/ 26 August 2016

Editorial: In order to stop the nonsense, your country needs you to speak out

Editorial In

Before the Constitutional Court made hers one of the most powerful offices in the land, public protector Thuli Madonsela was asked what action she was taking to protect that office – then under intense pressure on the matter of the millions of rands of public money spent on President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla home.

Madonsela seemed to consider the matter for a moment, then blinked a few times, and said: “What am I doing? If there is a danger, as you say, then I should be asking: What are you doing?”

Not many months later, the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance flooded the streets outside the Constitutional Court with their supporters while inside their legal representatives tore to shreds the combined weight of the obfuscatory nonsense presented by a tame Parliament and the president.

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan blew wide open the seemingly deeply misguided inquiry through which the Hawks have come to believe him corrupt for signing off on the early retirement of a subordinate. He did not ask for help, he demanded the space to do his job. But the very act of putting the whole matter into the public domain sent a message in itself.

On Thursday morning, former judge Johann Kriegler put it tersely. Speaking outside the headquarters of the Hawks in Pretoria, where Gordhan’s fellow not-quite-yet-accused were being questioned, he said it was past time for South Africans to say: “Enough of this. We are on your side. We are on the side of the just and the good.”

We do not know exactly what happened at the South African Revenue Service under Gordhan’s watch. We do not know for certain whether he broke any laws. But we do know that the line of questioning the Hawks is pursuing shows they have no reasonable suspicion that any law was broken.

We do not know exactly what is happening at the major parastatals. We do not know for a fact that friends of President Jacob Zuma are actively looting those parastatals on a scale that must be counted in the trillions. But we do know that one is in crisis, another has massive holes in its books, a third is acting in ways that benefit one particular family and a fourth is entering into a nonsensical partnership.

We also know that links to Zuma and the inexplicably daft decisions by members of the Cabinet that serves at his pleasure run through these events not so much like a thread as a steel cable.

Is Gordhan the lone upright defender against a marauding gang of looters? The idea has an alluring simplicity, but is just that: simplistic. So is the idea that Zuma is mounting a direct campaign against Gordhan.

But we do not need any such simple explanation to heed Kriegler’s call, or the call we fancy we hear from Gordhan. The bumbling nature of the Hawks’ pseudo-investigation into Gordhan and his former subordinates is unacceptable. The state of affairs at SAA, the Passenger Rail Agency, Eskom and Denel is appalling. The attempts to thwart much-needed investigations at the likes of the rail agency and into state capture are shocking.

Responsibility for all of this rests ultimately, and squarely, on Zuma’s shoulders. His insouciant shrug is a slap in the face for the country. And that requires us to stand up and say: Stop the nonsense.