By Brij Maharaj
First published on Daily Maverick

My Dear South Africans,

Notwithstanding the predictions of one Malema (South Africa will have a new president by Christmas 2022), I remain your elected president (I must remind Honourable Malema to change his sangoma!)

I greet you in the name of democracy, peace and justice. (You will notice that I have omitted the traditional revolutionary slogans which have been reduced to meaningless rhetoric and have been appropriated by those hellbent on looting public resources and using the fiscus as their personal ATM).

I am humbled by the support I received to continue as your anointed leader for the next five years – a role and responsibility that I do not take lightly.

I want to state upfront that South Africans must be grateful to our public-spirited citizen, that paragon of virtue, Mr Arthur Fraser, for expressing public concern about the Phala Phala saga. Educated South Africans must also ask why he waited two years to do so, just before the ANC’s 55th national elective conference, where his RET faction was roundly trounced.

Concern was expressed at the Zondo Commission about the abuse of public funds by the State Security Agency under Fraser’s leadership. As Minister Pravin Gordhan always says, “connect the dots”.

I have been criticised in the media for my slow decision-making process. In social media posts, some have had the temerity to suggest that if the chronological clock was rewound, I would be placed in a special needs remedial class. 

I want to remind you, my fellow South Africans, that the fine art of politics is a delicate balancing act. 

Politicians are also known for their thick skins. The adage, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”, is attributed to the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare. I challenge my detractors to wear my cap even for a day.

The game of musical chairs being played by opportunistic political coalitions at local government level reflects contempt for voters who are used as cannon fodder, and is reminiscent of the disgraceful floor-crossing during the apartheid tricameral era. All political parties are guilty. 

Local government, the site of delivery, has imploded.

The myriad problems facing our country – Eskom’s rolling blackouts, crime and violence, corruption which is escalating daily – are overwhelming. 

I am sympathetic to South Africans who sometimes feel as if they are twisting in quicksand (given the eThekwini municipality’s failure to address the sanitation crisis, you can substitute other less salubrious epithets.)

In recent times, there have been invariable comparisons with our neighbour Zimbabwe, but we are not quite there yet. The delicate difference is that, in South Africa, we have an independent judiciary (notwithstanding Msholozi’s geriatric rantings) and a free press. In the case of the latter, the gutsy and feisty Daily Maverick deserves honourable mention.

The Zondo Commission has just scratched the surface of corruption. Like the outer layers of an onion, the rot runs deep and I must confess with a sense of shame that my party, the ANC – which has been governing for 29 years – is seriously implicated at multiple levels.

In the Christian tradition (I recall my days in the leadership of the Student Christian Movement), there has to be repentance, reconciliation and renewal.

The crime statistics suggest that South Africans are living in a war zone. SA has become the crime capital of the world, with international mafias and crime syndicates moving their headquarters here. Even university vice-chancellors have not been spared.

You have rightly expressed concern about Minister Bheki Cele synchronising his visits to crime scenes with TV cameras. There has been an increase in drive-by shootings, with 20 deaths in the past week in the Eastern Cape and KZN, and the police have no clues yet.

Comrade Krish Govender has warned about “outbreaks of civil strife, low intensity economic, structural and politically motivated sabotage, and the undermining of the state and the rule of law involving disparate groups and individuals… Recapturing the constitutional democratic project from the clutches of these dark forces will be impossible without a super-efficient military, intelligence, police and prosecutorial force of committed and skilled personnel. This, we do not have.”

All indicators suggest that the skills shortage will get worse. 

Let’s face it – notwithstanding the annual statistical manipulation and massaging of matric results, SA education is in crisis. According to the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy, 78% of Grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language.

We should also take the criticism from academics like Professor Keyan Tomaselli on the chin: “Do our ruling politicians read? They do drink and eat, often at taxpayers’ expense. So isolated and immune have they become that they don’t care what journalists or academics write about them any more.”

In short, South Africans are gatvol with the ANC government’s failure to deliver and the lame excuses that are routinely churned out. 

Quite frankly, we are fast running out of excuses for what is basically gross incompetence and dereliction of duty, which the (now minority) RET faction of my party wants to defend, protect, perpetuate and advance.

My fellow South Africans, as part of my commitment to renewal and improvement of service delivery, I intend to introduce the following reforms in the current sitting of Parliament:

  • All civil servants and government officials (including MPs, MPLs and local councillors) will be compelled to use public health facilities, send their children to public schools and use public transport.
  • I am pleased to announce that the NGO Gift of the Givers will now oversee all service delivery projects in SA. They have an unblemished record of resolving simple to complex problems that local authorities fail to fix. It is almost nine months since the devastating floods hit KZN, and especially eThekwini, and infrastructure repairs have yet to commence. This is largely because the corrupt vultures are circling and the hyenas are waiting to feed, like in the case of the Digital Vibes saga.
  • In a radical departure from the norm, government wants to work in partnership with all organisations across the political and ideological spectrum that are committed to building a better South Africa. To this end, government is now going to work in partnership with anti-corruption organisations like the Active Citizens Movement, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, Corruption Watch, and even AfriForum.
  • Any attack on the police will be an act of treason and the appropriate sanctions will apply.
  • Any destruction and damage to state property, infrastructure (road, railways, telecommunications) will be an act of treason.
  • Those engaging in frivolous and vexatious litigation and abusing the legal process will have to pay for the full cost of the court sitting.
  • Corruption cases (funded by the proceeds of ill-gotten gains) tend to drag on for years and the lawyers are minting it). I intend to introduce a 24-hour corruption tribunal.
  • Lifestyle audits will be compulsory for all MPs, MPLs, councillors, government employees and their immediate families.  
  • A special fund will be set up to pay whistle-blowers at the appropriate level in terms of their last employment until they are appointed to suitable equivalent positions that become available. It will be called the Babita Deokaran (who was murdered for exposing R1-billion in corruption at Tembisa Hospital), Whistle-Blowers Fund.
  • There will be a transparent and public adjudication of all  tenders.
  • Merit, qualifications, experience and a demonstrated ability to do the job will be the overriding criteria in all government appointments. We need professional civil servants who would serve the public regardless of ideology or the ruling party in office.
  • The days of free lunches at government meetings are over.
  • We have to reset South Africa’s ethical and moral compass. This is the domain of the faith sector which must take some responsibility for the decline.

I conclude by quoting from the address of my Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, when he was sworn in for his third term as Brazilian president (please note that I am not hankering for a third term):

“We do not carry any spirit of revenge against those who sought to subjugate the nation to their personal and ideological designs, but we are going to ensure the rule of law.

“Those who erred will answer for their errors, with broad rights to their defence within the due legal process.

“Out of these terrible ruins, together with the [South African] people, I assume the responsibility for rebuilding the country and making it a nation of all and for all.”

God Bless South Africa.

Dr Brij Maharaj is an academic and civil society activist.