Africa is a very interesting continent. It is the only place where history always seems to repeat itself with deadly accuracy. Many countries in Africa go through the same experiences but nobody seems to be learning from the other’s experiences. The independence bandwagon has come and gone from Africa and a different kind of darkness is rearing it’s ugly head. Examples are abound of African countries that have moved from the hot saucepan of colonialism to the fire of ethnic and civil conflict. The respect for democracy has been a common denominator in most of these countries and in particular, the respect for the different pillars of the countries’ individual constitutions. South Africa stands on the brink of this precept. It is on the brink of becoming another statistic of a great nation that never was.
A great pillar of the South African democracy stands in danger of being violated and degraded. The Public Protector’s office run by Advocate Thuli Madonsela is tasked with investigating ANY office bearer at ANY level of government and is one of the Chapter Nine Institutions which are mandated with guarding this twenty year old democracy. Its investigations can stem from complaints, tip-offs or its own initiatives. The latest furore in this esteemed office emanates from an investigation into the use of public funds to upgrade President Zuma’s Nkandla home. This came about after another important part of a healthy democracy, independent media, represented by the Mail and Guardian, blew the whistle on these upgrades. The paper highlighted that a lot of taxpayers’ money was being used and misused on the Zuma private residence. The Public Prosecutor rose to the challenge and initiated investigation into the building of the Head of State’s home and finances.
From the outset, the President must be commended for allowing the investigation to go ahead. Many such investigations are muted and then crushed. Even if they are carried out, the process is fraught with frustrations and when the report is compiled, it never sees the light of day. Public Protector Madonsela was allowed to conduct her investigation albeit with numerous frustrations. That gives us a positive and hope that the remnants of democracy still exist. The additional fact that the report has been allowed to be presented is another sign that we can still but hope. Now that the report has been presented, we have to look at the way forward and examine what each action and reaction of each organ concerned with the report will mean for the relatively young democracy that is also the surviving hope of the so called motherland.
The Ombudsman’s office found that the public funds spent in making upgrades to Zuma’s Nkandla home was ‘unconscionable and excessive and led to misappropriation of funds. The reaction of the ruling party to this report must say a lot to the people of South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world. In fact, we must freeze, watch and listen with bated breath. According to the Secretary General of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe, the report is an attempt by Thuli to ‘muddy the waters in the election campaign period’. He is in a way politicizing the whole report and investigation. And then the Public Protector is blamed for having a political agenda! Former police commissioner Bheki Cele is one of those who lambasted Madonsela, saying her investigation into the Nkandla security upgrades was unfair. According to Cele, Madonsela’s report left many questions unanswered. The ANC Women’s League went on to insinuate that the report was the work of the opposition Democratic Alliance. Their ultimatum in all this is, ‘hands off Zuma’. The other arm of the ANC, the Youth League has gone as far as to say that Thuli Madonsela must resign. They say Zuma is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. On the other hand, the provincial leadership of the ruling party in the North West has advised the president to ignore the report. Is this how little we think of our democracy?
This whole scenario begs a lot of questions about our democracy. What is the point of setting up these pillars of democracy if we intend to undermine them? Have we not learnt from our neighbors and brothers in Africa that have gone through the same route? Is the well being of individuals so important as to jeopardize the futures of all the children in the Republic? Lest we kid ourselves, these pillars of our constitution are important and are there for a purpose.