The punishment SA voters suffer

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IOl dina pule INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Former minister of communications Dina Pule is comforted by members of Parliament after she was suspended. File picture: Cindy Waxa

When parties scrape the barrel to give us Zuma, Malema, Zille, Ramphele, Pule, Mmemezi and others, they intentionally insult our intelligence, says Makhudu Sefara.

Johannesburg - In the winter of 2012, Humphrey Mmemezi, an ANC leader whose scruples appear not to bother him much, fell on his sword. His outrageous purchase of artworks, burgers and beans finished him off. Or so we thought.

He stepped down as a Gauteng MEC but remained a provincial legislator.

A year later, Speaker of Parliament Max Sisulu admonished former communications minister Dina Pule: “A great amount of trust has been placed in us as MPs to chart the course that will lead to a better life for our people. Your breach of the code of conduct has gravely undermined the people’s trust and brought this House and its members into disrepute…”

Pule was shuffled out of the cabinet before Parliament gave her what was its harshest punishment: a fine of 30 days’ salary, and a suspension of privileges and her right to a seat in the people’s assembly for 15 days.

Many debated whether this was sufficient punishment. Consensus appeared to be that Sisulu could only work within the rules, and the rules provided this slap on the wrist in place of real punishment. Long after that, the rules are yet to change.

This week, many were up in arms wondering why the ANC put discredited individuals as its best candidates to serve the party and the people after the May 7 elections. Some were losing their breath over this, others using cellphone airtime they don’t really have to vent on talk shows.

Such futility.

The truth is that this isn’t about the ANC; it’s about South Africans in general. A quote from Plato might be helpful: “The punishment we suffer, if we refuse to take an interest in matters of government, is to live under the government of worse men.” Other philosophers have told us that the morality of any action is a matter simply of its consequences.

In understanding why we have the challenges about which many South Africans complained, we must look at most parties, including the party to which Mmemezi and Pule belong, and ask ourselves why they have the temerity to make prosaic calls for votes when they scrape the bottoms of barrels to find good men and women to serve this country.

Take new kid on the block Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Why would Julius Malema be a worthy representative of the people? Of all the people this party could find, it had to be Malema? It could do no better.

How about Agang? Certainly, Mamphela Ramphele is a wonderful human being. Politically, however, she is very naive. No doubt. When her party’s ill-fated marriage to the DA was on the rocks, she famously said she could be a presidential candidate for the DA and Agang at the same time. And someone who spews such nonsense is really the best Agang has for South Africa. Imagine who they have to run the provinces.

And auntie Helen Zille? The problem with Zille – and the DA – is that they struggle to embrace transformation. Hers seems to be a stratagem to dupe black people to participate in their own insult. This isn’t an easy thing to achieve – though, to an extent, it is achievable.

The jokers in Cope are hardly worth a mention. Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa caused a stir five years ago. When they were supposed to build the party together, they quibbled and then went to war with each other, only for one of them (Lekota) to belatedly wake up with the hope that the South African voter – this battered and disrespected animal – would remain hopeful that Cope was a viable option for a future government.

The ANC, meanwhile, gives us Jacob Zuma. For all his gaffe-proneness, the organisation is saying he is the best it has to offer South Africans. Forget the Nkandla fire pool and all. Not only that. The ANC also offers our battered voters Mmemezi and Pule, and others like them.

This democracy, we must always remember, is built on dead bodies, tortured souls and shattered dreams. The death this week of Solomon Mahlangu’s mother – Martha – must, if nothing else, remind us of the birth pangs of freedom.

And so those who represent us in our various legislatures – the true representatives of the people – ought necessarily to be possessed of the will to put the country first in their service.

Frenchman Georges Pompidou once remarked that a statesman is a politician who puts himself at his country’s service, whereas a politician is a statesman who puts the country at his own service. No bets where our rogue politicians belong.

Mmemezi used our taxes to buy baked beans, burgers and artwork for his family. Pule employed her boyfriend to manage a huge information and communications technology tender. Over R200 million was spent protecting Zuma and his family. Malema is fighting a tax war in court for benefits he enjoyed with his family.

The punishment we suffer for leaving matters of governance to others, Plato told us, is to be governed by the worse among us.

We all know the ANC can do better. But the question is whether it wants to or, more appropriately, it feels forced to. Human beings are such that they are engineered to do the bare minimum. This is why we have laws and rules.

The DA too can do better. If making a few superficial changes to the make-up of the DA is sufficient to get the number of black people we see when it marches against the ANC or Cosatu, why would the powers behind the DA want to embrace real transformation?

Zille and company are hoping Zuma and the ANC will, by making characters like Mmemezi and Pule MPs post-May 7, anger many other people to vote for the DA. Put differently, they are hoping for people to vote for the DA not because they like it, but because they now hate the ANC or are disenchanted with it. For them, most voters can’t see past this subterfuge.

The EFF can’t do better than Malema for, it appears, Malema is the EFF. Malema, like Mmemezi and Pule, does not appear to be a person much constrained by rules or the law. Yet he, like the rest, is a “real” option for people who should enact laws and rules that govern all of us. What a pity.

When political parties take decisions like these, when they put forward names of discredited individuals as true representatives of the people, they make a fundamental statement about what they think of the South African voters.

When parties scrape the barrel to give us Zuma, Malema, Zille, Ramphele, Pule, Mmemezi and others, they intentionally insult our intelligence. This disrespect must unhinge us all. I would never encourage anyone not to vote – for, that is the height of folly.

Yet, even when you are not that enthusiastic about the exercise, the options feel like a participation in your own insult. The punishment we suffer.

* Makhudu Sefara is editor of The Star. Follow him on Twitter @Sefara_Mak

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