When the state turns predator


Mosibudi Mangena

State’s legitimacy is at risk, judging by people’s behaviour

It is not hard to imagine that after listening to Des van Rooyen at the State Capture Commission chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on Tuesday, many people would be asking themselves about the number of Des van Rooyens who might still be in the cabinet, provincial legislatures, municipalities and state-owned enterprises (SOE) in South Africa. Would that perhaps explain the sorry state of affairs and the putrid rot in our public life?

With a straight face, the man told the nation that he had appointed to National Treasury, the very heart of our state, people he hardly knew. How mind-blowing is that? Are we supposed to believe it? Thank God he only lasted four days as minister of finance of the republic. But how many Des van Rooyens lasted longer and are still in business?

It is things like these that are contributing enormously to the loss of credibility of politicians and the state in South Africa. And it is a dangerous development when citizens lose confidence in their leaders and state institutions.

More often than not, that leads to apathy at election times, disengagement from legal and legitimate state institutions and their processes. Thus, the loss of prestige, legitimacy and credibility of our state in the opinion of the population should be a matter of great concern for all of us.

For many years now, the Lebanese have been exasperated by the corruption of their politicians and the turning of their entire state into a feeding trough for their unethical, crooked and greedy political elites.

Lebanon is now bankrupt, with the result that the provision of healthcare, education, water purification, electricity, waste removal and other such services are severely compromised. Its currency went into freefall, heralding hyperinflation and the dramatic shortages of food and other goods. Its economy is in the doldrums and unemployment has soared.

But the explosion on the August 4 in Beirut, caused by the ignition of 2 750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, which killed more than 200 people and injured thousands others, represents incompetence, negligence, corruption and criminality of unimaginable proportions.

How on earth does a government store ammonium nitrate in those quantities at a harbour that is surrounded by residential areas? If anybody needed proof that corruption and ineptitude kill, this Beirut episode provides a rude lesson.

The Lebanese, with reason, are thoroughly fed up with their predator government, politicians and their political parties. They are making it clear every day that there must be a complete and thorough overhaul of their political establishment.

For several months now, the Zondo Commission into State Capture has been dishing out sordid details of the thieving taking place in our SOEs at the behest of politicians and state functionaries. The networks included private companies and individuals who benefitted at the expense of the South African population.

The South African economy has been in decline for about a decade now, with rating agencies losing patience with us and downgrading South Africa into junk status. Unemployment, especially among the youth and women, has been rising at an alarming rate. This as politicians and their connections keep their snouts in the feeding trough, apparently unconcerned about the state of the nation.

By the time COVID-19 hit our shores early this year, our economy was already on its knees. Our state coffers were almost empty, hobbling our ability and capacity to respond to the global pandemic.

Measures necessitated by the declaration of the state of disaster, such as the different levels of the lockdown, including the support of households, businesses that were forced to close, the provision of health equipment and medicaments, the support of schools with relevant materials to enable remote teaching and learning, were all compromised by the depleted coffers.

Whereas there was a great deal of support for the state initially, it was, among other things, the smell of corruption and self-interest that lost the government much-needed support from the citizens.

Some sought to explain the banning of cigarettes as a sinister ploy to promote the illegal cigarettes trade, from which some in positions of responsibility are alleged beneficiaries. Whether the allegations are true or not is neither here nor there. The point is that in an atmosphere contaminated by corruption, the hard to explain phenomenon would be attributed to corruption.

If people can be loaded at full capacity in a taxi, why can’t people sleep in a hotel? What would be the logic here? Is it the same inexplicable logic that saw the Lebanese government storing thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate for seven years at its Beirut harbour?

In the process, the taxi episode has set a very bad precedent. For the first time, at least in as far as some of us can remember,  an organisation in the country announced its defiance of the state on national television and the government caved in. Does the government fear the taxi industry or is there another explanation? Can other sectors of society also defy the state? Has the state surrendered its authority?

However, what really topped the charts was the scramble by the governing group and its
allies in the business space to corruptly cash in on the provision of personal protection equipment needed by essential frontline workers.

What kind of people would do this? Preying on your own citizens at a time of a health crisis, and disable and neglect your healthworkers who are sacrificing their lives and those of their families to save the nation?

No wonder many in our nation are cynical of politicians. They dismiss and ridicule government pronouncements and injunctions. Such an attitude tends to erode the legitimacy, dignity, credibility and authority of the state. And if people are to be governed fairly, they need to have faith and respect for the state and its functionaries.
Otherwise, the Lebanese or even Somalian scenarios set in.

  • Mangena is former minister of science and technology.



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