Editorial: Fix core first for Gogo's sake

Public protector Thuli Madonsela. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Public protector Thuli Madonsela. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

For much of her (rapidly expiring) term, public protector Thuli Madonsela has talked about the overdue government pension money or the unobtainable identity document as the bread-and-butter issues that her office prioritises. There is little doubt that Madonsela knows her business, yet in this instance we fundamentally disagree with her.

What Madonsela calls “the Gogo Dlamini cases” must be solved, and the underlying structural issues standing between Gogo Dlamini and her pension must be addressed. But in the long run, the kind of country in which a private presidential home is upgraded with state funds will not have the money to pay Gogo Dlamini’s pension, no matter how efficient the pension system is.

When a party misuses state resources for its own political gain and is not even reprimanded, then at stake is the very democracy that is supposed to improve Gogo Dlamini’s life. Whether she has an ID or not will make very little difference.

The big issues matter. And it doesn’t get much bigger than state capture.

As Parliament had no incentive whatsoever to deal with Nkandla, so the ANC had no incentive to deal with allegations that the Gupta family was in effect controlling its top leaders. Just as state-bought food parcels being handed out at an ANC event may not quite constitute a criminal act, a president taking advice from businesspeople on Cabinet appointments may not constitute corruption – even if the increasingly executive-minded police were to investigate the same.

If one family has had undue, damaging influence on everything from policy decisions to the composition of the boards of state-owned enterprises, then the public protector is the body we must look to for action.

So Madonsela’s confirmation this week that she has requested the budget needed to investigate allegations of state capture comes as something of a relief.

We hope that Madonsela’s successor will share many of her attributes: her fearlessness in speaking truth to power, her ability to stay the course in the face of serious attempts at political bullying and her focus on the long-term greater good rather than expediency.

If it were ever to come down to a choice, however, we hope the next public protector will prioritise the investigation of alleged state capture over the day-to-day failures and excesses of the state, and so help to fix it from the core outward.

 

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