SA trapped in nightmare of corruption

Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu
Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu
Image: Supplied

The nightmare is not that South African politicians — at least those in power today — are corrupt. Right now that is the least of our worries. The nightmare, the stuff that wakes one up sweating at night, is that these politicians actually believe that corrupt action and its rewards are their right, their reward and their entitlement. They see absolutely nothing wrong with what they do. They are surprised at the fact that ordinary people are shocked by their behavior.

You see, if someone is corrupt then you can deal with that. You can lay charges, you can set the law enforcement agencies upon them, you can condemn them. Yet when they believe and are treated by their peers as though nothing wrong has happened, then this is the nightmare. You are in truly uncharted waters here. You are lost. You are well and truly in trouble.

Nothing illustrates this better than a few of the stories of the past week.

First, a Sunday newspaper revealed that social development deputy minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu offered to take a would-be in-law employed in her office on four international trips so that he could save up money to pay lobola for her niece. Did you get that? Her niece. Not some stranger, but her niece.

Confronted with this clear case of corruption, she answered: “I did not misuse any public funds; neither did I advise or motivate for anyone to get more than what the public service prescribes because that is a directive from the public service.

“Even in the recording, it is the mother in me trying to help a young South African who is trying to do something right, and that is me … You ask for advice and I try to assist. Even in the assistance I did not break any laws.”

Swinging things a certain way with taxpayer money to benefit your niece is corruption. But Bogopane-Zulu, and her political party, don’t think so. You can bet your bottom dollar that she will be drawing her salary at the end of February, March and April. Why? Because no-one in our political establishment thinks that she has done anything wrong. Taxpayer money is politicians’ money, there to be used for personal enjoyment.

Bogopane-Zulu cannot be fired when her senior, health minister and former ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, is not admonished for hiring his niece as his department’s chief of staff despite her being implicated in corruption allegations when serving on the board of the Public Investment Corporation.

There are more than 50-million people in South Africa. Mkhize could not find one, just one, outside of his family to hire as chief of staff. Not a single one. Amazing. Yet he wants us to believe that the National Health Insurance scheme will be a roaring success, shorn of nepotism and corruption.

Mkhize’s spokesperson Popo Maja told The Citizen that Mkhize’s niece had joined the health ministry because she was “heeding the Thuma Mina call”. This makes me want to cry and laugh at the same time. She couldn’t heed the call from some other ministry except her uncle’s? clearly neither Mkhize, the relative and the entire ANC cannot see how terrible this looks.

It must be incredible to sit in a room with ANC leaders and talk about the resignation of Jabu Mabuza from Eskom and not actually wonder why Bogopane-Zulu is still in the room. One must wonder why ANC members can go around condemning the corrupt ruling elite of Angola, given the latest revelations about the looting machine that was the Dos Santos family in that country, and watch nonchalantly as ANC leaders routinely steer tenders and jobs to their relatives. This stuff is so corrupt. It’s the same as Donald Trump appointing his son-in-law as an adviser even when his security and intelligence establishment refuses to give him security clearance.

In the case of Mkhize, a senior ANC leader who was once heavily touted for the presidency, what does it say about you that you can only see talent in your immediate family? It just means you are so insular, so untraveled and unschooled (despite a medical degree) that you can’t even be trusted to raise your head and check out what’s on LinkedIn. And what does it say about the relative you hire? Seven years of legal education and the best they can do is get a job from their uncle?

Yet, as I said at the beginning, that’s not even the beginning of our problems. Our urgent, terrible, problem lies in the fact that these people get up in the morning, get into their smart suits and smart cars, surrounded by bodyguards paid for by us, and look us in the eye and say: there’s nothing wrong with me stealing your money. They have lost their moral compass.