The first arrests of those involved in bankrupting the state are only the beginning of an agonising process of repairing hollowed out agencies and institutions.
It’s in the nature of SA’s tumultuous politics that every win has close on its heels a loss. Every hard-won advance is offset by a rapid setback. So, it’s a little too early for the excitement that has accompanied the first high-profile arrests of those responsible for the financial evisceration of the state.
But since we’ve waited so long, we’re entitled to enjoy what ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule disparaged as “Hollywood-style”. He’s referring to the spectacle of handcuffed notables doing clumsy perp walks in pointy Italian shoes to waiting cop cars.
Arrests and convictions on the periphery of the party and government will not worry the governing elite. On the contrary, it serves to buff an ANC construct of zealous – if somewhat newly acquired – moral propriety. It’s when the Hawks start pecking in parliamentary precincts that nerves will be tested.
So, the catch that will worry the ANC’s sharks is that of former parliamentary colleague, Vincent Smith. He will be an interesting test of prosecutorial mettle. One of the brighter sparks in a dulled ANC firmament, he is firmly in the radical economic transformation camp of former president Jacob Zuma and, hence, keen to see the humiliation of President Cyril Ramaphosa.
After two decades of frenetic self-gratification in parliament, Smith is well-placed not only to blow the whistle on the Zuma-era looters, but also on those skabengas still in Cabinet and on the national executive committee and on whom Ramaphosa relies upon for survival.
In contrast to fragile indications of pockets of resolve and possible competence in specialist sections of the SA Police Service (Saps) and the National Prosecuting Authority, on the ground nothing has changed. Colleagues in a health nongovernmental organisation (NGO) this week told how their driver and his passengers were abducted, threatened and held to ransom.
The mind-boggling response of Saps was to refuse to intervene. What had happened is that the NGO, to keep their medical staff safe from Covid-19 and infecting patients, had been ferrying them to and from townships. The taxi operators had taken umbrage.
The NGO car was forced to travel in convoy to the taxi rank where the driver received an ultimatum. Pay thousands for a weekly “safe travel” pass or face the consequences. When the NGO roused the police by kicking up a stink, they travelled to where the terrified driver and passengers were being held. Not to make arrests but to negotiate their release.
No further action was taken, or should be expected. The minibus taxi mafia have for a very long time been a law unto themselves in terms of traffic offences, defying pandemic regulations, and – to the judicially untested suspicions of many – being behind the torching of commuter trains, Uber taxis and public bus services.
Now, they appear to be branching into kidnapping and extortion. To be worthy of respect, a government must protect both the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the favoured and the outsiders. The first arrests of those involved in bankrupting the state are only the beginning of an agonising process of repairing hollowed out agencies and institutions.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.