Songezo Mabece

Batho pele, we need servants not rulers

For many outside his country, he remains nondescript. For the people of Uruguay — their president embodies the calling of being a true civil servant. Colloquially, he is known as the world’s poorest president. An assessment of his lifestyle may just confirm that to be true. He, however, disputes that he is poor. Rather, he submits that he lives a simplistic lifestyle. Either way, what is of moment is that President Jose Mujica resonates with the most common person in a way very few of his contemporaries do.

He lives on a farm that belongs to his wife, in the outskirts of the country’s capital — Montevideo. This is a far cry from the imposing structures of the White House or the recently constructed rival to the White House, Nkandla. A three-legged dog and two police officers are said to be his only defence on the property. He donates 90% of his salary to poor people and ailing entrepreneurs. The remaining 10% puts him on par with the average Joe in Uruguay. Large, long and loud motorcades are not his style as his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle performs the same function, with fewer inputs. When he is not feeling well, he does not summon the best and most expensive in the most private — he slides across the public health facility benches as his turn draws nearer.

Mujica’s political background is not too dissimilar to what we would refer to as “good struggle credentials”. Elected to office in 2009, Mujica spent the 1960s and 1970s as part of the Uruguayan guerrilla Tupamaros, a leftist armed group inspired by the Cuban revolution. For his efforts, he earned himself 14 years in prison while the country was sieged by military rule. It was only in 1985, when the country had found its way to democracy, that he would be released.

In the same period, in the same hemisphere, only divided by the great Atlantic Ocean, something similar was happening in South Afrika. The 1980s, too, paved the way for the democracy we now enjoy. Political prisoners were being released as the dawn of democracy was nigh. From this, we saw the emergence of cadres who had dedicated their lives for a free and fair South Afrika. At the heart of their dedication was the philosophy of serving people, especially the oppressed. What emerged, as a symbol of this dedication, was one gentle old man who would distinguish himself as one of the icons of all time. Together with the forces of change, he’d convinced those who were in illegitimate power to concede that dignity was the end, and this dedication was the means. In order for this end to be achieved, mass cooperation and collaboration with all sectors was needed to realise a rainbow nation. And behold, it came true: The Constitution was borne. With the stage set, the scene scripted, the audience seated — the actors merely needed to follow the script. And for some time they flirted with it, with Madiba the protagonist. Today, their successors have flattered to deceive.

When we were the toast of the world, having attained what took too unnecessarily long to achieve in 1994, words that were complimentary with the raised glasses were “dignity”, “equality” and “freedom.” In this context, at the heart of the new government that at last represented the will of the people, service and service delivery would be hallmarks of a successful transition from oppression to liberation. The people’s resources would be entrusted to the elected representatives who had a simple mandate — batho pele — people first.

In the very recent times, we have seen a systematic process of destroying the early gains of what that 1994 script promised. The upshot of this process has seen the dictates of batho pele disintegrate into mere rhetoric. Key to this swift disintegration has been the dissolution of key institutions and the creation of smokescreen counterparts, the paying of lip service to those institutions in existence, the appointment of blindly loyal persons to positions of authority, and a chronic failure to rebuke malpractice within the civil service. As the construction of the Twin Towers took over three years to complete, it took less than 10 minutes for them to collapse. It took one sinister visionary to cause this mass destruction. One was enough. In like fashion, our national polity has crumbled. Confidence is at an all-time low and our rulers bear witness with little to no shame.

So what happened to our rainbow nation? Perhaps we need to preface the response to this question with a quotation from the deputy chief justice, Dikgang Moseneke, speaking recently to the Black Management Forum. He said: “As a start, we should perhaps rethink the way with which we refer to our leaders in government. They are not rulers. They are servants. We cannot have a ruling party. We must have a serving party. The opposition parties can, therefore, compete for the privilege to serve, and not the right to rule, as it is commonly displayed and understood. Perhaps then our parties will attract a talented pool of young people willing to serve … ”

The ANC-led government faces a myriad of challenges and most of them come from within. What is without question is that the movement is going through a metamorphosis. The identity of the party is not what it was some 20 years back, much less what it was in 1912. While there are those who embody the 1994 script, these are mere remnants among today’s corps.

