearing his name. There seems to be sufficient evidence given to the commission to sketch a tidy picture of corruption and state capture during Zuma’s presidency.

Leaving this aside and as if the sight of the quad-biking former president was not enough to make us collectively angry in one week, we heard that two Cabinet ministers and a deputy minister managed to further undermine clean governance. They do so only because they can.

Lindiwe Sisulu, as Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (who thought it a good idea to collapse all three into one ministry?) appointed, inter alia, Menzi Simelane, Mo Shaik and Chumani Maxwele. It is unclear what advice they are likely to give Sisulu, but their appointments were defended as being in line with rules regarding the Public Service.

The Constitutional Court found Simelane’s appointment as National Director of Public Prosecutions invalid and the court raised serious questions regarding his integrity. On that basis alone he should not be fit for any form of public office.

Shaik recently testified at the Zondo Commission and Maxwele is best known for his #FeesMustFall activism, disrupting graduation ceremonies and flinging faeces in the name of ‘transformation’. One wonders what qualifies Maxwele so uniquely to be a member of the National Rapid Response Task Team on water and sanitation? On the face of it, nothing.

Equally, what uniquely qualifies Shaik and Simelane apart from their political connections and the possible need for a handsome paycheque?

It is galling given the water crisis our country faces and also given the chaos left behind by former Water and Sanitation Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane. ‘Mama Action’, as she prefers to be called, was also heavily implicated in state capture allegations made under oath before the Zondo Commission by Angelo Agrizzi. It is therefore no surprise that she left her ministry in tatters.

As for Sisulu, she is clearly building an empire and shoring up support from all quarters of the ANC’s messy divide.

She would know better than most that what she did in hiring three individuals of dubious character, and very little skill for the task at hand, would undermine President Ramaphosa’s commitment to clean governance and his recent expressed sentiments about hiring the right people for the various tasks within the state.

So one is forced to conclude that Sisulu seeks to undermine Ramaphosa’s message deliberately.

Meanwhile, Deputy Ninister of Social Development, Henrietta Bagopane-Zulu, has allegedly used her ministry’s travel allowance to assist her niece with travel related to her wedding.

Hot on the heels of these two stories came news that Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, has appointed his niece as his chief of staff. At the same time, Mkhize has been at pains to assure citizens that a National Health Insurance fund run by the ANC-led government appointees will be free of corruption.

A cursory look at our state-owned enterprises, the public service itself, which is shambolic, and one can see where this is headed. The NHI fund could well become a bloated government enterprise and the tenderpreneurs are probably already licking their lips.

Mkhize’s act of nepotism will not inspire confidence that he himself can lead a clean process.

The state has, after all, broken trust with its citizens as a result of almost a decade of economic mismanagement and state capture.

The brazenness with which elected representatives like Sisulu, Mkhize and Bogapane-Zulu act tells us that they fear no repercussions, even in this ‘new dawn’.

The state has become a convenient conveyor belt for the incapable, the unqualified, the connected and those who would struggle to find jobs on a competitive basis.

When Ramaphosa took office there was much lofty rhetoric about an end to corruption and nepotism. It is understandable that it will take time to get to the bottom of the rot and the looting of the Zuma years.

However, when the corruption and nepotism take place under the president’s nose, then he needs to deal decisively with his Cabinet colleagues or their deputies.

That should not be hard to do.

Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies and is also a Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy' which is available. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february