17 November 2019
For the wretched of SA, leaders have failed to build trust, accountability
A premise of Italian political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince is that “since men are wretched creatures who would not keep their word”, a ruler must acquaint themselves with “how to be a great liar and deceiver”.
Well, let’s hold it here. I am not talking about Gwede Mantashe deceiving his wife, and lying to journalists and the rest of society although, yes, I am still waiting for Mantashe to apologise to our reporters and to me for admittedly lying through his teeth.
Back to Machiavelli. The point is that we look at each other with great suspicion even before lies are uttered. Trust deficit in society is already high. We generally feel a great sense of injustice around us. The poor are unfairly targeted. The world is a dangerous place and the United Nations is powerless to effect meaningful reforms in how nations relate.
Colonialists no longer require guns, they have their stooges in boardrooms.
Friederich Nietzsche observes that “there’s only one world and that world is false, cruel, contradictory, misleading, senseless…”.
And so it was that when I noticed the swiftness with which our criminal justice system dealt with the killer of Uyinene Mrwetyana – arresting, prosecuting and sentencing Luyanda Botha in about three months, I had mixed feelings.
While the victory made me happy, it also made me sad. I was happy that our justice system can be a well-oiled machine. Isn’t that refreshing? It is indeed a moment to be proud and, well, ashamed at the same time.
It made me wonder whether those responsible for the system had ensured that it worked this time because Uyinene’s killing spawned a whole movement, an uprising. Or if the killer would still be at the post office stamping letters, parts of the docket stolen, if not the whole file, if there was no #AmINext?
So, while I am relieved that Botha will rot in jail, and congratulations are due to the investigators, prosecutors and the presiding officer for their great work, it still left a bitter taste in my mouth. A lingering sense of injustice. What do we, the wretched of which Machiavelli speaks, need to do to ensure that our society is less unjust?
Let’s, for a bit, look at the SAA workers on strike over wage negotiations. The reason, the real reason they’re out in the streets is because they feel a sense of injustice. They say the airline was mismanaged and they, the wretched, are now called upon to become sacrificial lambs to be retrenched and or blackmailed into accepting meagre pay adjustments.
Management, or rather the new dawn management, has explained that the airline needs to be fixed and it can’t be business as usual. Part of this fixing is restructuring that will lead to about 900 employees retrenched.
Fixing SAA is not a problem. Managing its aesthetics is. On the surface, it looks like the new dawn management is swift when it needs to retrench poor workers but drags its feet when it must punish those who wrecked the airline – the bosses. This is not limited to former board chairperson Dudu Myeni and her anchor Jacob Zuma, who seem to be walking lazily and comfortably into the twilight of their lives. Everybody who wrecked SAA, going back to before Zuma’s nine wasted years, must face the music. If not, why must the workers?
The weak link in the chain is the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Hawks. Yes, when workers hear politicians huff and puff about how R1-trillion was stolen (by other bosses) through state capture but the captains of state capture walk with gay abandon, it unleashes a pungent smell of them and us. It makes the wretched of the earth feel that Karl Marx was indeed right about worker unity and the unmitigated onslaught by employers.
And the point is not that the SAA must not be fixed, nor that it must retain excess employees. The point is that the new dawn managers ought to understand what Machiavelli means when he says we are so wretched we do not keep our words. Workers do not expect the new dawn to hold the seniors who wrecked SAA accountable. Workers’ frame of mind, as described by Nietzsche, is of bosses unleashing a “false, cruel and contradictory” world on them. Of CR saying the looters will go to jail, yet it is the workers losing their jobs.
With this in mind, the new dawn crew needed to work on the trust deficit first. When workers see that there’s consequences for everybody, including and especially Myeni and Zuma, they too will be prepared to make compromises.
At Transnet, Eskom, SABC and other state-owned entities, there was wide-scale looting. New management is now in place. But no one is facing charges of corruption for the R1-trillion. No one is losing their houses. But workers must lose their jobs. Why?
And naïve Ramaphosa will say he should not agitate the NPA into making hasty arrests. Prosecutors and the Hawks do account to someone though. While financial crimes are somewhat more complex than Uyinene’s killing, the police and prosecutors need to explain their snail pace.
Otherwise, the wretched of our country, fists up in the air outside SAA, parliament and other fronts of manifest injustice, feeling unfairly targeted, will think that Ramaphosa, like old tiger Mantashe, is, as described by Machiavelli, a “great liar and deceiver”.