My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
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?BACK TO TOP