By Khaya Sithole
One of the most common phrases in popular parlance – “the more things change, the more they remain the same” –
which is attributed to the French critic and editor of Le Figaro, Jean Baptiste Karr, has turned out to be a most accurate assessment of South African politics.
Over 8 years ago, Zwelinzima Vavi – in his capacity as the leader of Cosatu; called for lifestyle audits of senior politicians and public officials as a way of combatting public sector corruption. Vavi was quoted by the Mail and Guardian as stating that the apparent resistance to lifestyle audits was due to the fact that too many people (read: politicians) were involved in corruption. In response to his assertions; the ANC – through its spokesperson Jackson Mthembu – accused Vavi of grandstanding. Additionally, the ANC ‘lambasted Cosatu for saying that a small faction of ANC leadership was attacking the secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’. The war of words would be incomplete without the Cosatu affiliate – SAMWU – alleging that there were plans by factions in the ANC to oust its then President – Jacob Zuma.
8 years since that viciously volatile volley of words, the scourge of corruption in the public sector has escalated and entrenched itself in all aspects of governance. In addition, the private sector has played a role as enablers, facilitators, and fixers of corrupt deals and arrangements. Its apex – the phenomenon of state capture – is only now being unraveled through the Zondo Commission of Inquiry. High profile civil servants have found themselves having to explain transactions laden with undeclared conflicts of interest. An acting police commissioner was accused of enjoying ethically-compromising relations with elements of the business world and accused of corruption. In simple terms, we are back where we were 8 years ago in terms of the disease of public sector corruption.
Interestingly, in a script Shakespeare could not have crafted better – we currently have the ANC President – Cyril Ramaphosa – committing to the lifestyle audits that Vavi called for all those years ago. The Secretary-General – Ace Magashule – is accused of participating in an imminent coup aimed at unseating the President of the ANC and to top it off – we have the ANC spokesperson who seems to be unable to decide whether the infamous Maharani meeting even took place. It is as messy as it was 8 years ago.
[WATCH] Kaya 959 Analyst @CoruscaKhaya says the way lifestyle audits are conducted recently is haphazard. If you earn R10 000 at Kaya 959 and you drive a Porsche….” #BreakfastwithDavid pic.twitter.com/IRWv6O6dn7
— Kaya 959 Talk (@KayaFMTalk) September 12, 2018
But perhaps the fundamental difference is that Ramaphosa seems committed to ensuring that the lifestyle audits are finally conducted. According to his address at the National Council of Provinces this week, there is a diverse team of bureaucrats currently crafting a framework for how the lifestyle audits will be conducted. This team is expected to make its recommendations final by the end of October which – if it happens – would be a significant milestone in the fight against corruption. The country has enough exhibits of public officials whose lifestyles warrant an audit of sorts. These range from Kgomosto Phahlane’s predilection for fancy cars that seem at odds with his earnings; to Vincent Smith whose own habit of sourcing loans from businessmen that occasionally do business with the state has raised eyebrows.
The tension that will inevitably come to the fore is the question of how far one goes with such audits. In the instance that they are seen as invasive and intrude on the privacy of affected persons, there will be indeed resistance indicated through a general lack of cooperation. Whether the country is ready to admit that the public interest – understanding how public figures maintain their lifestyles – trumps their entitlement to privacy is not yet known. Additionally, the legitimacy of the audit process may be bolstered by a focus on high-level public servants rather than being limited to bureaucrats seen as dispensable. To this end, it would be instructive of Ramaphosa to ensure that the process is not undermined through lack of buy-in and cooperation from his own executive.
Whether he and the country are ready for what might be uncovered is another matter altogether. Luckily for him, we do live in a country where the discovery of actions and activities by public officials that is at odds with any ethical framework, does not actually result in any consequences. And so the rot shall continue.
Images by GCIS