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The not so tender matter of tenders…

By Sally Evans

Every day we are inundated with scandals relating to nepotism, tenders and corruption. And the media slogs away trying to expose those who — at the cost of development — are merrily filling their boots with cash and have just taken ownership of new BMWs.

Tenderpreneurs — the mantra for jobs for pals has become a catchphrase only South Africans understand. But it’s not an inside joke or a quirky characteristic. It is symptomatic of one of the major threats to our democracy.

And that threat is the lack of accountability.

I became rather despondent the other day after filing a story on the department of basic education, aptly titled “The Department of Basic Nepotism”, and I found myself trying to understand why we continue to expose the things we do.

Of course it’s the job of a free press to expose the rot that has insidiously made a home in certain places, but at the same time are we achieving anything? What are we asking for as the people of South Africa?

I was reminded of why this week. Nic Dawes, the editor of the M&G, put it very succinctly saying we do it because we want accountability. We want to know that if someone is caught with their hands in the till they will be fired.

But are we getting that?

We discussed the episode where Christopher Taute, the mayor of the Hessequa council in the Western Cape recently used the municipality’s letterhead to ask for donations towards the ANC campaign in the upcoming local government elections. In his letter to various businesses, Taute insinuated that tenders being sent their way could be jeopardised if they did not make a donation to the ANC. He wrote that the donations would be appreciated “in order to continue building on your good relations with the ANC-run council”.

In this case, was there enough accountability? Before the ANC’s secretary-general Gwede Mantashe came out and said it was “an error” of judgment, ANC spokesperson Brian Sokutu was quoted in theSowetan newspaper saying there was “nothing sinister” about Taute’s actions.

Perhaps there isn’t anything sinister in the sense that others do approach individuals and businesses for party funding, but herein lies the problem.

The distinction between politics and business is becoming non-existent which has created a vacuum in which the two are used interchangeably: either as a way to look connected in order to get business or for civil servants to use it as a means of racketeering.

It’s a dog eat dog world, for sure, but the pressure of status and wealth have become their own, dangerous trend. Having millions is no longer a sign of being rich, hundreds of millions, maybe.

But perhaps that is where we have lost our way.

And with a less than impressive GDP, this country needs to spend every cent with purpose and caution. We are not rolling around in cash, exporting industries such as manufacturing is struggling. We are basically a welfare state, where we spend billions every year helping those most affected by unemployment and poverty, but the source of that help is being threatened by certain groups of people who see it fit to use the name of the ANC, as well as their connections, to suit their own needs.

We must hold everyone to account. When it comes to government spending and where our precious funds are going — we will be watching very closely. And yes that is a threat.

The price of our future is a high one to pay for a pair of snakeskin shoes and a Bentley GT Continental.