News | Opinion
It was a dramatic week at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
In the witness stand were Dudu Myeni and Yakhe Kwinana – both former chairs of the boards of South African Airways (SAA) and SAA Technical respectively.
Their testimonies provoked laugher if for no other reason than to avoid tears.
And so it was that on Tuesday, commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr nearly chocked with laughter at Kwinana’s fanciful reply to the latter’s question.
Notably, their laughter followed Monday’s sharp rebuke to Kwinana by Zondo over her claim that she thought she was “approving only the terms and conditions [and] not the whole contract” when she awarded a R1 billion contract to aviation services company, Swissport.
She stands accused of improperly benefitting R4.3 million from the transaction.
Kwinana’s pre-emptive strike against Hofmeyr at the commencement of her testimony having amounted to nothing but a damp squib, her mainstay would, throughout the two days, become evasion, convenient forgetfulness and plain incomprehensibleness.
Like Kwinana, Myeni also trod the crooked road of hide-and seek.
She invoked her right to silence, citing dangers of self-incrimination in the light of the high court recommendation to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in May to investigate possible charges against Myeni for commissions and omissions during her tumultuous reign at SAA.
The tragedy unfolding before the Zondo commission is not so much the embarrassing spectacles by some of the witnesses, as in that the testimonies are arguably a first draft or, if you like, a compendium of a tale of the systematic destruction of the beloved country at the hands of people, some of whom could otherwise have been excellent exemplars of the triumph of the human spirit.
The country would be well advised to meditate over the lessons that emerge from the commission now and into the future.
Zondo pointed to two of them in his moments of frustration with Kwinana this week.
His reminder to Kwinana that she is a chartered accountant was in fact an expression of revulsion at her seeming disrespect for the profession and its normative standards, as well as her expression of lack of the basic knowledge expected from a chartered accountant.
The malaise is arguably one of the issues that merit dialogue in the process of fashioning a renewed South Africa.
The second is a review of the appointment of members of the boards of state-owned enterprises.
Zondo raised it when Kwinana argued, albeit strangely, that there was nothing wrong in her travelling to the United States (US) to meet and, in the judge’s words, be “wined and dined” by a bidder even as a tendering process was under way.
To which Zondo exasperatingly responded that if someone who thought as she does could make the cut, “then the processes by which people are appointed as board members in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) must be reviewed.
If that is what you think and you were a board member and you are a chartered accountant … there is something wrong in the
Could it be that Kwinana was playing dumb in the hope that Zondo and the commission’s legal team would tire and give up? In other words, could there have been logic to Kwinana’s abysmal performance?
The review Zondo was referring to with respect to the appointment of board members of SOEs, as would undoubtedly be the case with other leadership echelons in public institutions, will require a spirited ethical fortification of the appointment process.
This is not to suggest that we should take our eyes off other equally important areas such as the core skills required for the effective functioning of public institutions.
The primary cause of the dysfunction of many institutions today has been the subordination of the ethical – and other dimensions – to get-rich-quick schemes of political and managerial players, sometimes acting as sovereigns and in concert at others.
To the extent that some of these institutions came, over time, to be staffed by poorly skilled personnel, it was one of the multiple
negative manifestations of the get-rich-quick endeavours.
Similar critical remarks can be made about the political football phrase, “cadre deployment”, which has been overstretched to include people who cannot be said to be cadres by any reasonable measure of justice.
The third lesson is the imperative for an informed and active citizenry which is able to defend itself and the country against the excesses of the powerful in and outside the public sector.
Politics should help citizens to gain, sharpen and put to use the critical skills that facilitate an equally critical interaction with
our immediate environment as consumers, residents, workers, students, commuters, women, children and denizens of urban and rural spatial spaces.
The Zondo commission will soon complete its work and the honourable Justice Zondo will hand over a report to President Cyril Ramaphosa; undoubtedly with a plethora of recommendations.
The recommendations will have limited effect without an informed and active citizenry which demands their implementation.
This attaches with multiple implications, one of the most crucial being the vital need to rekindle progressive social and political
discourse, which contests many misleading narratives on offer in public and political discourse.
Those who have followed the commission’s proceedings and this week’s instalment, in particular, would have noted the perversion which unashamedly presents rapacious acts of corruption on the scale of analytical equivalence with black economic empowerment.
Most notable about the misrepresentation is that its protagonists are a minority reliant on their decibels and inferred threat of a terror campaign à la Renamo and Unita with our unique time and space variations than the cogency of its views.
They succeed in part because one of the objectives of the state capture project was to intimidate, beat up and disperse progressive voices, including by vulgarising the public and political discourse spaces so as to push the self-respecting into retreat for fear of frolicking in the lower depths with reprobates.
But as Karl Marx put it: “To leave error unrefuted is to encourage intellectual immorality.”
“What more of deliberate acts of destruction which exploit our social fault lines for opportunistic self-serving purposes?”
Ratshitanga is a consultant, social and political commentator
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