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‘Ineptocracy’, not Covid-19, is the problem

Opinionista • Paul Hoffman • 17 May 2020

Government by the inept or ‘ineptocracy’, is presenting the populace of South Africa with more headaches than the virus that is threatening the lives of many people worldwide.

As fate would have it, the Disaster Management Act, a poorly crafted piece of legislation intended to deal with floods, fires and droughts, not pandemics, has been set upon as the vehicle for dealing with the pandemic. This choice is unfortunate because the legislation is not designed to cope with the exigencies of a pandemic.

Using it for Covid-19 is rather like asking an athlete who has entered the Comrades Marathon to run the race backwards, wearing stilettos. Whether the declaration of a national disaster was ever “necessary”, as required by the legislation, is a wide-open question with the short answer being “probably not”. The fabled Professor Balthazar has dealt extensively with this question in his or her Daily Maverick column already.

Unfortunately, the declaration of a national emergency is also not indicated because a declaration of that nature is constitutionally predicated upon the requirement of section 37(1)(b) of the Constitution, which reads:

“The declaration is necessary to restore peace and order.”

We have not reached that point, not yet anyway.

As fate would have it, the burden of leading the way in a declared State of National Disaster falls on the shoulders of the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister, who is currently Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Why the government did not devise an appropriate strategy that is open, accountable and responsive to the needs of ordinary people, using the normal law-making channels, is difficult to divine. Unless conspiracy theories are to be relied upon to justify a declaration of disaster at a time when not a single life had been lost to the disaster.

At present, more than 50 days later, the death toll is under 250 lives tragically lost, which is far lower than the 60,000 lives per year that are lost to the scourge of tuberculosis in SA. No TB disaster has been declared even though that disease is communicated in much the same way as Covid-19.

It is reliably estimated by experts in epidemiology and vaccinology that between 50,000 and 75,000 of our fellow citizens will succumb to Covid-19 in the next two years unless, which is unlikely, a vaccine is developed sooner.

This compares very favourably with the death toll in South Africa 100 years ago when the Spanish flu pandemic reached our shores via servicemen and women returning from the battlefields of WWI. The death toll in South Africa then, adjusted for an increase in population, was around 2.5 million, a considerably more serious event.

The fact that the regulations Dlamini Zuma rains down upon the nation are so irrational, disproportionate, unconstitutional, illegal and invalid should come as no surprise given her lacklustre track record and quoted utterances.

Thrust into the limelight she does not deserve, and does not seem to want, Dlamini Zuma is a singularly unsuitable grandmotherly figure to lead from the front in the pandemic. She was the unsuccessful candidate in the last presidential contest in the ANC, which she lost by a (partly stolen) whisker to current President, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Dlamini Zuma is included in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet not on merit, but as a consequence of the jockeying for position that accompanies factional rivalries which bedevil the ANC. Her track record is indelibly blemished by the Sarafina 2 debacle, an early manifestation of the crooked cronyism of the ANC. Her stay in Addis Ababa, as head of the AU, was marked by her disinterest in the job and huge unpopularity.

Dlamini Zuma has revealed her true colours and fantasy thinking about the pandemic in a press conference she held on 25 April 2020, when she said that it:

“… also offers us an opportunity to accelerate the implementation of some long agreed upon structural changes to enable reconstruction, development and growth. These opportunities call for more sacrifices and – if needs be – what Amilcar Cabral called ‘class suicide’ wherein we must rally behind the common cause.”

So, there you have it, a languid leader, sworn to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution, seizing upon the pandemic as the opportunity for fomenting revolutionary ideology that is completely at odds with the values she is required by law to uphold.

The fact that the regulations Dlamini Zuma rains down upon the nation are so irrational, disproportionate, unconstitutional, illegal and invalid should come as no surprise given her lacklustre track record and quoted utterances.

At Dlamini Zuma’s side we have the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, the cat in the hat or Mad Hatter as he is known for his propensity to wear hats indoors.

Cele was once the national commissioner of police. While procuring police headquarters in Pretoria and Durban, he negotiated dodgy leases at three times the going rate for commercial real estate of the kind required. This was reported to the public protector and after she reported adversely, the Maloi Board of Inquiry sat in judgment of his fitness for office. Cele was found to be “dishonest and incompetent”.

The Maloi Board did not have the power to subpoena the would-be landlord in the dodgy deals and could not properly investigate the corruption involved. Instead, it recommended that the appropriate authorities, being the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks, investigate Cele’s corrupt activities. The Hawks have done nothing, clearly they regard the investigation of their minister a career-limiting move, and the NPA sits on its hands awaiting a docket from the Hawks; a docket that never comes.

