It is tempting to down tools of war, as it were, and celebrate the “demise” of Humphrey Mmemezi. It is tempting to say his resignation as an MEC (of housing and local government) is an example of how good journalism helps to hold accountable those who abuse the public purse, of the triumph of good (guys) over bad (gaudy figures).
But not so fast.
The point of all the exposés was not to have Mmemezi removed from the corner office (though this does help). The point is that Mmemezi has committed several offences for which he must still be held accountable – regardless of the position he now holds in the Gauteng legislature.
It should not matter that he is no longer MEC. Even if he were a cleaner at the legislature, our expectation must be that depriving him of the blue lights and extricating the government credit card from his clutches is not punishment.
For too long we have been made to expect less and be content with being treated with contempt. For too long we have had to acquiesce to this madness, until it has given rise to political impunity.
We must insist on more. The bar for public officials has been set so low it is almost on the ground.
Take the former minister of corporate governance and traditional affairs Sicelo Shiceka.
After spending our money visiting a jailed girlfriend and engaging in other malfeasance, the “strongest” action our respected governors could take was to remove him from the office as minister, but retain him in Parliament as a worthy lawmaker – despite evidence that he had no respect for the very laws he made.
The point is not to ridicule a dead man, but rather to illustrate that he left us without making amends for the many wrongs he committed. It happened because our rulers know how easily sated we are with what is essentially non-action against serial offenders. They know how gullible, how unconcerned we are about things we ought to be concerned with.
This is why someone like Dumisane Ntuli, the ANC spokesman in Gauteng, has the temerity to tell us: “This (Mmemezi’s resignation as MEC) sets a good example of how ANC cadres should assume responsibility for their actions and take corrective measures in order to win public confidence.”
A good example, huh? Somebody behaves like Mmemezi, wastes our money, lies about it, is embarrassed publicly by a newspaper through exposés and is forced to step down and this is “a good example”?
Are we that naive as a people, comrade Ntuli?
The sorry saga involving disgraced former top cop Bheki Cele holds lessons for us, too.
Poor guy, he might even protest at his inclusion in this list of rogues because he, after much prevarication by our rulers, lost his job. If indeed Cele acted improperly on police lease deals of about R1.6 billion, we should not be happy with a decision merely to sack him. If his conduct borders on the criminal, we should insist on a thorough-going criminal investigation.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, whose office has become the new Scorpions (God save her from Mangaung), did her bit and she had no means to make determinations on whether or not Cele acted criminally. The board of inquiry that looked into Cele’s suitability for office was limited by its mandate, despite Cele’s protestations that Judge Jake Moloi was too excited to add more charges.
The point is that if there are reasonable grounds to believe that Cele acted in ways that suggested criminal conduct, it behoves us all to explore this to our satisfaction because the fact that Cele is gone does not mean we are not burdened with his bad judgement – Roux Shabangu! In fact, it can also be argued that it is in Cele’s interest for him to be criminally investigated so that this ghost is put to rest for good.
It is about time we insisted on more – from everybody. A sham like the one pulled by the ANC to save Mmemezi the ignominy of life in the streets should not be countenanced. Figures like Mmemezi make a joke of Pravin Gordhan’s vituperations about banks being greedy beasts. The greedy beasts populate his political party!
The Mmemezi saga has left me wondering what message the ANC is sending to the poor, the very people told to tighten their belts, that there is no money to meet their needs, that they must stop their violent public protests because only the ANC knows their pain, by leaving Mmemezi as a legislator.
How can a man who spends public money on “party clothes”, whatever that means, and baked beans be a worthy representative of the poor of Zandspruit, of Alex, of Kagiso? Is the ANC surprised that this man was booed and heckled by residents in the Vaal who saw in him an insensitive spendthrift while welcoming the public protector recently? Keeping Mmemezi in the legislature is showing a finger to the poor, making nebulous something as concrete as “zero tolerance” for corruption which, during elections, become a buzzword!
We should expect more from those who are overseeing the miseducation of our children in Limpopo by denying them opportunities by shredding books. This is the sort of thing that leaves normal societies unhinged, the sort we must stand up against.
We must insist on more from everybody, especially from those who put their names forward to lead us. When a president is billed to deliver a lecture, for example, on none other than Nelson Mandela, we must insist that a lecture must be more than just a recitation of a public biography.
When Kgalema Motlanthe raises his hand to lead us, we must insist that the shenanigans around his partner are thoroughly investigated and the truth laid bare.
There must not be space in our public life, especially those entrusted with our taxes, for shady characters. Or else, the democratic promise will remain pie in the sky, a victory so hollow that even lectures on icons will fail to inspire a nation.
The inaction around Mmemezi is no cause for celebration; instead, it must inspire us to stand up against those who have no respect for us and our taxes.