Editorial: Our basket of deplorables

For months, reports of outright theft from the coffers of VBS Mutual Bank, a financial institution that was long touted as a necessary transformative force in South African banking, have revealed a campaign to loot funds entrusted to the bank for the benefit of people connected to it. The fact that an attempt to diversify the banking sector has so utterly failed is now just an aside. What we have is the story of a heist.

Advocate Terry Motau’s report on VBS, released this week, listed a number of people who received “gratuitous” payments from the bank. That list, which is not exhaustive, has now also implicated Floyd Shivambu and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as beneficiaries of the outright thievery at VBS.

Many people find themselves disappointed by these revelations; others will remind us that EFF leader Julius Malema and his deputy, Shivambu, are not new to controversy. We ought not to have forgotten who these guys are.

But memory is a fickle thing. We succumbed to the phenomenon of treating Malema and Shivambu as if they were a product in our service. They were a convenient receptacle for public sentiment that was so turned against the ANC led by Jacob Zuma that they really did not have to do too much to be trusted.

Many, many South Africans saw Shivambu, Malema and the rest of the EFF as counterweights to a culture of corruption that had taken root in Zuma’s ANC. They spoke loudly, and they appeared to speak effectively. Things happen when the EFF gets hold of a cause.

And yet, despite them appearing to embrace clean governance, there are now serious questions to be asked about them. It’s at a moment like this that we remember that some of the individuals associated with the EFF have had a good many questions asked about them, for past improprieties, for a long time. Those questions ought to have been answered by now.

It is therefore ridiculous that the National Prosecuting Authority has not tested allegations against such figures all this time later. But this is exactly what we get when our institutions are gutted in the service of politics. We leave the door open for it to happen again, and again, and again.

Now, just months away from the next general election, South Africans are spoilt for choice. Unfortunately that choice is restricted to a basket of deplorables. We cannot depend on politicians to deliver anything to us, let alone adequate choices. What we can depend upon is the ability of citizens to go out into the streets and transform their societies.

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