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The untouchables

When Madiba finally crossed the Rubicon and started us on the road to a multiracial democracy, the overwhelming majority of South Africans rejoiced.

Some 13 years on, in my humble opinion, both presidents, Mandela and Mbeki, have served us well.

The country has progressed and is achieving growth.

However, like an autistic child, we have some incredible strengths married to a multitude of unacceptable weaknesses.

Two problem areas that dominate at present and are in danger of damaging the president’s image, both here and abroad, are the issues of accountability and foreign policy.

At home we have a Health Minister who has come under enormous attack. In the media we have allegations of transplant rigging, alcohol abuse and infantile behaviour while being treated at a local hospital and now, questions about a conviction of theft while stationed in Botswana.

The Democratic Alliance tabled a vote of no confidence in Parliament. Cosatu called for an investigation.

IOL reports ANC members who were stunned at the executive’s failure to deal decisively herewith.

Abroad, the Times of London is reporting that the president himself intervened on behalf of Tshabalala-Msimang in respect of the liver transplant. Beeld newspaper carries a denial by the Health Minister.

Business Day confirms that leading members of the world’s HIV specialists are calling for the minister’s head. They have gone as far as petitioning the president.

The question seems to be: How far must the health minister go before she is held accountable?

Worse — the perception is that a high-ranking member of the ANC is untouchable.

The perception is that, like McBride, she will only go if the pressure becomes unbearable, as opposed to the government
intervening at the first signs of potential wrongdoing.

And as we have seen in the past, this is by no means the first senior official who has landed in hot water without being called to account for their conduct.

The government represent the people and must be seen to do what is in their best interests before that of the party.

In the case of Madlala-Routledge, this did not seem to be the case.

Without going into the gory details, our debut on the UN Security Council was less than glorious. Closer to home our dealings with Zimbabwe are, at best, puzzling. Mugabe, like senior ANC members appears to be untouchable.

Regardless of the flip-flop performed by the Zambian president who likened Zimbabwe to the Titanic before alleging that its problems were exaggerated, our president has much to lose by allowing the current state of affairs to continue.

Our economy is taking a battering. This includes a huge amount of investment opportunities lost by allowing the instability to reign.

We are also losing a lot of goodwill among the Zimbabwean people who are asking for us to intervene.

Of course there are those who believe that Zimbabweans support Mugabe. Allow a free and fair election with overseas monitors and Zanu-PF will not beat 30% of the vote.

Allow the three odd million down here to kick off the vote and then ensure that all exiled Zimbabweans and urban voters can cast their ballot. Then we’ll find out just how popular President Mugabe is.

Yet our policy on Zimbabwe has gone from bad to worse. Just when you thought “quiet diplomacy” was a non-starter, now “Britain is the culprit”.

Come back, “quiet diplomacy”, all is forgiven.

Today Human Rights Watch slammed the SADC leaders for failing to address the Zimbabwean question at their meeting in Lusaka. The perception down here is that any friend of the ANC’s top echelon is beyond reproach.

Just remember that truth is today’s news; perception takes a lot longer to resolve.


  • Mike Trapido is a criminal attorney and publicist having also worked as an editor and journalist. He was born in Johannesburg and attended HA Jack and Highlands North High Schools. He married Robyn in 1984 (Mrs Traps, aka "the government") and has three sons (who all look suspiciously like her ex-boss). He was a counsellor on the JCCI for a year around 1992. His passions include Derby County, Blue Bulls, Orlando Pirates, Proteas and Springboks. He takes Valium in order to cope with Bafana Bafana's results. Practice Michael Trapido Attorney (civil and criminal) 011 022 7332 Facebook


  1. Ndumiso Ngcobo Ndumiso Ngcobo 22 August 2007

    Trip, I hear thee.

    Do you know what I find even more tragic? The fact that if you ignore Mbeki’s baffling intransigence on the well-documented failures in ministries such as Home Affairs, Correctional Services, Health and Safety, this government is doing really well. In fact, some areas are spectacular successes.

    You’d have to do some impressive persuasion to convince me that Manuel, Sisulu, Skweyiya, Kasrils, Didiza, Cingwana, Hendricks etc are not on top of things.

  2. Michael Trapido Michael Trapido Post author | 22 August 2007

    Ndumiso, I agree with you.

    I purposely started off by confirming my belief in both Madiba and our current President Mbeki.

    The government as a whole has done well and coming from Apartheid we could not have dared to hope that they would achieve as much as they already

    Where the press and the public must be strict is where we believe they are going wrong. We must voice our concerns or live with the consequences.

    We are blessed with free speech and a wonderful democracy, people must make their feelings known.


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