A recent admission by former head of state protocol, now Ambassador to the Netherlands Bruce Koloane, had me thinking.
On his second day of testimony at the commission of inquiry into state capture on Tuesday, Koloane admitted that he had “erred” in “dropping the names” of two ministers and that of former president Jacob Zuma, to exert influence on officials to expedite the application process to get landing clearance for an aircraft carrying guests to a Gupta wedding to land at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in 2013.
Koloane admitted to “dropping the names” of former transport minister Ben Martins, minister of defence and military veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Zuma in order to pressure officials at the Department of Defence to facilitate the landing.
The chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, noted that what Koloane had done was “something very serious to say about people occupying those positions in the Executive”.
Koloane admitted that it was “very serious” and that this had the potential of tainting the reputations and images of those whose names he had dropped.
Koloane also undertook to apologise in writing to the two ministers and Zuma, and said he would be willing to meet with them in person though he is ashamed of his actions.
Media reports shape people’s perceptions of the subjects that they cover. And one cannot dispute that the former president’s “reputation and image” was “tainted” further when the story that “number one” – Zuma – had played a role in facilitating the landing, took off in the news cycle.
The three main questions that jetted across my mind following the ambassador’s admission are: How many more Koloanes occupy senior positions in government institutions?
How many of them clearly abuse both their designations which bring them in close proximity to their political principals, and the power that comes with their authority to “exert pressure” on their juniors?”
And do they consider the detriment suffered by both those whose names were dropped and the “fall guys” who land up in trouble after succumbing to this pressure?
Another nagging concern comes from wondering how “name dropping” by these government officials could be the wind beneath the wings of fake news pieces crafted to serve a particular interest, at a time when fake news takes off and lands quicker than the now-discontinued Concord. A time when narratives and counter-narratives are laden with agendas and propaganda.
Above all, Koloane’s admission made me wonder whether the government has acted on one of the recommendations of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster report of 2013 on the landing, which states:
“Government, led by the Department of Public Service and Administration, should develop and implement a public service awareness campaign to discourage the negative culture of name dropping in the form of improper use of names of the National Executive in the public sector. In addition, the definition of acts of misconduct should be amended across government to include name dropping as gross misconduct.”
If this recommendation had been acted on, what would have become of Koloane and other “name droppers”?