The recent Easter weekend coincided with the intensification of campaigning for the upcoming general elections.
The double advantage of a large audience and the ennoblement of the speakers with the blessings of a higher authority created a magnet for politicians to harangue congregations across the country.
There were no reports of any of the political preachers offering what I judge to be the singular biblical verse which sums up the parlous and penurious state of our national coffers and our dismal growth prospects.
In Malachi 3:10 it is written: Bring to the full storehouse a full tenth of what you earn … I will open the windows of heaven for you and pour out all the blessings you need.
That is scant comfort to the hard-pressed taxpayer and the recipients of sub-par services. But it is a pretty good working description for how the public purse here has been pillaged and the looters and scammers in high office have been enriched or “blessed”.
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule enjoyed the moniker “Mr Ten Percent” during his reign of ruin as premier of the Free State. A legal luminary of my acquaintance recently read the graphic detail in Gangster State – Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture by Pieter-Louis Myburgh. On finishing this depressing read of corruption – and worse – he advised: “Every one of its 390 pages, more or less, is the basis for numerous criminal charges, and provides the essence of an elaborate charge sheet.”
Of course, no sign yet of the much-hyped, new-management National Prosecuting Authority springing into action. Even less sign, either, of the “victim” of this “apartheid special project” – the rather enfeebled defence offered by Magashule to this work providing an account for the detail between the pages in the book. More than one month has passed since the Ace-man promised to defend his name by taking the appropriate action for defamation.
Still, to be perfectly fair, Magashule’s key position at the heart, or corroding pump, of the ANC ensures his well-merited attention.
But recent and well-credited reports show the 10% take home (sometimes in excess of 100% for projects that are paid for but never happen) is now the depressing and universal norm across our depressed and service-deprived republic.
Mpumulanga, home ground of our deputy president, has long been a corruption hot spot. Just recently, the extraordinary tale of the magnificently named Samuel Democracy Zwane surfaced. He managed to almost steal (well, he paid a token R431,000) a key municipal facility, a piece of land housing the water reservoir for the town of Ermelo. And then obliged the municipality (which had gifted him with this blessing) to rent it back from him for R800,000 per month! Infinitely more than the 10% in exchange for “windows of heaven opening” for this blesser.
And since he controls the water supply for the town, subsequent disputes on the illegality of the transaction have been met with the threat of cutting off the water supply entirely. Zwane, of course, is a senior and well-credentialed member of the provincial ANC.
In the suffering Eastern Cape, the Mail & Guardian reported over two weeks ago more than R110m earmarked for a provincial hospital had simply “disappeared” into the pockets of provincial panjandrums of the ruling party. And we are now so shell-shocked or past caring or simply cannot comprehend the scale and detail of it all, that there was no follow-up on this story. And certainly no swift arrests or indictments. Just that “The Hawks are investigating”. Don’t hold your breath.
One of the strongest reasons to cut down the ANC majority, nationally and provincially, is this simple proposition, which every index and audit trail supports: the higher the ANC vote total in any region or province the higher the level of corruption. And the reverse proposition is equally true: that is why in the one province as yet outside the clutches of the ruling party, the Western Cape, its government departments received 83% clean audits in 2018-19. This is the best score across the whole country and in the province’s estimation is because “we entrenched a culture of good governance and accountability”.
I reminded an election rally in Johannesburg last week that the formula for corruption is very simple and very bleak: money + power – accountability = corruption.
So you’ve got to separate the politicians (power) from the money men and blessers and have highly effective report-back or accountability mechanisms.
The problem, and it is our greatest national problem right now, is not that we are ignorant. This is thanks to our vigorous free press and an engaged opposition and a strong civil society. We know the scale and even the depressing and daily detail of the problem. But, and here’s the rub, there is no accounting for it.
Next Wednesday, and it only comes around once every five years, the voters in their polling booths can hold the corrupt – and their enablers – to account.
Let’s see how many voters use this power.
Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London.
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