/ 8 April 2020

Editorial: Shame on you, Stella!

(Mail & Guardian)
(Mail & Guardian)

This week, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, the now suspended minister of communications and digital technologies, embodied the worst of South Africans’ experience of the ANC government. In a picture shared on Instagram by Mduduzi Manana, the minister was all smiles as she joined Sunday lunch at the home of Manana, a former deputy minister of higher education.

This is the same man who resigned after a video emerged on social media showing him physically assaulting a woman. Then there was the odd business of his former domestic worker also alleging that he had assaulted her. And then there was the audio that emerged purporting to show that he had tried to bribe said former employee. Manana himself represents the worst of the ANC’s cadre deployment.

But it was Ndabeni-Abrahams who incurred the wrath of the South African public. The gall she displayed by not only breaking the regulations of the lockdown, but also being emboldened enough to pose for a picture while doing so, exposed her as someone who believes herself to be above the rule of law. Either that, or she is hugely naive and, by inference, not fit to hold her trusted position.

That position is one of great power at this time. Our democracy is incredibly vulnerable right now, with immense powers given to the state, even if there are checks and balances built in. We have handed over our rights in the expectation that it is for a greater good. When those at the very top fail, it makes us question whether we are right to have given up so much with trust.

With so much of our own freedom handed over, we laugh when videos are shared of people using loudhailers to tell joggers and lockdown-breakers that, “Cyril has asked us to stay home”. Humour in bleak times is how we deal in South Africa.

But there is a deadly point to this. For reasons we are still trying to understand, the reported numbers of people testing positive for Covid-19 haven’t grown as rapidly as before, or at the arte they have in other countries. Part of this seems to be the rapid and serious response of our president, first by closing borders and then by instituting a strict lockdown.

When people go outside, they endanger lives. Covid-19 doesn’t care if the person who passed the disease to you is a minister, pastor or taxi driver. It spreads rapidly and we have no vaccination. Right now, it is a death sentence for the people who it hits hardest. 

When we emerge from this crisis many people hope that it will be with greater wisdom and a deeper sense of humanity. Politically, it would also help this country if our president were able to act more decisively against ministers who show little regard for the law.