Accountability is like baking powder. If you’ve got it in the mix, the cake is bound to rise. If you haven’t, that cake is staying down no matter how great the other ingredients.
In South Africa, we can have impunity, or we can have progress. We cannot have both. All living systems act on feedback, human beings included. If you steal from your country and get reappointed or promoted, you keep stealing from your country. If you do a bad job and get away with it, you keep doing a bad job.
It’s really that simple.
South Africa needs to build a culture of political accountability, meaning that if there is corruption in a department, or if the department performs poorly, the political principal, the minister, is held to account. Currently, the litmus test is if corruption can actually be pinned on the principal, through a lifestyle audit. This is not enough. That is why outrageous crimes such as Marikana and Esidimeni can be committed against South Africans, and not a single politician is held to account.
The Gauteng ANC Provincial Executive Committee’s message to Qedani Mahlangu and Brian Hlongwa is: it’s ok to kill people and steal from the public. Mahlangu was MEC for Health when 144 mentally ill patients died from neglect. Hlongwa was implicated by the Special Investigating Unit in corruption amounting to R1.2 billion, receiving kickbacks from companies contracted by the provincial health department during his tenure as MEC. Both were re-elected to the PEC this weekend.
Failure to hold wrongdoing to account shifts the blame to those whose responsibility it is to demand accountability. Gauteng Premier David Makhura recognized this when he promised: “There will be justice. I made a commitment to the affected families, that I will walk all the way with them to ensure that justice is served.” If Makhura’s PEC don’t hold Mahlangu and Hlongwa to account, then it falls to voters to hold the Gauteng ANC to account.
Accountability is the essential raising agent that will see South Africa rise out of its current slump. The ANC has time and again failed to hold its public representatives to account for gross misconduct. It claims to uphold women’s rights, yet retained Mduduzi Manana as Deputy Minister of Higher Education after he was convicted for assaulting three women. To add insult to injury, Bathabile Dlamini, was rewarded for the SASSA debacle by being appointed Minister of Women.
The ANC recently appointed convicted fraudster, Tony Yengeni, to chair its committee on crime and corruption. Arther Fraser, was redeployed to head up Correctional Services having been justifiably accused of treason. In his January cabinet shuffle, President Ramaphosa appointed Bheki Cele as Minister of Police. Cele was dismissed as national police chief in 2012 on allegations of corruption involving inflated leases. Malusi Gigaba was made Minister of Home Affairs, having played an instrumental role in enabling state capture as Minister of Public Enterprises.
The ANC removed Zuma to save themselves ahead of the 2019 election, not to hold him accountable for grand corruption and state capture. They never told him or South Africa what he had done wrong. The official who allowed the Gupta plane to land at Waterkloof base was rewarded with an ambassador’s post.
In every instance, the message is clear: it’s ok to behave like this. And when voters keep voting for the ANC, they send leaders the same message: it’s ok to behave like this.
Even bureaucrats are not held accountable. The ANC’s policy of deploying its branch members into the bureaucracy and as accounting officers means there’s a cosy relationship between politicians and bureaucrats in which no one is ever held to account.
Accountability is not just about fighting corruption and gross misconduct. It is also an essential performance management tool. The standard to remove someone from their job cannot be ANC-level corruption. If a public servant is failing to serve the public with distinction, that must be reason enough to consider giving someone else the opportunity to do a better job.
Angie Motshekga was reappointed as Minister of Education, even as SA continues to rank lowest of the low for reading and maths. Aaron Motsoaledi has overseen the disintegration of our health services and is in no danger of losing his job as a result.
Our public education system is a crime against our children. Our public health system is an insult to the sick. We cannot afford to ignore or reward poor performance. If we want different outcomes, we have to do politics differently in this country. If we change our politics, we can change our nation.
The thing we South Africans need to grasp is: if voters don’t hold parties to account for their actions or inactions, we must assume part responsibility for the outcomes. In a democracy, accountability ultimately rests on the shoulders of the electorate.
The DA will continue to pursue accountability in the De Lille matter. Accountability is a core DA value. No-one can be above the rule of law. No individual’s interests can be above the collective interests of the residents of Cape Town.
Next week, Zimbabweans go to the polls. This is a game-changing opportunity for them: a chance to rid themselves of a liberation movement party atrophied by corruption and patronage; a chance to usher in a new era of accountability; a chance for the people of Zimbabwe to reclaim their power and their freedom. It appears to be a close race and we can’t be sure what the outcome will be. But we can be sure that when accountability is a guiding principle, South Africa and Zimbabwe will rise.