By Paul Hoffman
First published on Accountability Now
The liberation struggle in South Africa, in Africa and elsewhere in the world where people once lived in chains, was aimed at achieving freedom for ordinary folk. The freedom of the individual is, in a way, the higher purpose of the modern state.
The struggle for freedom in Africa all too often has morphed into the struggle for attaining and holding on to power, which is waged by “Big Men” leaders who abuse their position by repurposing their high office for private gain. Kleptocracy or government by thieves is the order of the day in much of Africa and it is real and present in South Africa too, before, during, and after the heyday of state capture during the Zuma years.
The extensive report of the Zondo Commission can be summed up in one sentence: State capture is real, it is toxic and it must end.
Speaking at the launch of four reports from the Law Reform Commission, the minister of justice, Ronald Lamola stated that:
Historically there has been a major discrepancy between the content of the law and the ideal of justice. This is the task that the law commission is seized with. The content of the law must by all means possible match the ideal of justice. It is not good enough to have good laws on our stature book, but these laws must have a meaningful impact on the lives of people.
Our supreme law, the Constitution, contains a Bill of Rights designed to guarantee justice in the form of justiciable human rights for all. Life, dignity, equality, security, bodily and psychological integrity are all guaranteed. The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil these basic rights. Some of the other rights in the Bill of Rights are subject to progressive realisation on the basis of available resources.
Basic education promises are not kept
The availability of resources is curtailed, prejudiced and limited when corruption is the order of the day. Part of corruption means that funds intended for the public good are looted and diverted into the pockets of the corrupt. Service delivery is hampered when this diversion of funds that are intended for the public good takes place.
For example, the provision of schools in which to deliver the right to basic education is hampered when the corrupt take money meant for construction of schools and use it for themselves. The deputy president, DD Mabuza, is alleged to have taken part in this type of scheme in his home province of Mpumalanga. When the New York Times named and shamed him for his alleged involvement, he did nothing.
During the 2022 state of the nation address, the president let it be known that there is a backlog of 2 500 schools that need to be constructed. At 1 000 learners per school, this means that 2.5-million learners are short of suitable school facilities. Basic education is not a right hedged about with weasel words that require that it be realised progressively on the basis of available resources.
Basic education has been promised in full to all, child and adult alike, since day one of the new South Africa order which commenced with an election in April 1994, now commemorated on Freedom Day each year. It is nothing short of scandalous that basic education is in the tattered state in which it finds itself today. Too few children make it to matric, too many of them emerge from school without the skills and knowledge that would make them employable, too many languish in unemployment.
Too many do not have a school to go to, given the 2 500 school shortage. All due to corruption.
The rate of unemployment in South Africa is now higher than it has ever been; the inequality in the land has never been more pronounced. The Gini co-efficient, which measures the discrepancy between rich and poor has never been higher than it is now.
The failure of government since 1994 to deliver on the promises of the Constitution is at least in part due to the serious corruption with impunity which has been allowed to run rampant in recent years.
Before he was ousted, Thabo Mbeki worried about being succeeded by Jacob Zuma as president. In the biography of Mbeki by Mark Gevisser, written in 2007 before the fateful Polokwane conference at which Zuma was elected, the follow passage appears at page xli of the introduction:
“ …[T]he possibility of a Zuma presidency was a scenario far worse than a dream deferred. It would be, in effect, a dream shattered, irrevocably, as South Africa turned into yet another post-colonial kleptocracy; another ‘footprint of despair’ in the path of destruction away from the promises of uhuru.”
Liberty, equality, freedom – what’s that?
When the poor people of France stormed the Bastille during the French Revolution their war cry was “Liberty, Equality and Freedom”
In South Africa today the liberty, equality and freedom of the average citizen are not at the levels intended by the Constitution. Besides guaranteeing all of the rights in the Bill of Rights, the Constitution requires that we resolve to “live as equals, to live in peace and harmony, to be free from fear and want and to seek a better life”.
These are the home-grown yardsticks by which we measure our freedom on Freedom Day. So impressed was the ANC with the provisions of the Constitution quoted from Section 198 above, that it made its slogan in the first elections “A Better Life for All”. This is a slogan that captures the constitutional aim of freedom for all. It has been quietly dropped, perhaps because a better life for all has not materialised yet.
The price of freedom for the individual is that eternal vigilance be exercised to protect and promote freedom. Freedom of expression, equality before the law and the promotion of human dignity are the areas in which freedom is most frequently tested in failing democracies. An independent judiciary, a free media and a populace living in dignity are the common yardsticks for freedom. Corruption threatens and diminishes them all.
To live as a truly free nation the people of South Africa have to cherish their Constitution, blow whistles loudly when they detect corruption, and be wary of corrupt “Big Men” in politics, business and state owned enterprises.
Paul Hoffman is a director of Accountability Now and was lead counsel in the Glenister litigation that set the criteria for corruption-busting.