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South Africa is in a dire state. Incompetence and irresponsibility are rife. Bad behaviour is the norm and few dare challenge it, which contributes to the undermining of democracy.

No, that’s not opposition Democratic Alliance leader, Helen Zille, on song. Boiled down, that’s the view of Auditor-General Terence Nombombe. He was this week lamenting the collapse of the public service at every level, from municipal to national, saying that the government’s lack of support for his office was making it irrelevant.

His concerns echo those of the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela. She speaks of how the ‘silent thief’ of corruption has stolen the constitutional dream and how the secrecy Bill would derail her constitutionally mandated role.

As a nation, we should blush at the hash we are making of freedom. Unfortunately, South Africans are not big on embarrassment. Our instinct is to brazen it out.

The popular phrase, ‘S/he has no skaam‘ — one of those subtle Afrikaans words that encompasses being abashed, humbled and ashamed, even humiliated, but also penitent — should be emblazoned on the country’s coat-of-arms. In Khoisan, of course, so that not too many understand it. No one wants their nose rubbed in the national affliction.

We have literally thousands of public servants who stole from the poor but received just a slap on the wrist and are back in their old jobs. No skaam.

We have Jacob Zuma, elected as president despite being mired in corruption allegations, not to forget his penchant for diddling the young daughters of Struggle comrades. No skaam.

We have Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, parliamentarian and African National Congress national executive member, despite convictions for fraud and theft, being found by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ‘politically and morally accountable for gross violations of human rights’, and being accused of involvement in two murders, one of a child. No skaam.

We have Lieutenant-General Richard Mdluli, head of police intelligence, despite controversially withdrawn charges of abuse of state resources, fraud, corruption, murder and defeating the ends of justice. This week, following sustained pressure from the DA and from within the police, Mdluli was moved sideways, but not suspended, for the duration of an internal investigation into claims of police meddling in politics.

This, as the Police minister knows, is only one aspect of the shenanigans surrounding Mdluli. No skaam.

Mdluli has also appointed seven of his family — his wife (a colonel), his former wife (a colonel), his daughter (a lieutenant-colonel), his son (a captain) and three in-laws — to the police and they, along with Mdluli, have 15 official luxury cars, alleged by the Hawks to have been acquired via a police slush fund. No skaam.

The Mdlulis, admits the cybercrime commander, possess only limited computer skills. But, he explains, his only requirement was that they ‘should be able to mix with people’.

No skaam, this commander. Such managerial cowardice epitomises the pathetic level of public service leadership that Nombombe refers to, saying that ‘the people that are employed by government to do work are least prepared and equipped to do it’.

One can go on and on.

Minor-league ANC politicians in blue light brigades running people off the road. Embezzling parliamentarians who remain cosily in the House, nozzles to the trough. The evangelical head of the Constitutional Court who in a secular state urges his fellow judges to attend a happy-clappy weekend. The deputy-president who drinks premier champagne ‘on behalf’ of the masses. The Breitling-wristed ANC tenderpreneurs who slurp sushi off the bellies of semi-naked models.

And then there is the private sector, with its own unattractive menagerie of skaam-less bloodsucking leeches. Their motto is ‘what is not specifically prohibited is allowed’.

We’re in danger of becoming a useless, crass, status-obsessed, celebrity-struck, soulless society. No skaam.


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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