The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture has seen some turn their gaze in aversion. Former president Jacob Zuma had warned of this — that there was no knowing where it would end. Many of the truths, filleted in all their smarmy detail, have confirmed much of what has been written about by the media.
Still, there is a certain horror that accompanies what had initially beggared belief becoming affirmed reality. Countless individuals played their part, big and small, in ensuring that an entire country became beholden to a group of despicable thieves.
The English language does not offer superlatives adequate enough to describe the actions and character of these thieves. This week we heard from the former head of protocol at the department of international relations, Bruce Koloane. The man, who is now South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands, told the commission that his instruction to allow the Gupta wedding party to land at Waterkloof air base was all a “pure misunderstanding”. He also probably perjured himself before the commission when he denied that he invoked the names of Zuma and others to unprocedurally speed up approvals for the landing.
After being presented recordings of him doing exactly that, Koloane changed his tune, citing a psychological block. But, when it was all said and done, he walked out of the chamber, boarded a business class flight back to Amsterdam and settled back into his cushy job. The law enforcement authorities say they can’t touch him, for now. The department of international relations and co-operation says he has already been punished: two months pay docked and a final written warning.
There’s a palpable frustration that has for too long permeated South African society. A frustration with the likes of Koloane and the plethora of rogues whose misdeeds have been well documented but who have suffered zero repercussions. National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shamila Batohi says she is acutely aware of the public’s desire for justice. Still, she insists she and the NPA will not be rushed into premature action.
The same goes for the Hawks, who, we are told, are painstakingly putting together cases that will pass muster once they are presented before the courts. But hearing, week in and week out, how business, civil servants and politicians systematically hollowed out the state is heartbreaking and defeating for any person who identifies with the ideals of this country. Death by a thousand cuts — and Koloane is just the latest.
To look forward it is perhaps necessary for us to look back at the previous incumbent to the role Koloane so disgraced. For nearly a decade, ambassador Billy Modise was the epitome of stateliness. Always with a ready, humble smile, as chief of state protocol, his was the hidden hand that handled countless heads of state visits, ministers and the numerous efforts to broker peace across our continent. These efforts often served as a stress test for diplomacy, when mortal enemies had to be accommodated within touching distance of each other. Of course, it wasn’t Modise alone who did all this. Behind, before and beside him stood a small army of civil servants, clear in the work that had to be done, resolute in their purpose.
Many still remain, quietly, diligently ensuring the wheels of government continue to turn, no matter how inhibited. It is to their tenacity that we must look for inspiration that, one day, hopefully soon, justice will prevail and that the country most of us believe in will be so much closer to realisation.