Thankfully, not one, not two but three concurrent commissions of enquiry offer a glimmer of hope to restoring South Africa’s credibility…and hopefully invest-ability.
The bad news is that we probably won’t be able to catch the wave.
The depraved corruption being exposed at these commissions and hopefully to be swiftly addressed by our new damsel in “Madonsela” shining armour Shamila Batohi, is vital, but not enough to deliver lasting solutions. Even if a magic wand could turn around the obscene loss-making SOEs, the tide is a long way out of our reach. Pointing fingers at the ruling party or even if any other party could be voted in to power this election will also not get South Africa back on board and riding the crest of the wave any time soon. Our problems are far more deeply rooted and in the very fabric of our society, rather than any headline-grabbing retribution, quick-fix SOE split-ups or change in leadership.
A long time ago – last century! – at 4pm every (week)day in summer, Pretoria was blessed by the “civil service rain”. At the exact time when all career civil servants were hustling home, the skies would open and drench them. They would arrive home to clear skies and a beautiful sunny sunset. Climate change and democracy collaborated to change that pattern … the civil service is now run by aspiring millionaires who shut out the public at 2:30 pm so they can leave on time, while global warming has brought more drought than rain.
Without doubt, the new democracy and current ruling party inherited a very run-down version of how a country should run from the Nationalist government. When new owners are on the horizon, do you really spend a lot to fix things…or just leave all the problems for the new owner to deal with? Severely run-down and decaying infrastructure (roads, communication, sewerage works) was the legacy from the previous government. The swift handover from dedicated civil servants to democratically appointed ambitious staff added a huge strain on the day-to-day workings of the country. But worse was to come.
When it is apparent to everyone that, from the top down, bribery and corruption are the accepted currency, there is no motivation to follow an honourable path. Witness the commercial availability of driver’s licences, tjo-tjo on the roads instead of accepting legitimate traffic fines, baksheesh amounting to millions every month greasing the wholesale plunder of SOEs, or companies with no expertise being awarded multi-million rand contracts but unable to deliver. Against that backdrop, it is not surprising that a month-end salary that barely makes ends meet is no incentive.
Rooting out corruption at the top is a start. Developing a culture of dedicated bureaucrats who will do their utmost to keep the lights on (literally!) is the mammoth task facing this democracy. Seeing how American federal workers worked without pay for 35 days is an indication of the kind of work ethic needed.
While the current government is far from blameless for much of the corruption, perhaps we need to give a bit of compassion to this or any new government that has to try and get our broken civic services into a position to be able to run the country. If the president and government can lead by example and ordinary citizens act responsibly instead of the easy tjo-tjo route, together we can build the greatness our nation needs to become!
By Lee Maddeux