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
25 January 2008

On power cuts, accountability and democracy

I have been resisting commenting on the power cuts – Orwelianly called “load shedding” by Eskom and the government. Listening to the usual suspects on the radio whining about how “they” have been stuffing up the country was too depressing and I did not feel like getting on that pathetic bandwagon.

Then I read Max du Preez’s column yesterday in The Argus in which he said we should stop playing the blame game and start asking how we can solve the problems around the power cuts and I had to respond.

I agree with Du Preez that it is important not to only complain and that we should try and solve the mess as soon as possible. But I profoundly disagree with him that we should stop blaming the politicians who got us in this mess in the first place.

The power cuts are a national disaster that will tarnish President Mbeki’s legacy as much as his eccentric views on HIV/AIDS. As all the experts tell us, this disaster was completely predictable. The government’s own white paper – adopted by the cabinet – warned that at a high rate of growth we would run out of electricity in 2006 and at a low rate at the end of the decade. Yet, nothing was done about this.

Now the Deputy President has apologised for this small mistake and even President Mbeki has admitted that he got it wrong. But this, to me, is too little too late. Section 92 of the Constitution states that the Members of the Cabinet are accountable collectively and individually to Parliament who, in turn, are accountable to the 46 million South Africans who elect them.

The Constitution contains several other provisions that make it clear that the state should act in an open and transparent manner and that it should be accountable – in the final instance to the electorate. Accountability must surely mean just that. In this case it is clear that the President and his Cabinet – but especially the relevant Ministers at the time, Jeff Radebe and Pumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka – must be held accountable for this utter national disaster.

In an ordinary well functioning democracy in which the party in power feels that it may be ejected from office at the next election, this would require – at the very least – that the responsible Ministers should resign or be sacked by the President. Saying sorry, really would not be enough.

Unfortunately we have a one party dominant democracy and the ANC thus does not think that we will desert it in droves at the next election and so, they make a laughing stock of the need for accountability. I happen to like both Ministers involved in this disaster, but if they had any morality and if they had any respect for our democracy and the Constitution they would resign.

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