Rogues still rule the roost

First published in an edition of The Star dated Monday, July 24 2020, p11.

THE Covid-19 pandemic has been exacerbated in South Africa by the bleak fact that the country seems to have lost the battle against corruption.

We keep hearing that corruption should be fought; we have a longwinded and expensive commission investigating state capture, and still very little action. We are regularly told that corrupt officials will be held responsible, yet nobody has been called to account.

Last week, the ANC reinstated two accused officials linked to the VBS bank looting scandal – the victims, remember, were poor pensioners.

Whistle-blowers are vilified while looters continue to hold positions of power and influence.

Although the onslaught of the coronavirus was not on the horizon a year ago, its advent has starkly revealed how corruption has sabotaged a comprehensive and effective response to the pandemic. Corruption has destroyed many municipalities and local governments. The coffers are empty and there are just not the resources to begin to respond to the pandemic.

Mismanagement because of cadre deployment has meant that even the few available resources have not been managed well. Food parcels are an example of such abuse. President Cyril Ramaphosa himself alluded to the problem of councillors selling food parcels or diverting them to their friends. We were promised “harsh action” by the president in April. We are still waiting.

Another example of incompetence and mismanagement is the medical scooter debacle in the Eastern Cape – R10 million was spent on scooters, which we were first told would transport patients. Days later, after controversy, it was reported that they were not fit for patients but for transporting chronic medication.

It is hard not to feel pessimistic about the country’s future. Last week, the North Gauteng High Court issued an order forcing the government to feed hungry children. Yet, the same government is willing to find R10.1 billion to bail out an unnecessary airline, bankrupted because of corruption.

Just when load shedding kicked in again this month, it was reported that Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer negotiated a contract with a construction firm in which he had shares. He also asked a subordinate to find a job for a family member.

The governing party once represented a political tradition rooted in altruism. The last of the Rivonia Trialists, who died this week, Andrew Mlangeni, epitomised this altruism. His generation of leaders exemplified leadership and self-sacrifice.

They knew the meaning of self-sacrifice, not self-enrichment. Disregard of the majority and preservation of self-interest were features of the apartheid regime; sadly, they are now defining features of the current political leadership.

The crisis of leadership is not only in politics; we see it in other spheres.

During the apartheid years, many religious leaders, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Denis Hurley and Beyers Naudé, made their voices heard. They were a thorn in the side of the political establishment. During the last few years, religious leaders have, for the most part, been silent.

Many, it seems, lack the courage of Tutu, Hurley and “Oom Bey”. Perhaps they, too, have resigned themselves to the fact that we can no longer fight corruption. South Africa has been defeated by it.

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church. @rpollittsj
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