/ 21 April 2023

South African politicians have an overreach disease that cripples the state

Tasneem Motara
At the frontline: Tasneem Motara, the MEC in charge of infrastructure in Gauteng, is under immense pressure to deliver. (Delwyn Verasamy)

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity. So said Chinese military general and strategist Sun Tzu during a time of war where chaos was a marker of the time. In modern-day South Africa, the maxim lives on. 

It is now in effect adopted by greedy politicians who create chaos to birth opportunities — opportunities to fatten their own pockets. This is evident in every government structure in the country where funds are taken in full view.  

This week, the Mail & Guardian learned of economic agencies in Gauteng — the country’s biggest economy — being under siege, resulting in a collapse of corporate governance. 

It’s all a game of political chess that is under way at both the Gauteng Growth Development Agency and the Gauteng Gambling Board, with MEC Tasneem Motara at the centre of the storm that has the boards of both agencies being dissolved as directors resigned en masse. 

By law, the MEC had no other alternative but to dissolve the boards and, by doing so, become the ultimate decision-maker in agencies that are supposed to be directing the course of the economy and collecting funds from gambling activities to disburse to important social initiatives in the second-most populous province in the country. 

In the months since the dissolution of the boards, there’s been much personnel movement in the agencies, with the gambling board’s chief executive overseeing the suspension of four key directors including the chief financial officer.

The placing of key players in strategic positions in Gauteng while doing away with structures that are integral to ensuring good governance practices is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the country. Where the bad brand of ANC politics can have an impact on state organs, it does without any thought to the actual functioning of said utilities. 

Throughout all or, to be fair, most organs of state, the tentacles of the governing party corrode the ability to operate and every South African — no matter your standing — feels the impact. Everything from potholes to the prospect of stage eight load-shedding is a result of the indecision caused by the insertion of compromised executives in agencies and state-owned enterprises as large as Eskom. 

The country may be heading towards coalition politics next year, replacing this ageing and corrupt behemoth in the ANC as the final decision-maker in our lives. But as long as governance processes aren’t fixed to keep the tentacles of all politics out of the organisations of state, we’ll be stuck with this problem.

South African politicians, big and small, national and provincial, just have too much power.