Editorial: At every level the state fails citizens

For three weeks now, the Mail & Guardian has reported on the business dealings of ANC spokesperson (and one time M&G intern) Pule Mabe. In every instance Mabe has professed his innocence, insisting there is nothing untoward in a subsidiary of the North West government awarding a trust affiliated to him a multimillion-rand deal. He says there is nothing untoward in his affiliations to these companies doing business with the state, even though he was an MP when some of that business was done.

READ MORE: Mabe’s fingers in many pies

We must make it clear: Mabe is entitled to build businesses, file patents and create apps, even malfunctioning apps. And if he’s smart enough to be earning royalties off an app that’s not even fully functional, that’s further proof of his wily acumen. To be clear, it’s not the fact that the ANC spokesperson is a businessperson making millions that ought to be a matter of concern to South Africans. Rather, it is the political connections used to circumvent tender processes to do business with the state that is the red flag here.

MPs and their immediate families are specifically prohibited from doing business with the state. There is a breach of ethical conduct when this happens. But it is particularly disastrous when rules are bent and processes flouted to allow deals to be made — for goods and services to meet the needs of citizens — and then very little happens. Money changes hands with great efficiency but everything that is supposed to happen thereafter happens haltingly, if at all.

Mabe is not the only person whose dealings in and with the state must be flagged. The allegations against Mabe come against the backdrop of North West province in turmoil. Hospitals were shut down, towns were blockaded, shops vandalised, people died on the periphery of a protest against an administration that has failed its citizens. When Premier Supra Mahumapelo announced his retirement this week, he brought some relief to the thousands of people campaigning against him. He leaves a province in which every municipality is teetering between dysfunction and total collapse. But he continues to stand at the head of an ANC provincial division that has failed its people, that has thwarted the potential of hundreds of thousands of people to live a better life.

The big number of R28.4-billion in fruitless and wasteful expenditure by the country’s municipalities this year sounds alarming in itself. But what it actually translates into is hundreds of thousands of young people who will possibly never be employed, and a dire shortage of cancer specialists in the public health services that will spell death. The wastefulness, inefficiency and malfeasance in local government, and at every other level of government, translates into a systemic thwarting of the potential of South Africans.

We’re good at the annual hand-wringing about government’s wasteful ways. But what is not quantified is the number of people who are being failed: those who will remain unemployed because job creation projects transform into a get-rich scheme for a wily tenderpreneur, those who will not get life-saving cancer care because our public health services are so severely under-resourced, those who will continue eking out an existence on the fringes of formal society.

And though we can’t count them, what we do know is that the majority of these people who continue to be failed by their government at national, provincial and local levels are black. In the smudges of state capture, and every other corruption scandal, in every extraordinary tender deal that never delivers, the potential of South Africans and their ability to live decent live


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