At its core, the struggle against apartheid was for the restoration of the humanity of the dispossessed, oppressed and exploited Afrikan masses. Apartheid had reduced ours to the status of sub-humans. Even dogs were given a better treatment that our people were! And to be called a dog in our culture is probably the worst insult, but those who held the reins of power felt that we worse than dogs. We became a nation of children. No matter how old our fathers and mothers were, to those who wielded power, they were boys and girls. And one of the worst things one can do in our culture is to call a grown man inkwenkwe (a boy).
More than it being a day on which we attained our “freedom”, 27 April 1994 was really about the restoration of our humanity. “New” South Afrikan (a misnomer because there is no “New” Gold Coast but Ghana; no “New” South West Afrika but Namibia, etc.) President, Nelson Mandela put it so aptly when he said that this nation shall never again have one oppressing another, in his inauguration speech. And so we have a constitution, said to be the most progressive in the world. (I have an issue with that, but that’s a matter for another day). As part of the constitution, some institutions were established to ensure that our humanity is protected, one of which is the Public Protector (PP).
Among the functions of the PP (as laid down in chapter 9, section 182 of the constitution) is to investigate any conduct in state affairs, or in the public administration in any sphere of government, that is alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice; to report on that conduct; and to take remedial action.
There have been three people appointed to that office since it was established in 1994. But none of them has drawn so much attention and fire as the incumbent, Adv. Thuli Madonsela. Understandably, the first PP, Adv. Selby Baqwa’s task was to establish the office and lay down the necessary infrastructure. His successor, Adv. Lawrence Mushwana was charged with the consolidation and so Adv. Madonsela took an institution that was well established, her task having been made relatively easier by her two predecessors.
She undertook her work with immense courage and boldly spoke truth to power. A few (high profile) heads rolled as a result of her investigations, reports and recommendations. These included that of a cabinet minister and a police commissioner. The two made reappearance as ambassador and deputy minister, respectively. In South Afrika, people are not fired, they get “released for new opportunities!”
Of all the cases she’s taken on, none has drawn the ire of the ruling elite than that of the security upgrades at the president’s homestead in Nkandla KZN. There were concerns around the cost of the said upgrades amounting to about a quarter of a billion rand. Without doubt, this is a ridiculously high amount to spend on a single person’s family home. In a country that is plagued by the triple evils of poverty, unemployment and inequality (SA has the dubious honour of being the most unequal society in the world!).
After conducting her investigation, the PP found that the president and his family improperly benefited from the upgrade as there were things done which had absolutely nothing with his security. And she then recommended that the president should pay back the money used for those. This was in line with her functions as prescribed by the constitution.
Almost a year after the report and recommendation were issued, we are still way off knowing when the money will be paid back. There have been further investigations conducted, which recommended that further investigations be conducted! Those and attacks, as well as vilifications of the person of the PP. According to some in the ruling party, the PP has acted outside her mandate and some have played the conspiracy card arguing that the PP is on a mission to discredit and destabilize the country! The old adage certainly rings true, and patriotism does appear to be the last refuge of scoundrels.
Like I indicated at the beginning of this article, our struggle was that which sought to eradicate the apartheid crime against the humanity of Afrikan people in this country, and replace it with an order that is humane at its core. That was why the “necklace” method of dealing with political adversaries and informants (real and alleged) of the apartheid government was condemned and rightly so because one can’t use inhuman means to attain a humane end.
The same applies to how affairs of state ought to be conducted. Things like corruption disrespect for the rule of law and state institutions, etc. should be an anomaly in a humane order. They must be rejected with the utter contempt that they deserve because of the values that are upheld in a humane order. And those (like Adv. Madonsela) who are doing their work with all due diligence should be supported rather than vilified. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard and not measure our success/failure by the yardstick of the apartheid rulers. Apartheid was declared a crime against humanity by the international community and that makes those who presided over it (I dare say) criminals! And they should be thankful to Nelson Mandela that they didn’t get a Nuremberg trial. They can’t therefore be our standard of measure for how things are done.
Our failure to stand up and be counted as citizens will result in ours becoming yet another failed state. It must be remembered that it only takes good people to do/say nothing for things to awry in our country. “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voices of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.’ Haile Selassie. For the sake of our country we should rally behind Adv. Madonsela. It cannot be that doing one’s job becomes an exception. For goodness’ sake we are the major stakeholders in SA Inc.! Let’s demand our due now! If we do not do that, our posterity will inherit a wasteland and they will be spitting on our graves for not having done anything to stem the tide of rot in our country.
Smart M. Maqubela