CITIZENS SHOULD BE THE ROCK
By Mosibudi Mangena
At the end of the Zimbabwean liberation war and the exiles were preparing to go back to their country in 1980, the fiery ZANU-PF Secretary-General Edgar Tekere, is reported to have said that he feared governance more than the guns of the enemy they had to face in their war for freedom. In particular, he feared the ravages of corruption.
You see, in the liberation struggle you know who the enemy is and the battle field is clear. You have an enemy pointing their guns at you and you fight back accordingly.
In the world of corruption and malfeasance, there are no clear battle lines. The enemy is hard to identify. He or she looks like you; is your erstwhile comrade; he or she plans programmes of the nation with you but plots to defraud the very people he or she is supposed to serve in the dead of night. Unlike the enemy that snarled at you with gun in hand, the crooked smile at you, deliberate and plan with you whilst at the same time scheming to steal from the public purse.
After 28 years of democracy and the bitter lessons we have learnt, it is easy to identify with Edgar Tekere’s apt observation. When those of us who were in the trenches during the struggle meet, we often look at one another and ask how we arrived at this distressing point in the history of our country. We ask why so-and-so, who was such a valuable comrade in the struggle, who shared cells with us in detention, at Robben Island or endured the pain of exile, his or her name is now synonymous with malfeasance of the vilest type.
So it is that the very people who were supposed to benefit from freedom, are beginning to doubt its usefulness. As far back as 2008, I asked a young SABC journalist based at their studios in the parliamentary precinct, whether her home town municipality was removing refuse in Mthatha and filling up gaping potholes that forced motorists to abandon the tar and drive on pavements or the curbs. She answered that Mthatha was still like that and it will not change because black people are not capable of better performance and they don’t care.
For me, coming from the Black Consciousness background as I do, her comments hurt like hell.
The philosophy of Black Consciousness seeks to restore the dignity, worth, pride and image of black people. All these are enhanced by the way we treat one another and perform whatever duty needs to be performed with dedication, love and service to humanity. It negates the lie perpetrated by our colonisers to the effect that we are incompetent and lazy.
More damaging though, is the subliminal internalization by our children of the notion that black people, whoever they might be, have feet of clay. The young cannot but be overwhelmed by this when they are bombarded by images and news of their elders messing up everywhere. Growing up with such a psyche cannot but damage their image of themselves and their race as they move into the future.
Mthatha is not alone in the misgovernment of municipalities. Year in and year out the Auditor-General reveals tales of corruption, misspent, maladministration, chaotic accounts and unauthorized, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure in our municipalities.
Like the vehicles that take a beating from the gaping potholes in our streets, our internal human shock absorbers have been taking a pounding.
In the latest municipal audits, our straight talking, no-nonsense Auditor- General, Tsakani Maluleke, tells us that only 41 out of 257 municipalities have clean audits. No wonder many of the streets offer motorists multi-choice potholes, litter is everywhere and sewage flowing in the streets is not uncommon. Managing budgets is one of the indicators of a well-managed entity. Chaotic finances is a give-away for a mismanaged outfit.
All these are an indication that Edgar Tekere might as well been talking about South Africa as well as his native Zimbabwe.
Unfortunately, local government is just but one area of utter disgrace in our public life. We may all remember how the last decade or so has been characterized by endless stories of sleaze in public life.
The Gupta family from India came into the country and snatched our head of state and put him into their pocket. From then on, they could do as they pleased in South Africa.
They appointed ministers and gave them instructions on how to enable the foreign family to loot our resources. Through the head of state and ministers, they appointed leaders of our State Owned Enterprises who gave them a free hand in looting these businesses. Today, some of these businesses are a mere shadow of themselves, just limping along.
We would remember how those ministers who refused to kowtow to the Guptas, such as Nhlahla Nene and Mcebisi Jonas were summarily and humiliatingly dismissed by the head of state at the say-so of the infamous family.
We would also remember how enraged we were. We took to the streets in our thousands under the auspices of religious, labour, political and civic formations as well as individuals to protest against the utterly shocking actions of our head of state. He was forced to respond positively to people power.
Enter the former Public Protector, the intrepid Thuli Madonsela, who blew the whistle on the much deeper danger called State Capture. That in turn gave us the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into that phenomenon.
This citizen’s activism seem to be waning in the face of serious challenges facing our country. The decline is accompanied by a worrying disengagement by our citizens from democratic processes, as evidenced by the low turnout of voters during the recent local government elections.
When citizens turn their backs to democratic processes, it might be a prelude to a period of strife, instability and undemocratic ways of resolving things in the country. That is why, civil society outfits, such as Defend Our Democracy Campaign, DOD, are so concerned.
It might be remembered that the DOD stood strongly in support of the Zondo Commission in particular and the judiciary in general which were being attacked by those who were being fingered for acts of corruption, sleaze and looting of state resources. The DOD will hold a conference on the 1st and 2nd July 2022 to deliberate, together with representatives of various formations in South Africa, on the current situation and the way forward.
The disengagement with the democratic processes by citizens seems to stem from a mistaken notion that power belongs to politicians and that they are spiting the unreliable and stealing politicians by not voting. How many times have we heard fed-up and protesting citizens threatening not to vote in coming elections because they are angry with something?
The citizens appear not to realize that South Africa does not belong to political parties, leaders or individual politicians, but to them as citizens. It is they who hire politicians at election time to serve them for five years. It is precisely at election time that the citizens must show the politicians and their parties who is the boss.
The citizens earned this power through heroic struggles that saw many of them tortured, imprisoned, exiled and even dying. With that power in their hands, they no longer need to fight and die. They need only use the ballot to get what they want.
Yes, the citizens in South Africa might hate what politicians are doing presently. Unfortunately, politicians are a necessary and essential element of every democratic society. There is no country in the world that has no politics and politicians. But you get the politician you deserve through your choice at the ballot box. South Africans seem to elect avaricious ones with the grubbiest hands.
We need to remind one another again and again of that notion that says the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Fortunately we have vibrant civil society organizations doing good work in the educational, health, legal, constitutional and other spheres of human endeavor that we could rely on. They only need to come together from time to time to amplify their voices.
We have seen how our northern neighbour has been teetering on the brink of a failed state. Zimbabwe is barely able to serve its citizens; the citizens are fleeing in droves into South Africa, Botswana as well as countries further afield.
Ironically, some Zimbabweans find their former coloniser, Britain, a better place to live and work than their native country.
So it is that in South Africa as well, the relationship between the state and the citizens is getting frayed by the day. In almost all spheres of life, the state seems to be losing its ability to serve. Whether you look at safety, immigration control, education, healthcare, employment, transport and others, the state is failing its citizens. We seem to be inexorably moving in the direction of a Zimbabwe.
Fortunately for us, it does not have to be inevitable. We have a strong civil society sector, a vibrant and independent media, a credible judiciary and a relatively strong corporate sector. These are assets we may use to reign in the delinquent political players.
But the citizens remain the rock upon which the efficacy of all the listed assets rest. A citizenry that is disengaged, does not vote, does not hold the politicians to account and does not demand services from the state, is least able to benefit from the above favourable factors.
None but ourselves can change the fortunes of our country for the better. But only if we appreciate the power in our hands.