Does this change spell doom for the party? Not necessarily. It will not spell doom if, in the identity change, the quotation (or variation thereof) by Moseneke is embossed in the collective conscious. Currently, there is little promise. How often does one consume mainstream media and learn of the plethora of inept servants in positions of service? The people are unhappy and the 2014 national poll told as much. With the 2016 local government elections ensuing, it remains to be seen how much the momentum is picking. This is an indictment to the ANC, as the serving party. There is, of course, an easier way to craft this new identity. Mujica and Moseneke offer simple and effective methodologies that can restore and uplift the national confidence. With those as foundations, whatever flows therefrom would be in line with dignity, equality and freedom. Further, the rich history that the ANC enjoys places it as the best positioned political organisation to make these changes. The emotion of the struggle is still embedded in many a voter and notwithstanding the party’s many indiscretions, certain voters will never betray the movement. Lastly, it is the only party to have governed in this dispensation. If it wishes to maintain the trend, then certain hard decisions of change need to be made. And they start at the top.

It’s a simple enough recipe, would you not think?

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  • So what exactly DID happen?
  • Pandora’s box has opened…again!
  • The weakness of the ANC
  • Part 6 of 6: Speeches
    • Keynes

      ‘As the construction of the Twin Towers took over three years to complete, it took less than 10 minutes for them to collapse. It took one sinister visionary to cause this mass destruction. One was enough. In like fashion, our national polity has crumbled. Confidence is at an all-time low and our rulers bear witness with little to no shame.’ Interesting. It has taken less than 5 years for the New ANC’s communist economics to destroy the SA economy. The productive sectors are in ruins – mining, manufacturing, agriculture, exports have all been damaged beyond repair. These results were entirely predictable to any objective observer – and the destruction of these productive sectors, the growth of the parasite state, the crumbling of the currency, high inflation and unemployment and huge deficits – were mathematical certainties the minute that economics based on ideological lies were implemented. The problem is that communism – unlike free economic systems – is not a self correcting system. Rather than admit to the lie, more of the lies will be applied. This leaves the SA economy with little or no hope of rescue.

    • pekwa

      You err also by referring to the “ruling party” as if we are a monarchy!

    • Heinrich

      Of course. We know.

      But how does one change attitudes and ingrained values? ( Of both “leaders” and “followers”)

      The only way I can think of, is to make structural changes:

      To scrap the gangster type political party system and to replace it with fraternity leadership. Voting on quality – not populism.

      To democratize our society by putting the people in charge – Parliament controls Cabinet and President; constituencies control MP’s; Wards control Municipal Managers.

      To scrap the gangster supporting Traditional Leader system.

      In short : To de-politicize our national management and to instill subservient leadership.

    • Partial Observer


      A very cogent, insightful piece. You are absolutely right, particularly about the change in consciousness needed in government and the people, that our government should be servants, not rulers.
      But at the end of the day, I’m a believer in setting up the right institutions, practices and incentives as the best way to shape consciousness and the behavior of individuals, rather than relying on the individuals’ consciousness to shape the institutions. It is a rare gift for a country to have a Mujica or Mandela for a time, people with such strong value systems that they can bend the world to fit their beliefs. The rest of us should try to reform the world in a way that shapes behavior and beliefs.
      There are three institutions in South Africa that, when combined, do more harm than any others, because they cause our government officials to become corrupt rulers rather than loyal servants. On their own, each of these three seems to make sense. But combined, they are toxic to our polity. And two of them are entirely under the control of the ANC. They are:
      1. Proportional representation – locates all power in parties, makes government workers loyal to the party, not the people
      2. Cadre deployment (ANC) – ensures that there is a strong punishment/reward system for loyalty to the ANC
      3. Slates (ANC) – ensures that loyalty to the party becomes loyalty to the faction
      Put these three together, and you have a perfect recipe for arrogance and corruption.

    • Nelson

      I think you’ll find in the WC we do have a “serving” party in charge. That’s why things work here.

