Letters to the Editor: February 25

The Mail & Guardian‘s readers share their views on Trevor Ncube’s opinion piece, mortuaries in KwaZulu-Natal and much more.

MDC is still a viable option
Trevor Ncube’s thoughtful article on Zimbabwe (“We are our own liberators“, February 18) and some of the lessons that can be learned from unfolding developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and, most importantly, Libya needs a constructive response.

Ncube continues to display some fundamental illusions, to my way of thinking, regarding the refusal by Zanu-PF to abide by the Global Political Agreement. His reference to the Movement for Democratic Change as the “opposition” is factually incorrect.

It continues to belittle the reality of our people-driven organisation, being undoubtedly the largest Zimbabwean political party of choice. That’s free choice — free of Zanu-PF brutality and institutionalised military-sponsored violence!

The “third way” political option, advocated by Ncube and initially given stillbirth by Ncube’s support of Simba Makoni (readers, remember him?), is not clearly articulated at all. Zimbabweans do not want “leaders” imposed upon them. Arthur Mutambara and others parachuted into the struggle have been, and will continue to be, rejected by the people.

While some leaders in the MDC might have displayed tendencies of arrogance, or indifference, to categorise our party and therefore the majority of Zimbabweans who support us as “politically clueless” is not helpful.

Further constituency-building must be done by our party with all the NGOs and Zimbabwean opinion-makers, including Ncube, to ensure that our party is perceived and listened to carefully by all those who agree: our absolute priority is the defeat of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.

The simple reality of Zimbabwe, and I drew attention to this in an extremely important forum in Paris recently, is that Zimbabwe is effectively run by a military junta. It is every bit as ruthless as any other one cares to think of — and I talk from personal experience. This junta has its origins in the sad role played in Zimbabwean affairs by former president Thabo Mbeki.

Rather than comparing Zimbabwe with Tunisia, let all Africans reflect on the indisputable fact that the MDC won the 2008 election, which in itself was massively skewed against us. The refusal by Mbeki to demand, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union, that Mugabe concede defeat and his compliance in approving Mugabe’s bloodstained grab for power in the sham presidential run-off is now evident for all to see. What Tunisia does happily confirm to the MDC, however, is that ultimately the people will prevail.

Unfortunately, President Jacob Zuma will have to pick up the Mbeki pieces. He will have to restore Nelson Mandela’s bequest of rightful credibility to South Africa both within the SADC, Africa and internationally. He will have to insist that the Zanu-PF, a militarised dictatorship, respect and implement each and every undertaking agreed to in writing in the Global Political Agreement.

The SADC after all is the guarantor and South Africa the facilitator. Each step towards free and fair elections has been agreed upon. Now is the time for clarity from the South Africans. It requires from them the clear, unambiguous demand that democratic structures and processes cannot be simply ignored and that the will of the people must be respected.

In conclusion, I am deeply humbled by the unwavering support extended to me by Zimbabweans from all walks of life, who continue to encourage me and my family and party to continue the fight for Zimbabwe’s liberation from Zanu-PF tyranny. — Roy Bennett, MDC

Mortuaries in KwaZulu-Natal in shocking shape
Unlike in Gauteng, state mortuaries in KwaZulu-Natal are in anything but good shape (“Toxic meltdown at forensic labs“, February 18). Most appear to lack essential equipment, such as X-ray machines, and are poorly managed. Problems are exacerbated by the dearth of properly qualified pathologists, especially in the rural areas.

The situation at the Magwaza Maphalala (Gale Street) mortuary, which deals with large numbers of unnatural deaths in Durban, is particularly critical. Management is virtually nonexistent and professionals using the facilities complain that staff members are ill-disciplined and uncooperative. Most lack the qualifications laid down in legislation for performing their jobs. Health and hygiene standards are not maintained, endangering the safety of those working there. There are serious allegations of corruption.

The mortuary workers, despite providing essential services, participated in the health workers’ strike last August and at least some of them engaged in criminal behaviour.

Staff workers who continued working were threatened with death, generators were switched off and fridges sabotaged, identification tags of corpses were cut off and bodies mixed up. Death registers and dissection tools used by pathologists were hidden.

The extent of the problems at this mortuary had been drawn to the attention of the provincial health authorities long before the strike-linked chaos, with details of steps needed to rectify matters. It seems that no constructive action has been taken yet.

As is the case with other taxpayer-funded health-related issues, the provincial MEC for health refuses to supply proper answers to public-interest questions about what his department is doing about this completely unacceptable situation.

Does the department of health not understand just how crucial forensic services, including mortuaries, are to the administration of justice? Do its functionaries, like those in too many other government departments, not appreciate that democracy demands answers to public-interest questions? — Mary de Haas, Durban

Drunk with power
Power-mongering by humans mocks democracy and all the good that it stands for. Demagogues have messed up the world in the name of defending the fundamental principles of democracy. Democracy is under siege from self-proclaimed democrats.

