UTTERANCES by leaders rubbishing the public protector, shielding those who are involved in corrupt activities, reports on wasteful, irregular and fruitless expenditure by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and threats to our democratic state has ignited me to make a strong appeal for voices of reason in our country. We also need strong and capable leadership in the public sector, private sector and civil society.
The rule of law requires legality and rationality in decision-making which pertains to the expenditure of public money.
Very few people in South Africa live in houses, homesteads or even on farms worth more than R200-million. It is unthinkable that a mere politician, albeit “first among equals”, can reasonably justify the Nkandla scale of expenditure on his home when so many are homeless in the land.
The very notion of spending more than R200-million of public money on a collection of rondavels in a rural area to upgrade them smacks of irrationality, and certainly raises questions around the cost effectiveness, competitiveness, fairness and equitability of the expenditure.
How else is accountability and responsiveness to be ensured, but by an independent body, not a collection of cabinet comrades who are beholden for their jobs to the very individual who benefits from the, relatively speaking, massive expenditure at Nkandla? To address these questions and challenges, we need ethical and capable leadership, not sycophants and praise singers who pretend to be blind to the realities.
In assessing the challenges that are crippling South African post-apartheid society, the National Planning Commission (NPC) has noted that the state has been able to create structures that form the foundation for a capable state, but there are major concerns about the weaknesses in how these structures function. This constrains the state’s ability to pursue key developmental objectives.
These weaknesses are a reflection of the lack of leadership, as the NPC further notes. As part of the solution to the triple challenges the NDP, which is a guiding plan of the ANC, has called for an active citizenry which requires showing inspirational leadership at all levels of society.
The need to inquire into the responsibility of leaders is demonstrated concretely by the service delivery protests in areas that are poverty stricken. Ordinary people are quite capable of waiting for these services when they see that it is physically impossible for these services to be delivered in a certain time frame, but where they see neglect of duty, real or imagined, on the side of the leaders, they protest.
The sins of incumbency are a challenge. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe noted in his organisational report at the national general council in June 2010 that there has been reports about high levels of nepotism, patronage and corruption in local government, and the victim of such actions is always service delivery.
Every day the limits of democracy are constantly tested. We have seen this in the manner that Thuli Madonsela has been criticised and her office undermined by leaders.
For a democratic system to work effectively, there must be a balance between rights and responsibilities of citizens, and the powers and functions of the public institutions meant to serve them. Leaders must at all material times respect those institutions.
We need to recapture the ethos of servant-hood. We want as a country servant leaders, both elected representatives and the officials who support them, at every level of government.
Society must therefore show that we value most those who demonstrate this generosity of spirit. What really counts is for the strong to defend the weak, the rich to support the poor, the powerful to protect the vulnerable, the influential to speak up for the voiceless, those at the centre to guard the interests of the marginalised.
I hope all of us, including the leadership, will accept and implement the results of the public protector on the Nkandla expenditure without fear or favour. We dare not betray the cause that Oom Ray Mhlaba, Oom Gov Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Florence Matomela and many struggle icons fought and died for.
Gift Siphiwo Ngqondi, ANC member, Port Elizabeth