It wasn’t uncommon around the time Jacob Zuma took over the country for journalists to lament the tepid action by state institutions in response to stories uncovering poor governance or outright corruption.
Apart from the occasional Yengeni or Selebi, there persisted a feeling among the media corps that the long arm of the law was all but a mere stump.
Being the fragile creatures we are, we longed for some acknowledgement. And, yes, there were moments when officialdom broke ranks and did something to arrest the decline.
Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, former deputy to the late health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, comes to mind.
She bravely sided with us at the Daily Dispatch in 2007 following a series of investigative reports exposing the bureaucratic failures behind Frere Hospital’s elevated infant mortality rate. Thabo Mbeki was president then and he cheapened our work with some pretty indelicate comments about the truth and mini-skirts.
Tshabalala-Msimang, who was to Mbeki what Faith Muthambi, Bathabile Dlamini and the whole security cluster are to Zuma, took up the cudgels on behalf of “Mr Aloof” and did everything in her power to make light of what was a dire situation. Tsha-
In one desperate moment she publicly applauded the hospital for having a functioning generator.
Only Madlala-Routledge saw it for what it was and coined the problems at Frere a “national disaster”. Mbeki sacked her soon after. The sentiment of hopelessness carried over into Zuma’s reign, and I remember conversations among journalists, who wondered whether what we did even mattered.
The rot was self-evident and yet nothing was done about it.
We would watch exasperated when similar exposés in other countries brought about the instant resignation of a cabinet minister.
Remember the way Pallo Jordan was feted as a martyr by some when he fell on his sword over false doctorate claims? Hell, it was the least he could do. Maybe it was a misguided sense of self-importance which left us cynical journos feeling bereft, particularly as Zuma began implementing his project of institutional corrosion, targeting the foundational pillars of our constitutional democracy.
Good people like former public protector Thuli Madonsela gave us fleeting hope, but she and her ilk seemed hopelessly outnumbered.
Madonsela is gone but, no doubt, shares the same enthusiasm we do for the turning of the tide against Zuma and the depravity he represents.
The battle is far from over but the accumulation of years of diligence on the part of society which gave a damn is starting to pay off.
When it seemed the man and his league of looters was impervious to retribution, the cracks started appearing. In the last week or so, those searing rays have arrived in the form of two reports on state capture.
One was compiled by the South African Council of Churches and the other by a team of academics. What they say is important. Who they are is symbolic. Zuma, the God-fearing man and lumpen anti-intellectual, just took a good ol’ one-two to the chin.
The forces of change are starting to co-ordinate their advance.
One casualty of Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle, with no special ties to academia, and who graced Port Elizabeth on Thursday, told guests at a corporate function that a bombshell announcement was imminent in the afternoon.
And so it came to pass.
What these developments show is that even if it turns slowly, the wheel never really stops moving. With the cogs freshly-oiled and momentum steadily gaining, that far-off horizon suddenly seems in reach.