Dictatorship has crippled the African continent and dealt a serious blow to the democratic project. Power-hungry individuals always argue that it is suicidal to change leadership frequently because that destroys continuity. Their point is that the same leadership should continue to be at the helm to build stability, maturity, vision and an informed direction. To a degree, this thinking may be correct.

But there are dire consequences. Leadership should not be the monopoly of certain individuals within organisations. There are no individuals born to be leaders – leaders are produced and nurtured by society. All human beings have the potential to become leaders.

We should seriously initiate a dialogue on the phenomenon of permanent leadership. I think it has reached pandemic proportions. Some leaders become overwhelmed by and obsessed with power to the extent that it becomes unthinkable to relinquish it. They believe, fallaciously, that they were preordained to wield power in perpetuity.

To protect themselves, they create cliques and cabals of sycophants and praise singers who are often used as dogs of war to defend the status quo.
Such leaders become excessively paranoid and thrive on factionalism. Yet internal debate is vehemently discouraged and those who engage in intellectual critique are marginalised and silenced.

We need to end the lack of political consciousness among the citizenry, which I think has helped dictatorship thrive. Political docility and timidity should be discouraged, for it is through such attitudes that political dictatorship comes about. — Benzi Ka-Soko, Soweto

Country going to heaven in a cardboard box
I have been worried for a long time about my salvation. Now, the president has promised me and other worried citizens that we will go straight to heaven if we vote for his party. No more praying, no more confessions — that is a promise! We also have promises of jobs, jobs, jobs and other unfulfilled desires. Welcome to Cloud Cuckoo Land or to our Banana Republic — whatever you wish to call our beloved country.

The government does not care about the upliftment of the poor. Inherited and existing resources have been pillaged and squandered. Roads, hospitals and schools have been neglected and mismanaged through incompetence, greed and irresponsibility, to a point where, in spite of funds being available in the relevant budgets, the roads become unusable and hospitals and schools become dysfunctional.

Units in KwaZulu-Natal ensure the worst possible outcome, with babies dying and sleeping, in some cases, in cardboard boxes. Funds for feeding schemes for schoolchildren have been plundered and these schemes brought to a standstill, not to mention school-transport schemes that have been bled dry of funds.

What about the white elephant stadiums that have stood as monuments to short-sighted planning since the Fifa World Cup?

The ANC Youth League, with the aid of the National Lottery, squandered millions, to the detriment of thousands of other urgent and worthy causes. Yet social backlogs are just shrugged off by government. It makes me wonder how citizens can still vote for a government that has callously shown that it does not really care for the poorest masses, only for flashy cars, luxurious hotels, and so on.

Regimes tend to create additional sources of revenue when mismanagement leads to serious financial shortfalls. What do you think is behind the latest road tolls? Milking the public. The toll idea, the salvation promise, and many other empty promises, were not well thought through. — “No Fool”

Editorial missed it
Your editorials are usually spot on, but this time (February 18), you are wrong. You justify the new toll fees with the argument that the “user pays”. I am also a great advocate of the “user pays” principle and in the case of road users we do pay — through the government fuel levy, which is about R1,60 a litre and, as usual, will be raised in the budget. So where has all this money gone?

Clearly, it hasn’t been spent on road maintenance, judging by the state of our roads. Methinks it was plundered and squandered on flashy cars, huge retrenchment packages and perks galore. — Tony Ball, Durban

UKZN destroyed
The finances of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) must indeed be on a sound footing to allow for a full-page advert in the Mail & Guardian (February 18).

Vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba is soon in full flood, attacking the so-called enemies of transformation, detractors who were sacked or left the university to avoid disciplinary proceedings (for which read trumped-up charges), crony journalism and now academics of integrity such as Martin Hall. It’s a familiar, well-practised litany justifying Makgoba’s long and ­successful autocratic reign at UKZN.

What the advertisement does not say is that the last vestige of academic rule, the faculty, is being abolished at UKZN. A few dozen managers of schools will in future report to heads of colleges (deputy vice-chancellors) and the structure of academic serfdom will be complete. This model is being imposed and there has been barely a murmur of dissent, such is the climate of fear. UKZN’s senate long since became a toy telephone.

Perhaps the only glimmer of hope for the many who have suffered from six grinding years of authoritarianism at UKZN is that the suppression of the Committee for Higher Education audit report is an issue with national ramifications. Given Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s disgraceful “darkie” remarks in Parliament recently, it is clear that there is a happy coincidence of sell-by dates for both him and Makgoba. — Christopher Merrett, Pietermaritzburg

Kill the lawyers?
How tiresome to read “When it comes to hate speech, context is king” (February 18) by lawyers from Webber Wentzel Attorneys. “Kill the boer” or “Kill the black”, “Kill the white”, “Kill the Jew”, “Kill Milo”, “Kill Mngomezulu” are all expressions of hate.

When any such statements are used on a public platform, they constitute hate speech in the law of South Africa. Sad that Webber Wentzel Attorneys would consider wasting court time, and thereby taxpayers’ money, with silly arguments not concerned with upholding the law. — Larry Jenkins, Cape Town

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