This past weekend saw Christians and Jews celebrate Easter and Passover respectively, two of the principal holidays in both religions’ calendars.
Easter of course is the post-crucifixion celebration of the miracle of the resurrection, while Passover celebrates the exodus from the enslavement of pharaoh in ancient Egypt, delivered in part by God visiting 10 deadly plagues on the pharaonic land and its cruel leader.
In politics the term “pharaonic” has been used to cover everything from resurgent nationalism to mega-projects and even cruelty and tyranny.
Pharaonic seems a good fit for the former mayor of Durban (eThekwini) Zandile Gumede, now on trial on fraud, corruption and money-laundering charges relating to a huge (R320m) solid waste municipal tender. Her turn in the criminal dock did not prevent her re-election two weeks ago as chair of the ANC’s most important region, eThekweni. Flush from that success, she appeared in expensive sneakers alongside President Cyril Ramaphosa when he appeared last week in Durban to inspect the vast damage from the floods which hit the city and surrounds with brutal ferocity last week.
The ancient Romans took augurs from events as predictive of heavenly interventions. If you trusted such signs, there might be an explanatory link between the election of Gumede and the opening of the heavens on battered KwaZulu-Natal. Barely recovered from the wholesale looting and anarchy last July, which cost businesses R50bn and took the lives of more than 300 people, the latest bout of bad weather is likely to be even more expensive in blood and treasure.
Ramaphosa on his visit last week stuck to a more contemporary explanation: he blamed the current weather event on climate change, stating: “This catastrophe is part of climate change. It is telling us that climate change is serious. It is here.”
Incredulous KZN resident and journalist William Saunderson-Meyer, writing in Politicsweb on the weekend, dismissed the scapegoating of extreme and unforeseen weather events as “balderdash”.
He indicated there was ample prior warning of changed weather patterns, which occur with increasing frequency on the east coast, and noted that not only was there a failure to prepare for it, but the preparation for the current disaster — 13,500 affected households, shuttered ports, destroyed roads and at least 450 deaths — was utterly compromised as well.
The municipality over which Gumede presided allowed shacks to be built on floodplains and unstable hillsides and “2,000 of the homes swept away were RDP houses, shoddily built during the kickback and steal bonanza of the government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme of the late 1990s”.
“No maintenance at all of vital infrastructure here” was the response of a beleaguered friend of mine in Durban last week as he watched the roads wash away and rivers burst their banks up the north coast of the benighted province.
In other words, the current disaster was unavoidable but the mitigation measures which would have lessened its impact and cost far fewer lives were almost entirely absent. The ANC in the province is so busy fighting with itself, and plundering provincial and municipal resources, that it has little time and less attention to spend on the more mundane needs of its beleaguered residents.
One baleful example offered of this from the Saunderson-Meyer’s reportage was that at the commencement of the most severe flooding last Monday, neither the SAPS nor the SAAF could put a “single chopper in the air”. By contrast when another extreme tropical storm (Demoina) unleashed severe flooding on the province way back in 1984, “the SA Air Force deployed 25 helicopters to lift people to safety” and, during the Mozambique floods of 2000, 17 choppers were flown to rescue 14,000 people.
Provincial premier Sihle Zikalala, a one-time staunch Jacob Zuma man, last month called for the scrapping of the constitution, and echoing PW Botha (who was in charge back in 1984) in suggesting the supremacy of parliament was far preferable to the pesky checks and balances provided by the current constitution.
Ramaphosa took a leaf from this dubious page and decided on Monday evening that the best response to the current situation was to place the entire country under a state of national disaster. That worked so well under Covid-19 with the pandemic used as an excuse for the blunt instrument of the disaster regime, allowing cabinet ministers to ride their favourite ideological hobby horses roughshod over citizens’ rights.
He also offered, in his Monday broadcast, rigorous “oversight to prevent corruption and fraud” of the R1bn disbursed by government to meet this emergency. It was of course the same president back in 2020, at the onset of the previous state of disaster, who promised that “Covid-19 funds would not end up in the wrong pockets”. A January 2022 Special Investigation Unit report exposed R7.8bn of funds intended for Covid relief and mitigation measures had been corrupted, though as analysts note this is the veritable tip of a much larger iceberg of rip offs, tender manipulations, skimming and insider dealing.
Interestingly, at the same ANC Durban conference which saw the corruption-accused Gumede restored triumphantly to office, one of her principal backers, disgraced former health minister and ex-KZN premier Zweli Mkhize, (whose close family and friends improperly received Covid funds and contracts), emerged as a favourite of the delegates to replace Ramaphosa as ANC president.
This KZN mafia, whose head office is situated in Nkandla, knows neither limits nor has a shred of decency. Not even its reduced poll showing last November to a historic low of 42% in greater Durban curbs its malign ways. Corrupt it certainly is and murderous as well, with an alarming number of municipal officials and party members being bumped off for being “off side”.
Just to complete this lurid portrait, the premier who does not wish to be bound by the current constitution, Zikalala, appealed for public support for funding of the province’s disaster relief efforts. I immediately made a modest donation to the NGO of excellence and integrity, the Gift of the Givers. At least Gift of the Givers would (as it has done across the country where basic governance has collapsed) deliver the services and would not steal a cent of the funds.
Things have come to a certain pass when neither such basic conditions, nor any such guarantee, attaches to the efforts of the government of this country, which is in charge of over R1.5-trillion of taxpayer’s funds.
Within minutes of the premier’s appeal, it was revealed by the La Mercy civic and ratepayers association that on April 15, after the floods caused acute water shortages, a municipal tanker had been diverted to the home of the premier in the town, being the only presence in the area of any water tankers. The residents association noted this was the precise time it was battling to provide water for residents via a borehole from a local mosque where locals had to queue. The association which videoed the bespoke delivery of the premier’s personalised water supply noted: “A true leader eats last.” Not in the land of locusts he doesn’t, might be the reply.
Zikalala’s defence of the indefensible? His wife “needed the water to cook for the community”. Actually, until the exposé of the water tanker, according to locals, she and the premier were entirely absent from communal relief efforts.
Educator and columnist Jonathan Jansen, who knows a thing or two about ne’er-do-wells, riposted on this pathetic explanation: “Sorry, I am more inclined to believe the boy who said the dog ate my homework.”
Stealing and lying is now so baked into the ANC share price, especially in the ravaged province of KwaZulu-Natal, that moral outrage is reduced to a helpless shrug.
Yet Ramaphosa, fresh from his photo op with his party colleague and corruption-accused Gumede, assures us that this time it will be different. Then again, during the past weekend some believed in the myth of the Easter bunny.
Leon, a former leader of the opposition. Now chairs Resolve Communications. @TonyLeonSA