Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
12 July 2011

Greed, corruption or incompetence?

After the local government elections, most of us thought that we would not have to talk much about sanitation for a while. After all, the DA – under new mayor Patricia de Lille – has done the right thing by agreeing to enclose the open toilets at Makhaza. The ANC – after a high profile visit by Julius Malema and other ANC leaders to Viljoenskroon – promised that heads would roll about the ANC’s own open toilet scandal and then proceeded to pretend to the cameras that they were themselves helping to enclose those toilets. (Of course, Malema never said what he meant with his promise that heads would roll – maybe he meant they would roll in money or tenders.)

Alas, this morning the front page of The Times newspaper printed a picture of rows and rows of toilets in the veld near the Free State town of Harrismith below a picture of similar rows of toilets erected by the apartheid government in a field near Letsitele in Limpopo.

The newspaper also reported that ANC led Maluti-a-Phofung Municipality in Harrismith is now charging the poor up to R5000 for a plot of land with a flushing toilet on it. For some inexplicable reason, the municipality which erected more than 1000 lavatories on land apparently earmarked for low cost housing, is now insisting that people who qualify for such housing pay for the land – and the toilets.

The Times reports that despite numerous enquiries, municipal officials could not explain how or why more than 1000 toilets were erected on one field across the road from Tshiame township almost three years ago. Ward councillor Moeketsi Mofana is quoted as saying:We are selling them. I’m not sure about the prices, it will depend on the size of the stand. They have to be sold. The money used to develop the site has to be recouped. For now there are no RDPs [low cost houses] in the pipeline. The priority is to move and complete this project.”

Now, why would they be selling these pieces of land attached to toilets? Who decided to build those toilets in the open veld in the first place and who benefited financially from this apartheid-style decision? Who received the tender for that project and how much was it worth? Was corruption involved in the awarding of the tenders and was the price so inflated that the municipality had no money left to build houses to accompany the toilets?

And in terms of what policy and legal framework are they now trying to sell these toilets to the poor people of Maluti-a-Phofung municipality? As far as I am aware there is no government policy in place that allows for the selling of such toilets-only pieces of land to indigent residents on an ad hoc basis. And who is going to profit from this scheme? Will the money be used to buy a new car for the mayor, perhaps, or will the money be used to finance an inauguration party for the major or a refurbishment of his office?

On its own this story would have been shocking. After all, the ANC professes to want to serve the poor, while our Constitution places a duty on all spheres of government to take reasonable steps to provide more and more people progressively with access to housing, water and sanitation. And was it not the National Party – who treated black South Africans in a way that denied them their basic human dignity – who became notorious for building rows of toilets in a veld in Limpopo?

But then I read that Julius Malema – the professed champion of all champions of the poor –  allegedly paid R78 000 in cash for a three-day frolic with five friends at the “colonial” and ultra-luxurious five-star Royal Malewane game reserve next to the Kruger National Park. His luxury adventure occurred shortly before his re-election as ANCYL president three weeks ago in an election campaign which saw him repeatedly sell himself as a champion of the poor. Malema earns about R40 000 a month as ANC Youth League President, so this cash must have been acquired in a manner other than from being paid a salary for work done.

When asked for comment by reporter Jacques Dommisse (JD), ANC Youth League spokesperson Floyd Shivambu (FS) responded as follows:

FS: Fuck you.

JD: Say again?
FS: I said: “Fuck you”

JD: Are you swearing at me?
FS: Yes.

JD: Why are you doing that?
FS: What is your problem?

JD: I have no problem.
FS: Fuck you. Fuck off, ok.

Am I the only person to see in Mr Shivambu’s response also a metaphor of the attitude of a sections of the ANC – I am talking about the ANC aligned tenderpreneurs and pseudo revolutionaries, of which Mr Malema is a prime example – to the poor people of Maluti-a-Phofung Municipality and many other communities in South Africa?

To me the juxtaposition of these two events demonstrates the absurdity and utter bankruptcy of much of the political “debate” in South Africa. While we endlessly debate whether Julius Malema should be found to have uttered hate speech when he sang dubul’ibhunu, or whether his Gucci-revolutionary slogans about the nationalisation of the mines and the expropriation of white-owned land without compensation is acceptable, poor people wait in vain for the better life they have been promised, while well-connected individuals become instant millionaires through tenders and bribes (skimming off tax money that could have been used to improve the lives of our people).

While we should be debating how we can stop the looting of state resources and tenderpreneurial corruption, how we can hold politicians to account for stealing from the poor, how we can secure the successful prosecution of corrupt politicians and officials, and how we can ensure that taxpayers money is spent wisely to help improve the lives of the poorest of citizens who rely on the state for their very survival, we get side-tracked by the smoke-and-mirrors sideshows put on by people like Mr Malema.

While journalists should be working day and night to try and find out how Julius Malema made his millions, they sit around at ANC Youth League press conferences and laugh along while Mr Malema provides them with entertaining soundbites that will help to sell the morning newspapers. While law-enforcment officials should be investigating and arresting tenderpreneurs every day, they investigate the Public Protector instead.

While our government haemorrhages money because of unwise or corrupt decisions taken by underqualified or corrupt deployed officials and politicians, money that could have been spent to improve the life chances of those who have very little hope of ever finding gainful employment, the ANC seems to be focused almost entirely on who will challenge whom for which position at the ANC conference next year.

As Samantha Vice might not have asked: “How do we live in this strange place when all most of us seem to be obsessed about are the things that do not bear directly on improving the lives of our people?” How can we expect citizens to become active and to take charge of their daily lives when we all entertain them with the bread-and-circus of ANC internal politics and the latest deliberately outrageous utterances of millionaires like Malema?

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