Editorial: People of honour — Your time is now

The frequency with which the names “Zuma” and “Gupta” dripped off our lips is slowing down. Our most recent memories of Jacob Zuma may be of his capitulation, but this week we were reminded of another time when, as deputy president, he allegedly helped manipulate a multibillion-rand arms deal for what today is seen as a paltry R500 000-a-year bribe.

On Monday, Zuma and his French arms company co-accused, Thales, will try to bend the ear of a full Bench of the high court in Pietermaritzburg in an effort to secure a permanent stay of prosecution. As we report on Page 8, this is a matter that has taken more than 15 years to be heard, with much of the delay stemming from Zuma’s Stalingrad defence, with his lawyers arguing their way to millions of rands in fees borne by the state. By taxpayers.

This week we also saw the mayor of eThekwini, Zandile Gumede, in the dock on charges relating to the alleged theft of R208-million of public money on an allegedly fraudulent waste management tender that rendered no services. Gumede is a staunch Zuma ally, and is often seen at the forefront of crowds protesting in support of the former president at his many, many court appearances. Sources in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said a further 62 councillors are likely to be charged in connection with the tender fraud, which suggests that more than a quarter of the elected public representatives in one of South Africa’s largest metros are corrupt.

While many are still poring over the election results to extract all kinds of trends, the one unequivocal conclusion must be that there are still enough people in South Africa who remain hopeful, no matter which party they voted for. They are hopeful for jobs, for homes, for services, for safety and, ultimately, for a better life that the ANC has for so long promised but largely failed to deliver.

Much of that failure is down to corruption, an affliction that too often is paired with the word “endemic”.

In last week’s vote, the ANC was offered a lifeline by a public anxious to see its choice validated by action.

The efforts of a watchful media, opposition parties and civil society to expose corruption, fraud and maladministration are well documented. Less so is the tireless, anonymous work of civil servants, for whom their work is not only a job but a privileged responsibility.

We need more than the likes of NPA boss Shamila Batohi to stand up and be counted. We need more dedicated individuals like Victor Seanie, the assistant portfolio manager at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), who told the commission of inquiry into the PIC earlier this year how his qualified advice not to proceed with the now infamous Ayo investment led to his suspension.

During his testimony before inquiry chairperson Lex Mpati, Seanie said: “In my experience, sound investment recommendations by investment professionals are often ignored at the PIC. However, I must hasten to add that there are a lot of good people at the PIC.”

Despite the many anecdotes about poor service in too many spheres of government, there is enough evidence of a small army of civil servants who every day try to live up to the highest aspirations we hold for them.

It is to them we say: your time is now.

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