SA has lost the spirit of 'Oom Gov', says Dikgang Moseneke

Govan Mbeki shared a cell on Robben Island with former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who delivered the second annual lecture in memory of his former comrade in Cape Town on Tuesday.
Govan Mbeki shared a cell on Robben Island with former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who delivered the second annual lecture in memory of his former comrade in Cape Town on Tuesday.
Image: Tiso Blackstar Group archive

South Africa is in dire need of a competent state with "true leaders" at the helm, says former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.

This is a crucial remedy for a myriad social ills, including plundering of the public purse, dysfunctional state-owned enterprises, lack of accountability and wanton disregard of the law, he said in Cape Town on Tuesday.

The 71-year-old former political prisoner made the remarks during the second Robben Island memorial lecture honouring struggle stalwart Govan Mbeki, with whom he shared a cell.

Moseneke said Mbeki, who died in 2001 aged 91, would have expected the prosecution of “the big people” who stole “big money”.

Mbeki, the father of former president Thabo Mbeki, was one of the founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe, alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg and many others.

The apartheid government sentenced Mbeki to life imprisonment at the Rivonia trial. He was released from Robben Island in 1987 after 23 years behind bars.

Moseneke, who also served time on the island for his involvement in anti-apartheid activities, hailed Mbeki as a visionary. But he said South Africa had strayed from the ideals  “Oom Gov” fought for.

“Ideological discipline and knowledge seems to have gone. The hard work and the perseverance and patience of a struggle ... seems to have given way to instant gratification,” said Moseneke, who stepped down as deputy chief justice three years ago.

“I hear not debates about how best to dismantle the social structure of apartheid and colonialism. I am afraid that our leaders and young activists have stopped this painful, patient ideological understanding of where we come from and where we ought to be going to.

“What I hear, what I see, are power battles with no ideological contestation; people holding the same ideological position, but in deep contestation with each other.

"I see and hear factionalism that is inspired not by ideological difference, but I wonder by what, [besides] by exclusive control of state institutions and resources.”

Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke while chairing the inquiry into the Life Esidimeni deaths.
Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke while chairing the inquiry into the Life Esidimeni deaths.
Image: Alon Skuy

Moseneke said there was a rush to accumulate wealth from the country’s fiscus, “our common pot that we need to do so many things to advance our revolution”.

“We desperately need a competent state.” But that was impossible if those who held power refused to be accountable, he said.

“We cannot do that without a culture of hard work, of honest living, of job creation and opportunities for those who need them the most, when the dominant ethic is that there are shortcuts.

“Everybody [tells] young people that there are shortcuts. The shortcut is to take from the pile of money that is collected by the state.

“Shall we remember just for a moment that the state must provide for the poor and marginalised people the basic necessities of life? This is a simple task that we are duty-bound to accomplish, provided we are focused on it.

Govan Mbeki under arrest in 1963.
Govan Mbeki under arrest in 1963.
Image: Tiso Blackstar Group archive

“Housing, health, education and protection from crime are not luxuries. Much has to be done by our government, but even more has to happen to unburden our people, particularly the poor.

“We need a full and collective apparatus of the state, including state-owned enterprises, to take us to the democratic ideal – an inclusive prosperity. Again, we need a competent state to destroy inequality.

“We need a competent state to engineer substantial growth in favour of the economy and all our people. We need our children to find a stake in our economy as creators of wealth and employment, not just as job seekers. And no external force, no external investment, can do that for us.

Moseneke said “Oom Gov” would expect SA to solve the “historic land hunger”. He said the struggle stalwart would also expect the country to be self-reliant.

“Oom Gov would expect us by now to produce the bulk of the food we eat, to make our own clothes and shoes, to produce our utensils, to build our own homes and all that we need inside our homes, to collect and bank our money ourselves, as we did in the 1930s and 40s with cooperatives,” Moseneke said.

“Oom Gov would expect us to enforce our criminal accountability. We need to prosecute crime, both petty and big.

“The poor people are the immediate and biggest victims of crime. They get it from all sides. We also need to prosecute the big people who take big money from the private sector and the public sector. Again, the victims of all this are the poor.

“As a parting shot, allow me to say: True leaders give, they never take from the people. Oom Gov gave all. For the better part of his 90 years he gave and gave, in all forms. Those who take from their followers can never, ever, be true leaders.”


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