Quote of the week

Mr Zuma is no ordinary litigant. He is the former President of the Republic, who remains a public figure and continues to wield significant political influence, while acting as an example to his supporters… He has a great deal of power to incite others to similarly defy court orders because his actions and any consequences, or lack thereof, are being closely observed by the public. If his conduct is met with impunity, he will do significant damage to the rule of law. As this Court noted in Mamabolo, “[n]o one familiar with our history can be unaware of the very special need to preserve the integrity of the rule of law”. Mr Zuma is subject to the laws of the Republic. No person enjoys exclusion or exemption from the sovereignty of our laws… It would be antithetical to the value of accountability if those who once held high office are not bound by the law.

Khampepe j
Secretary of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State v Zuma and Others (CCT 52/21) [2021] ZACC 18
30 October 2009

Mushwana is greedy and shameful and should be shunned

Family legend has it that many years ago when my father, in a letter to my grandfather, complained about the heat in Mussina (where we lived), stating that it was 103 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) “in the shade”, my grandfather wrote back: “If it is so hot in the shade, why the hell do you keep on going into the shade, then”. 

I was reminded of this story when I saw the reaction of former Public Protector, Lawrence (“Fat-Cat”) Mushwana, to newspaper reports that he received a R7 million (no, not Zim dollars, South African Rand!) golden handshake on the completion of his seven year term as Public Protector.

“People just want to see my name rubbished in the newspapers,” he is quoted as saying. To which I am tempted to reply: “If you do not want to see your name rubbished in the newspaper, and you do not want to be hounded and ridiculed wherever you go, then why the hell did you take R7 million of tax payers money and why did you expose yourself as the greedy, overpaid, civil servant that you are?’

As Public Protector, Mushwana was entitled to a judges salary (about R1.5 million a year). He took the job knowing that it was for a non-renewable term of seven years. He was also recently appointed as the chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission so he does have a new job and a good salary to boot. He will not go hungry and will be able to live a very comfortable life. (His life wil be a bit more comfortable, say, than the lives of 40% of South African children who is reported to suffer from malnutrition – even if had not received the obscene pay-out.)

No matter what he might have been legally entitled to (there seems to be a dispute about the legality of the payment), taking R7 million as a “golden hand shake” (after first suspending chief executive of the Public Protector’s office, Themba Mthethwa, for questioning the payout) is deeply and shockingly immoral and unethical. It shows a callous disregard for taxpayers and for the people of this country he is supposed to serve. It confirms that he is a callous human being, not much better than those guys who made the Reitz video, because like them, he also does not care about the suffering of fellow South Africans (a majority of whom are the very poor South Africans he might have pretended to care about).

How many houses could the state have built with that money? How many lives could have been saved by providing dying people with access to anti-retroviral drugs? How many hungry children could have been fed with that money? Where is Mushwana’s ubuntu? Has he no shame or integrity? If I were a friend or family member of Mushwana I would have been deeply ashamed to be associated with him.  

I suppose Mushwana thinks he is entitled to sip Jonny Walker (of some colour or the other), drive around in a flashy car and roll around in the money that could have been used to provide a better life for others less well-connected than himself. After all, it is so last year to care about others who do not know the people you know and are not as important as you think you yourself are?

The problem is that he will not be shunned by all his colleagues and friends. Some will even defend his “right” to the R7 million and might claim that some regulation somehwere entitles him to the pay-out. They will hide behind rules and laws – just like the apartheid officials hid behind rules and laws – to justify the indefensible and the immoral actions of a state official. And Mr Mushwana is not the only person who believes that he has a right to feed on state resources that could have been used for poverty alleviation.

Those who fail to shun Mushwana (and all the other Mushwana’s of our world), who do not criticise his greed, who try to justify it by saying that some apartheid killers also live well, THEY – as much as him – should sleep uneasy at night if they had any sense of shame. Until South Africans turn their back on the heartless immorality of people like Mushwana, the state will not become a caring one embued with the spirit of Batho Pele.

Is it too much to hope that maybe, just maybe, late at night, when those who defend Mushwana and his ilk, those who attend lavish dinners at his house and greet him in the street, to hope that those, when they go to bed and they listen carefully, will be haunted by the screams of hungry and dying children from whom Mushwana, in effect, had stolen. How can we re-establish a society in which the dignity of all is respected, when people like Mushwana act no better than the heartless racists who lorded over us during the apartheid era? Is it not time for decent people to speak out and to shun the Muswhana’s of the world?

Surely that – if anything – is what ubuntu must mean for us?

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