Cele is responsible for militarising the police. It is not constitutionally designed to be a “force”. On the contrary, the police service is designed to serve the people, not shoot them at Marikana or indulge in “skop, skiet en donder” tactics in the lockdown. This expression in Afrikaans has been explained as meaning “assault, injure or harm”, by Judge Hans Fabricius in the case about the torture and murder the SA National Defence Force has perpetrated during the lockdown.

Cele likes stars on his epaulettes and scrambled egg on his cap. Recommendations in the NDP that the police be demilitarised as a matter of priority, and a recommendation by the Farlam Commission into the Marikana massacre that the demilitarisation be effected urgently, have been accepted by the national Cabinet.

However, none of the recommendations has been implemented and police brutality, and murder, mar the official response to the pandemic. According to the DA spokesperson on justice, Glynnis Breytenbach, the carnage in the lockdown up to 5 May 2020 includes:

  • 376 Covid-19 operations complaints to IPID;
  • 280 assaults by the police; and
  • 10 deaths at the hand of the enforcer.

Around seven assaults by the police service on civilians were reported every day of the lockdown up to 5 May.

Cele condones, excuses and deflects these complaints in a spirited way that would make apartheid-era securocrats proud. He has no business being in the national Cabinet but, like Dlamini Zuma, is included to balance ANC factional interests and because he has a following in KwaZulu-Natal politics. He says, in response to complaints of police brutality, in the enforcement of the lockdown that “we need to push a little bit”. He should be pushed out of the national Cabinet.

The Minister of Defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who has diplomas in primary school teaching and project management, also has political responsibility for 74,000 troops deployed in the country to help enforce the lockdown. She and they are responsible for the torture and killing of Collins Khosa in Alexandra for drinking beer in his yard.

There is nothing illegal about drinking beer, only its sale is proscribed. This was lost on the troops involved, who were eventually put on precautionary suspension by a High Court Judge to whom the grieving family of the deceased man turned when the SANDF and the minister did nothing about the murder.

Judge Fabricius found that the minister was “either unable or unwilling to make unequivocal statements condemning violence”, by enforcers of the lockdown against unarmed civilians. Her Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, told Parliament: “You are not our clients; we are not the Police Force (sic). We take our instructions from the Commander in Chief.”

Commenting on these revelations in his judgment in the Khosa killing case, Judge Fabricius says: “Again it seems to have been forgotten that we live in a constitutional democracy where Parliament… is the legislative authority.”

The minister, like her husband Charles Nqakula, is a Travelgate fraud survivor. She has been promoted in Cabinet beyond the limits of her capacity. She should take serious cognisance of the judgment against her and do the responsible thing by resigning.

If she does not, she should be dismissed by the President for her unresponsiveness. It would be irrational for him to keep so inept a person in his Cabinet. The Constitution requires of her, and all in government, that they conduct themselves with accountability and responsively. The minister is a stranger to these concepts and has been for a long time.

The next “ineptocrat” involved in the lockdown is the hapless Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula. The falling around in regard to the transport provisions of the lockdown would be laughable were it not so serious.

Mbalula is a “graduate” of the ANC Youth League, known for its radicalism. While he was minister of sport, Mbalula allowed an official sports service provider to pay for his family holiday in Dubai. This is a corrupt activity for which he ought to be criminally prosecuted. The supine NPA, despite having a full report of the public protector at its disposal, has done nothing about charging Mbalula. He has no place in any Cabinet worth its salt and should be fired before he further embarrasses government with his antics.

The Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel has brought the Cabinet into disrepute with his gyrations around e-commerce, the sale of hot food and the ridiculous regulations concerning the sale of clothing. He may be a wannabe authoritarian Leninist dictator, who knows, but he should return to his old job of union organising before he further embarrasses his colleagues in Cabinet. His continued presence in Cabinet is dangerous to the health of the economy. If he won’t walk, he should be pushed.

While the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, is the only minister here under discussion who could hold down a day job outside politics, he comes with baggage that makes him unsuitable if not inept.

As a former member of the top six in the ANC and Treasurer General of the party, he has a lot to answer for in relation to the strange and illegal ways in which the ANC goes about fundraising.

The Hitachi Power Africa deal between the ANC and Hitachi, via the Chancellor House investment platform of the ANC is one that does not bear scrutiny. As to the integrity expected of all Cabinet ministers, this is how Treasurer General Mkhize goes about fund-raising, according to former Prasa boss Lucky Montana. The latter revealed to Parliament that Mkhize attempted to solicit a bribe for the ANC from Prasa. It is no wonder Mkhize did not want to disclose his personal income tax returns, when asked to do so by journalist Maya Fisher-French at a Cape Town Press Club lunch.

The people of SA need to be mindful about the pandemic, all the more so when these opaque “ineptocrats” are in charge of countering its ill effects in ways that are lacking in the constitutionally prescribed openness, accountability and responsiveness. DM

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