We need mavericks not praise singers

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IOL Maharaj on Nkandla GCIS President Jacob Zuma's spokesperson, Mac Maharaj addressing members of the media following the release of the Nkandla report by the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela. Photo: Kopano Tlape/GCIS

The difference between a Thuli Madonsela and a Mac Maharaj would appear to be that they are on opposites sides of a sitting president, says Dev Rajab.

Durban - Tales of antiquity in many cultures carry a singular message of unquestioning allegiance to the emperor, to the point of lying to please him. A case in point is the story that still has relevance today of the naked emperor in his invisible silken clothes told in 1837 by Hans Christian Andersen. It took the innocence of a child to declare the truth.

In South Africa we are grappling with issues of truth, fiction, loyalty and courage.

The difference between a Thuli Madonsela and a Mac Maharaj would appear to be that they are on opposites sides of a sitting president. The former seems to want to pull him down; the latter earnestly props him up.

One is his spin doctor or “loudspeaker”, the other his conscience as she proverbially claims that the “the emperor has no clothes”.

This tug-of-war is about accountability, morality and truth. In the past we would ask: what is going to happen to South Africa? Will there be a bloodbath after a revolution?

People were apprehensive. International pressure and pressure from within, car bombs and sabotage cost many lives, but finally we achieved our freedom. Maharaj was a part of this struggle with his buddy Jacob Zuma.

Predictably, Maharaj is loyal to his friend, not to his country. He has spent more time in jail than out of it. His reality is marred; perhaps he expects payback. He thinks, “when I was tortured in prison I paid a price for this freedom that others do not deserve”.

Nkandla is a “non-issue”, a mere molehill in the whole scheme of things to Maharaj. He accuses the media of blowing things out of proportion. Inherent in this criticism is a veiled attack on the freedom of the press.

Roger Langen warns us: “If reporters don’t report and universities don’t debate; if the ‘open society’ is really just a hushed conversation within a gated community; if information is ground under by right-wing think tanks – in short, if power is admired and truth despised – then who will speak the words clearly that need to be heard?”

What South Africa needs at this point in her tottering democracy is more mavericks like Madonsela and fewer praise singers like Maharaj. Being a maverick is not about being anti-government or anti a political party. It is about standing up against abuse of power.

A good example of a maverick politician was Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who was deputy minister of health under Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the HIV/Aids denialist, under Thabo Mbeki’s rule. She dared to disagree with the minister’s policy on HIV/Aids and was fired for her stand.

Barabara Hogan took an anti-party line in supporting the Dalai Lama’s visa request to enter South Africa to her detriment and we lost a good member of the cabinet.

We are proud of the stand taken by Madonsela who dared to stand up to the president over his alleged abuse of taxpayers’ money to build his family home.

Against all opposition to her damning reports, the public protector is unwavering in her insistence that the truth of allegations be investigated in the national interest.

This raises another issue around the government, its leaders and supporters where loyalty to party politics seems to override principles of integrity and honesty.

Wild rationalisations and conspiracy theories abound in the face of little or no evidence. Racism, liberalism, colonialism and capitalism are ideologies loosely thrust as red herrings to abort current realities.

South Africa is a young democracy, arrested from a cruel past of racial tyranny. We dare not allow our 20-year-old democracy to fall into the same trap as our past. People should not be afraid to stand up for their political convictions and ask: what is good for my country and its people?

A democracy is vibrant if the people are a critical thinking mass in a constant state of introspection, asking important questions on delivery, political leadership and economic and social development. No one should have to simply put a cross here or there to get houses or special favours. Nor should benefactors breed and sap favours from a political party or government.

South Africans want law and order and stability. Our challenge is to fight the malaise of social degradation, which is essentially about the eradication of morality. It is these qualities that mavericks like Madonsela display as they embark on doing the right thing above all else. Let’s not compromise our democracy. Let’s save our mavericks and protect our protectors.

* Dr Devi Rajab is a psychologist, author and academic.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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