I’ve given up waiting for President Cyril Ramaphosa to fire his minister of blunders, Nathi Mthethwa, over his R22-million flagpole debacle and headed for the broken paradise of Port St Johns for the week to recover.
It looks like Ramaphosa’s order to Mthethwa to “cancel that thing” will have to suffice — for now — and that Mthethwa will continue to be a burden on the public purse, an embarrassment to the president at whose behest he serves and an annoyance to those of us who pay his bills for the foreseeable future.
I had hoped, naively and briefly, that Ramaphosa would follow through and send Mthethwa home in an Uber — word has it the Benz stayed with Crime Intelligence so it’s that or Park Station. But it appears that stupidity, incompetence and a total failure to read the room are not dismissable offences when it comes to serving South Africa at the highest level.
I knew that, but one lives in hope.
The truth is, Ramaphosa and the rest of his cabinet had officially endorsed Mthethwa’s proposal, so there would have been a whole lot of ride-sharing from Pretoria to far flung corners of our nation had there been any real consequence over his recklessness with our money.
I wonder how Mthethwa’s flagpole got the cabinet’s stamp of approval?
Perhaps they, like Mthethwa, thought that R22-million for a 100m flagpole was a good idea; something that we actually needed?
Some members of our cabinet have been around since former president Jacob Zuma’s firepool days — some even tried to justify blowing R238-million on Pay Back The Money’s Nkandla love nest — and wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, even if the flagpole cost R220-million.
Others have blown a whole lot more than R22-million on projects with far less value — and significantly less legality — so I guess they would have kept quiet when Mthethwa was pitching for his pole.
I’m pretty sure that a fair number of cabinet members would have fallen asleep during Mthethwa’s presentation.
I’ve nodded off more than once while listening to Mthethwa drone on in briefings or addressing funerals — I’m sure he’s bored himself to sleep more than once — so my money’s on at least one third of cabinet only hearing about his latest disaster when the news arrived on the ANC Today WhatsApp group.
Back to Tuesday.
We’re at Dikidikeni, a village about four hours hard driving from Port St Johns, on the border of the Ntabankulu local municipality and the Ingquza Hill local municipality.
It’s a pretty good place to forget about Mthethwa and his flagpole — no cellphone signal, no news bulletins, no press alerts and media briefings — just fields and fields of cannabis and no bridge, which is why we’re here.
We’ve come to see Sifiso Mfanekiso and the other young men from the village who help children, older people and non-swimmers to cross the Mzintlava River every day to go to school, the shops and the clinic.
It’s a dire situation, one that people at Dikidikeni have had to deal with as long as the village has existed.
When the river flooded during recent heavy rains, they had to tow people across it in a sealed barrel roped to their bodies, two of them using the current to land their terrified human cargo downstream on the other bank.
The river had subsided significantly by the time we arrived, and they’ve gone back to walking people through the freezing, waist deep water.
It’s still scary. The river bed is uneven, with deep pools in several places where they cross and it’s flowing hard as a result of more rain at the weekend.
Mfanekiso and his friends have given up on either municipality building a bridge any time soon and have resigned themselves to guiding people across the river.
They’re looking for practical solutions to make things easier and safer: wetsuits to keep them warm, lifejackets for the people they help cross, life buoys on either bank in case anybody gets swept away, a zip line, to move people and groceries across without getting into the water.
Somebody suggests I ask Mthethwa to divert the R22-million to the people of Dikidikeni so they can build themselves a bridge. Another recommends the minister donate the flagpole itself, so they can cannibalise it and use it to build a zip line.
I burst out laughing. Even at Dikidikeni, they know Nathi.