      In Gauteng, with its “rulers”, you have blue light brigades, etolls, electricity cuts, water shortages and general administrative disfunction.

    • Partial Observer

      Continuing above…
      I wish the ANC could itself fix this toxic system it has created, but it can’t. Because a Majica or Mandela, or a lesser mere ordinary mortal who truly wishes to serve the people, cannot emerge from within this system.
      Here’s why. Imagine a “talented young person willing to serve”, with all the right intentions and values and skills, joins the ANC to serve the people. What happens to this person?
      1. First, to get into a position/job where they can do something positive, they must publicly demonstrate their loyalty to the right faction – this is the first compromise of their values/consciousness
      2. In their day-to-day activity, they observe that those who sacrifice the people’s interests to the faction are promoted and rewarded, while those who stand with the people against the party bosses are punished, exiled, removed – their servant consciousness is eroded every day, replaced by cynical loyalty to the bosses
      3. When faced with a real conflict between the people and the party, their choice becomes to sacrifice their own future by siding with the people, getting replaced, and having no effect; or stay loyal to the party and improve/secure their own future. The outcome for the people is the same either way, so why sacrifice themselves to no effect?
      It’s a very powerful system. It protects itself from its own members’ values, and cannot change from within. Only the voters can break this cycle. When they finally do, the ANC will fix itself out…

    • Joseph Coates

      We need a change of attitude & servanthood in our leaders and not ‘pass the buck’ onto another defunjuctional department to resolve the problem. Leaders that think out of the box and curb expenditure so; the growth rate of our economy can produce more jobs, stablize economy to higher levels so, to encourage foreigh investments. Address our educational system on all levels, generally, improve quality of life for all who keep the country afloat, regardless of our current obstacles.
      Maybe that could be the blue print for a change of leadership completely.

    • Aubrey Chalmers

      Very well written.
      If the ruling party takes this as a guide to improving South Africa, then they will have my vote

    • Rory Short

      A fully functional political system is one that is inherently self-correcting. The atomic units of any political system are the individuals that comprised it and the consequences of any misguided actions within the system will be felt by the individuals within it. It makes sense therefore for the political system to have an in-built propensity to respond with alacrity to individual dissatisfactions. To this end the political system needs to include the possibility for immediate voter recall of elected officials when they are in dereliction of their duties.

    • Pan Jandrum

      The only way the current ANC will re-discover the principles of Batho Pele is by sitting on parliamentory benches in opposition to another party elected by a majority to serve the people.

      That won’t happen in the near future because public and community-based thought leaders are largely unable to abandon their loyalty to the ANC. And because many of them live in the pockets of our current corrupt leaders.

      Human Greed will always win over Batho Pele, especially when our public protector can so easily be suffocated with obfuscation and withholding of necessary funding.

    • Paul S

      Good piece, Songezo. The challenge now is to somehow miraculously curry up the political will at the top to orchestrate that change. Or have those at the top changed out altogether by the people.

    • orwell

      Nice article Songezo, but it is unfortunate that you chose such a troublesome anallogy as the US Twin Towers, the destruction of which was used by the US to launch a decade of resource wars.

      “As the construction of the Twin Towers took three years to complete, it took less than 10 minutes for them to collapse. ”

      Indeed. These quarter-mile high, solid steel structures disintegrated, through the path of greatest resistance, in 10 seconds flat, a very strange phenomenon that has had thousands of the world’s engineers, physicists, demolition experts and architects scratching their heads ever since.

      The official US Govt NIST report confirmed that the planes did NOT cause this sudden-onset explosive dismemberment of heavily-redundant steel structure.

      The buildings withstood the plane’s asymmetrical crashes in their upper sections – as they had been designed to do, by their award-winning engineer designers.

      So why did they suddenly implode an hour later – so rapidly and symmetrically?!

      This defies Newtonian physics: Newton’s Third Law of Conservation of Momentum proves that the buildings could not have disintegrated the way they did – and as rapidly – without help.

      Check out “Are You New to the Evidence?” at “Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth” —

    • orwell