Over the last 150 days we have learned much about the power of the habitual in post-millennial, post-apartheid South Africa. We have heard it in the grumbling, cavilling, quarrelling and grousing about the logic (or lack of) of government decrees. We have also seen it in the defiance of logic among the many bourgeois folks who mistook their entitlement for rights, whether to go running, do yoga on the beach, surf, get takeaway coffees, or to purchase items subjected to restricted trade… We saw it in the contradictory messages relayed by official government channels, in the conflict between some experts advising government, between government officials and such experts, and in the ways in which opposition parties contradicted themselves as they opposed government proclamations.
I really do not want to confuse Paris Hilton – who this weekend was again held for the possession of dagga after she was reportedly found with a small amount of dope in her handbag as she flew into the French island of Corsica on a private jet – but I have to remind everyone (including ANC spokesman, Jackson Mthembu) that sometimes there is a difference between what is legal and what is morally right or defensible.
If one is invited into somebody’s home, for example, and then spits on the floor and insults the host, this would not be illegal but most decent people would frown on such behaviour. If one’s partner informs you that he or she is HIV positive and one then tells that partner that he became HIV positive deliberately to humiliate you and one then drops that partner like a sack of potato’s, this would not be illegal either, but most decent people would find such behaviour at best to be selfish and unkind and at worst morally reprehensible.
Responding to newspaper reports that several cabinet Ministers and Deputy Ministers stayed in the most expensive and grand Hotels in Cape Town and had meals at taxpayers expense that cost more than the average monthly salary of a domestic worker – all because they could not possibly stay in the houses allocated to them by the state because (oh, the horror!) the curtains were stained, some furniture were not up to scratch or the carpets were a bit frayed – ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu blew a gasket.
The biggest culprit is of course Communications Minister, Siphiwe Nyanda, who spent more than R500 000 on luxury accommodation at Cape Town’s most expensive and luxurious Hotels after spending almost R1.1 million each on two new official vehicles that included R150 000 of “absolutely essential extras”. Nyanda also just happens to be at the centre of a fight with Cosatu’s Zwelenzima Vavi after Vavi demanded that President Jacob Zuma launch an investigation into the widely reported claims that General Nyanda was a tenderpreneur who had unlawfully enriched himself through crooked government tenders.
The ruling party said in a statement issued yesterday that the ”attack” on its ministers confirmed its long-held suspicion that ANC ministers were being ”targeted”. ”There is nothing immoral, illegal or unconstitutional in public representatives staying in hotels, as this is not a breach of the Public Finance Management Act, or the provisions of the Ministerial Handbook,” said the ruling party’s spokesman, Jackson Mthembu.
It reported that since President Jacob Zuma was elected president, government departments and state-owned enterprises had blown more that R1.5-billion on cars, parties, World Cup tickets and other luxuries. But the ANC said yesterday the media was ”failing” in its work to ”properly inform” the public about laws governing accommodation of public representatives. ”In line with the Ministerial Handbook and prescripts governing public representatives, cabinet ministers, MPs MECs and MPLs are entitled to stay in hotels while their permanent accommodation is not yet ready for occupation,” Mthembu said.
Mthembu’s statement is interesting for several reasons. First he blames the media for reporting – accurately, by the way – on the exorbitant cost of these jaunts in the most luxurious and expensive Hotels which caters for millionaires and others who have stolen money from the poor. This is all part of a dark plot, you see.
How dare the media report on the facts! The bloody cheek of it! That is obviously why we need a Media Appeals Tribunal: to stop the media from reporting accurately on proven facts if those facts might embarrass the greedy and immoral Cabinet Ministers. The allegations of a plot are so ridiculous that one fears for Mr Mthembu’s sanity. The kind of paranoia he exhibits have had lesser souls locked up in an insane asylum.
Mr Mthembu actually wants us to believe that members of the media sit in dark rooms and say: “Well, our readers will not really care about this wasteful spending, but because we are all Dr Evils (with our own Mini-Me De Vos as a sidekick!) we will use these completely irrelevant facts of no interest to anyone as part of our dark conspiracy to discredit the ANC. How clever we are!”
Second, Mthembu conflates what is legal with what is moral, revealing that he utterly lacks a moral compass. Because this kind of scandalous expenditure is allowed by the Ministerial handbook, he argues, it cannot be immoral. With respect, this line of reasoning displays a warped and perverted sense of morality. To argue that everything that is legal is also moral, is to show such a breathtaking and scary lack of understanding of morality, that it makes one believe the absolute worst of those who peddle this nonsense.
In South Africa it is not illegal to be a racist in your own home. According to Mthembu’s logic that makes it perfectly moral to be a racist. It is also not illegal to call Nelson Mandela a terrorist. So I guess that would also be a perfectly moral thing to do in Mthembu’s world. It’s not illegal to be cruel to your girlfriend and to call her all kinds of names because she refuses to wash your dirty underpants, so, once again, in Mthembu’s world that behaviour would be considered completely moral.
Let us think about this some more.
Every day, millions of South Africans go hungry because they have no food to eat. Millions do not have houses to sleep in and are cold and wet. Every day thousands of South Africans do not receive the medical care they need and some of them die. Many children do not receive even the basic education that could help them to succeed in life. Although not every single person who suffers like this could be assisted immediately, the state could do much to alleviate the plight of those who are suffering by wisely and effectively using our tax money to address problems of poverty and lack of service delivery.
Yet, Ministers stay in the most luxurious Hotels (while perfectly habitable accommodation is available elsewhere at no or little cost), eat Oysters and Caviar and drink the most expensive wines, drive around in cars that cost more than most South Africans earn in a lifetime. In my universe, this seems immoral. The fact that general Nyanda and Jackson Mthembu thinks it is not immoral, I would contend, reflects rather badly on their value system and poses questions about their humanity.
Maybe they are lovely people, but on the available evidence in the public domain I would guess they are callous, selfish and greedy and that they lack the basic decency one would expect from a servant of the people voted into office to serve the vulnerable and marginalised “masses of our people” (as President Thabo Mbeki used to say while surfing the Internet). They seem to have a completely perverted sense of morality, but like most people who lack compassion and have an overinflated sense of themselves, they do not have the necessary wisdom to reflect on who they are and how their actions might seem to appear to ordinary, decent, people.
Instead, they blame others for their bad publicity because if you are s-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o (self)important, you are never to blame yourself for anything you might have done. They should be ashamed of themselves. Pity, on the available evidence, they won’t. One needs a sense of morality to ever feel ashamed about what you have done and as they equate morality with what is legal, they obviously lack this very human trait that one requires to appear decent, caring and – well – moral.BACK TO TOP