In a time of cholera

If we had any hope that we could somehow isolate ourselves from the collapse of Zimbabwe, consider the 31 South Africans who have died in the current cholera outbreak. Now affecting more than 3 000 people, this latest scourge is not the cholera-as-usual that continues to ebb and flow through poor and rural South Africa each rainy season.

This time, it vectored across our borders from Zimbabwe, reflecting how no African crisis is ever contained by a border. There are about three million Zimbabweans living here and in December they queued at the Musina crossing to go home for Christmas as migrants across the globe do.

They carried food and presents to their depleted and depressed compatriots and many came back to their adopted homes with the cholera bacterium that has killed more than 2 755 of their children, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.

As water expert Mike Muller noted in The Weekender, this outbreak has been spread by road—a symbol of the constant flow of humanity that is South and Southern Africa.
It is an outcome of a rapid urbanisation and migration, which is the single biggest challenge facing the incoming government after this year’s election. And it shows why rural South Africa is often a forgotten country.

The water source of most South Africans is still a tap in the yard, a neighbour’s tap, a water tank or a river; more than half of all households have a flushing or chemical toilet but too many still use pits, pit latrines, buckets and open water sources. Never mind apartheid South Africa, for many of our compatriots, rural life is still feudal life.

As we report this week, patience is wearing thin. In Limpopo a community buffeted by unemployment and hunger turned on its councillors when it faced one more crisis (cholera) it could not deal with. Nurses protested at the lack of cholera kits but also at a system buckling under another pandemic.

South Africa cannot any longer pretend that President Robert Mugabe is anything but a dictator presiding over a failed state. Then it must act to ensure he is levered from power. Either that or we will fail too.

ANC leadership or ANC dealership?
“This rot is across the board — Almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money. A great deal of the ANC’s problems are occasioned by this. There are people who want to take it [the ANC] over so they can arrange for the appointment of those who will allow them possibilities for future accumulation.”

These were the words of Kgalema Motlanthe, then secretary general of the ANC, two years ago. Then president Thabo Mbeki made similar noises equating the struggle for position to the struggle for resources.

Two years on, one side of the equation—a struggle for position and the “taking over” of the ANC—has been established beyond a doubt. But does the corollary, that this struggle was for lucre, hold?

The post-Polokwane leadership, and not least our ethically challenged president-in-waiting, have made all the right noises about the need to fight corruption.

But what have the new leaders done—apart, of course, from showing a remarkably forgiving attitude to those among them accused or convicted of fraud and corruption; or tearing apart the main corruption fighting agency; or showing great unity of purpose with Mbeki’s “old ANC” in shafting uppity prosecutions boss Vusi Pikoli?

The impression that there is no will to stop the rot and that the reward of high office remains the right to seek rent for oneself and one’s cronies is not diminished by the award last week of a correctional services catering tender worth more than R800-million to controversial facilities management company Bosasa.

As we report, Bosasa is a company under investigation for tender fraud relating, among other things, to the last time it won the same contract. Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour’s alleged words when he attended the unsealing of the tender box following his reappointment by Motlanthe—“this is my department and I decide what happens in my department”—do not help dispel the impression either.

Since September’s change of the guard Balfour and Bosasa have experienced no let or hindrance, in spite of the corruption investigation which led to Bosasa and a departmental official close to Balfour being raided by the Special Investigating Unit late last year.

Not even straight-shooting director general Vernie Petersen could stand in the way: when he questioned Balfour’s perceived preferential treatment of Bosasa, the incoming regime had no problem redeploying him to another department at Balfour’s request.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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