NEWS24 / 18 MAY 2022 - 05.15 / SIPHAMANDLA ZONDI
There was something concerning when after the devastating floods that hit KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Eastern Cape, officials in the KZN government and national government made assurances that funds mobilised to respond to this would not be embezzled. The National Development Plan (NDP) that guides national action requires much more than assurance.
Then there was the news about the water tanker ending up at the KZN premier's property. This concern was cemented in the minds of a people that we are told are fast losing trust in public institutions. The association of the governing political class with corruption is both a perception and reality. It is about narratives and conduct at the same time.
The writer argues that anti-corruption talk can be assuring and dispiriting at the same time. Photo: File
Government announced special measures to shield funds allocated to flood relief from looting. Political leaders at national and provincial levels have found it necessary to assure the nation that firm action will be taken should funds be found to have been embezzled because they know many expect scandals to follow the allocation of new funds. They are thus battling a perception born out of real and recent experiences.
Assuring and dispiriting
Readers will remember that this current administration post-2017 is built on assurances that, unlike in the previous nine years, there will be action against corruption. It is built on creating hope for an effective fight against corruption, helping to protect the assets of the people of this country from hyenas lurking everywhere to pounce on them. President Cyril Ramaphosa's political currency is partly in this hope.
What makes the assurances problematic is that the anti-corruption talk can be assuring and dispiriting at the same time. Concerning because anti-corruption is now a discourse by politicians trying to save themselves and their political parties from loss of political power or influence. I mean it has become rhetoric in service of politicians on whom much blame lies for the shuttered aspirations corruption has caused since 1994.
The ANC carries a much bigger responsibility for this failure by virtue of it being the biggest and most entrench political movement in the country and being a governing party in control of the levers of state power. It has been caught up in corruption scandals along with some of its leaders.
The ANC has made the most daring promises, including a better life for all, transformation in our lifetime, black economic empowerment, a second transition, radical economic transformation, and now its promise to defeat corruption. Society has trusted it, as election results show, because it has also said it is a leader of society committed to use state power to deliver these changes to the people. But this trust has been in decline as the ANC's words fail to match action.
Role of Parliament and grassroot mobilisation
The rest of the political class is vested with power to do something significant to turn things around, even though Parliament and grassroot mobilisation also carry some of the blame. The less said about the economic elite with regard to the corruption we see, the better. We in the intellectual class have not covered ourselves in glory either, failing to use our influence to nurture an active citizenry that is not easily fooled by the political elite , nor by the economic elite. We have failed to nurture a critical consciousness upon those we teach and mentor those who ended up in crucial state, political party and private sector positions.
Politicians have this wish to capture public discourses and use them for the preservation of their power games, sometimes with the intention of improving the lot of ordinary people. The discourse of a better life for all was captured so that it led to great plans scuppered by poor action. The discourse of a rainbow nation was used to keep the status quo with some benefit for elites that enjoyed the benefits of the post-apartheid era.
The narrative of anti-corruption gained currency after the former Public Protector pointed to what she called state of capture to mean organised corruption involving key functionaries in the state, something that was hardly new. This helped make the talk about corruption widespread and amplified. But it helped others to weaponise the talk of corruption in order to weaken their opponents and strengthen themselves. Some weaponised it to avoid the deep conversation about economic transformation. Some used the talk for PR purposes.
But corruption continued. The capture of tenders in public enterprises and the tenders for Covid relief is corruption. The mechanisms set up to fight both are the same. The political class responsible for leading that fight is the same.
Now, this talk assuring people about monies for flood response is similar to assurance made about Covid relief, yet looting happened. We have not really imposed consequences for those who failed to act on the assurance in government and on those outside the state that participated. This is because assurances have entered the terrain of rhetoric that those in the state who hear it, see it as inconsequential and others outside the state as not meant.
A new culture of truthfulness needed
Funds for flood relief will be embezzled. The rhetoric about anti-corruption will also gain currency. The society will thus be kept in the balance between hope via assurances and despair on the basis of experience of persisting looting. The political and economic executive, state justice institutions, Parliament, and finally the voters in the past have not imposed consequences on wrongdoers. Why should the looters think twice this time?
Something much more fundamental needs to change for this anti-corruption language to become real threats leading to well-coordinated and effective action that deter looters from looting again. We as citizens need to wake up and use our power to reward action and punish lies, deceit and failure to act.
Politicians need to engineer a change of attitude among themselves or face extinction. Political parties need to realise how much they lose for as long as there is no consequence for blatant failure to deliver on promises. A new culture of truthfulness needs to emerge. This is critical to achieve the aims of the NDP.
- Siphamandla Zondi Director is with the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg
Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER