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Editorial: Serial wrongdoers get away with it

An often cited definition of insanity, popularly but wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In the examples of former deputy higher education minister Mduduzi Manana and ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe, we have two people who continue to do the same things but expect something different to happen, namely, not to get caught.

In the Mail & Guardian this week, we report that Mabe has been fingered as being at the centre of what appears to be a highly irregular tender from a parastatal associated with the North West government. The rushed payment was so peculiar that the board of the parastatal is now embarking on its own “pay back the money” campaign.

This is not the first time Mabe has been in this kind of trouble.

His company, KG Media, made headlines in 2015 when it was implicated in wrongdoing in the public protector’s report on the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). KG Media was found to have “improperly” received a communication contract worth R33-million from Prasa without correct tender processes being followed. Eventually a parliamentary committee reportedly recommended that Mabe be fined for benefiting from a contract with the state-owned enterprise.

So Mabe has been reprimanded for this sort of thing before.

We’re not even considering the time when Mabe was arrested amid allegations that he dished out welfare money to his buddies and also used it to repay his credit card debt. He was acquitted by a court.

But there’s clearly a problem.

Although Mabe, a former MP — a publicly elected representative — protests his innocence, any previous attempt to ensure that he did not use his position to do business with the state has failed to prevent a recurrence of something similar.

Then there’s the case of Manana.

Early this week it emerged he was facing fresh charges of assault brought against him by his former housekeeper. It was alleged that he pushed his 53-year-old domestic worker, Christine Wiro, down the stairs of his home. The charges were later withdrawn.

This followed on from an incident in September last year when Manana was convicted on three counts of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, to which he pleaded guilty. The incident involved the assault on three women at Cubana, a nightclub in Fourways, Johannesburg, on August 6 2017, which was filmed and sparked a national outcry.

In a display of accountability that surprised many of us, Manana was forced to resign from his ministerial position. But he retained his seat in Parliament and was also elected to the ANC’s national executive committee in December.

Regarding the most recent incident, recordings emerged of Manana rather generously offering the family of his housekeeper R100 000 if they dropped the charges against him.

As with Mabe, it appears the existing repercussions for wrongdoing by public officials do not prevent it from happening again.

We need better checks on power.

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