Conscience of a Centrist: Passing on the legacy of looting

Johannesburg – In the next few weeks, the country will celebrate Father’s Day, a day meant to acknowledge the key role dads play in their children’s development.

Children naturally want to make their fathers proud. In our South African context, we have progressively seen a troubling development of fathers, particularly those in the political elite, actively corrupting their children and grooming them in the art of looting public funds.

One was not surprised when former ANC presidential candidate and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s son, Dedani, was named as a recipient of generous amounts of money from a company that for all intents and purposes corruptly benefited to the tune of R150-million from his father’s department.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed this moral failure before in South Africa, with politicians failing to protect their children from criminal activities and instead encouraging them to be thieves.

Duduzane Zuma was a direct beneficiary of the grand looting of public funds as evidence before the Zondo Commission suggests. Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s sons Tshepiso and Thato were also awarded government contracts for Covid-19 goods and services.

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The list is endless.

And the now cliched ANC cadre’s response, “my children have a right to do business in South Africa”, has become nauseating.

This is the moral decay embedded in the governing party. Fathers who have no shame in having their offspring benefitting from a government they preside over.

Fatherhood is not just about having children; it is also about transferring one’s values to one’s children. It is a shame that some fathers are this morally destitute. The lavish lives afforded to politicians’ kids are, in effect, stolen from the South African people.

Each corrupt contract handed to a politician’s kid represents a subversion of the spirit of the democratic process.

Corruption means more than bribery and self-aggrandisement; it means rot, decay, the erosion of standards and principles, and their replacement with baser motives.

And in this sense, the ANC’s corruption has been infectious and infiltrated even its leaders’ kids. Dedani, Duduzane, and Magashule’s kids’ riches earned from the public purse are a moral failure. Enough about failures in fatherhood.

Let me turn my attention on Mkhize and his fall from grace in what was supposed to be his hour of glory and goodwill. Just over a year ago, Mkhize’s star was on the rise, largely due to his much-lauded handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He garnered near-universal praise for his energetic posture, and his sober, impressively knowledgeable daily briefings. Little did we know that a year later, his character will be in question – joining hundreds of his comrades who have not escaped the temptation to profit from the pandemic, directly or as they prefer, indirectly.

It is ironic that corrupt expenditure on Covid-19 that benefitted his son and friends or comrades, as he euphemistically tries to create distance from his cronies, has exposed the man’s flawed character.

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The former KwaZulu-Natal premier faces a legendary fall from grace due to the unquenchable thirst for public resources. His provincial contemporary Bandile Masuku also presided over massive looting of public funds and was duly sacked by Gauteng premier David Makhura.

It would have been better had Masuku resigned, but that is not in the make-up of the ANC’s cadres.

Those who are calling for Mkhize’s head must not hold their breath. In recent years, many politicians seem to have realised that remaining in office is often the best path out of a scandal – for their own sake if no one else’s. Given the uproar, Mkhize, 65, managed to remain remarkably composed. His so-called media briefing displayed a man living in his own universe with an attitude that can better be described as contrite aggression.

His impeding fall serves one crucial lesson for the electorate and the media, and that is that we place political leaders on the pedestal at our peril. Due to the blind support Mkhize received, he was able to exercise power without being checked and a large part of the population and sections of the media began idolising him. We are collectively left with one question: are there upright politicians remaining in our midst? Resigning in the face of mounting evidence that those in your inner circle have looted from your department is a critical ethical decision Mkhize must make.

If Mkhize has any regard for the oath of office he took, he should affirm it by resigning.

His continued existence in the Cyril Ramaphosa administration has added a complicated epilogue, leaving many who admired him feeling betrayed.

Someday, South Africans will have to reflect on what we have done to deserve such morally bankrupt leaders.

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