Most of us have an inbuilt “right thing” antenna that guides our journey through life. We don’t do the right thing because we are mindful of this or that law or regulation. The vast majority of us cannot quote a chapter and verse of the laws or regulations that govern every aspect of our lives. And yet, we do the right thing, at least most of the time.
It is thus surreal to see so many people in positions of leadership in our country getting into all sorts of gymnastics to avoid doing the right thing. They second-guess the constitution, institutions of state and relevant laws just to justify their wrong-doing.
Take the long running tragicomedy at the SABC. It is tempting to conclude that we are witnessing a bunch of bumbling fools running the reputation of the institution into the ground. However, it appears the scramble for resources has propelled some to unashamedly use every trick, no matter how absurd, to achieve the capture of strategic assets for their accumulation of riches. It does not matter if they degrade the value and utility of those public entities in the process.
They cock a snook at different levels of authority so frequently that many of us have lost track of their misdemeanors. They hired Hlaudi Motsoeneng for a job that required the applicant to have at least a matriculation certificate. He does not have it and it is obvious he does not qualify.
The Public Protector told them as much and they ignored her. Courts of law in the country ordered them to do the right thing, without success. The howls of protests by civil society organizations and the general public were ridiculed and brushed aside by the tinpot authorities at the public broadcaster.
Out of the blue they announced that they would no longer show visuals on television pertaining to violent protests that include the destruction of public property. All of us know that media censorship is prohibited by the constitution and the law regulating broadcasting. Again our protests are summarily dismissed by this lot.
The Independent Communication Authority of South Africa, ICASA, a statutory body created by the constitution of the land to regulate broadcasting in the interest of society and democracy, ordered the SABC to withdraw the ban. Foaming at the mouth, the little tsars at the SABC publicly pilloried ICASA, calling its ruling an advisory opinion. They did the same with the earlier rulings by the Public Protector. One wonders whose authority they would ever respect.
Journalists at the SABC who protest against censorship and dictatorial practices at the public broadcaster are summarily suspended and publicly threatened on television. The credibility and worth of the SABC as a source of information is being seriously eroded. As we watch the news on its channels we wonder if it is the objective truth or lies.
We remember that for years the highest office in the land had dismissed the findings of the Public Protector on the Nkandla debacle as recommendations that may be accepted or ignored. That attitude pre-occupied parliament, the executive and the courts at great cost to the country in terms of resources and time. Accompanied by buckets of sweat, some ministers comically showed us videos purporting to prove that swimming pools and cattle kraals are security features. The farce only ended when the Constitutional Court ruled that the findings of the Public Protector are binding. Surely, the highest office in the land and its formidable team of legal advisors ought to know that.
There appears to be a pattern and method in all these shenanigans at our public institutions and state owned enterprises. It seems the aim is to degrade good governance at these entities to facilitate looting. This erosion of good governance and management runs through Eskom, the Post Office, Prasa, SABC, SAA, and others. Every now and then there is a scandal of one magnitude or the other involving public entities.
Just look at the SABC’s so-called breakfast show that sees the public broadcaster, Eskom and others subsidizing the Gupta newspaper. And we all know the despicable role the Guptas are playing in our public and economic lives.
An imperceptible damage these shenanigans are doing to our society is to assault its sense of right and wrong. The sheer volume and frequency of these misdemeanors in the public sector desensitize us to malfeasance. It dulls our sense of discomfort and outrage. We begin to shrug these happenings off as some kind of a “normal”.
Although in a slightly different class, the e-tolls have the effect of turning law-abiding citizens into violators of the law. There is a sense in which the insistence that the e-tolls shall stay even if the citizens are deeply aggrieved by them turns good citizens into criminals. It is the same with the Zimbabwean authorities that force their citizens to smuggle goods through the bushes instead of passing legally through the border posts.
Questionable things that those in authority do might be very damaging to the moral and legal fibre of society. We should eschew both of these tendencies that erode our values and desensitize us to criminality.