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#changethestory: Politicians who poisoned the well

President Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

President Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

Published Sep 1, 2020


by Lorenzo Davids

I am not sure whether President Ramaphosa has survived his party's crucial NEC meeting (at the time of writing). What I do, however, know is that there is a fight going on for the soul of this nation, a fight far bigger than just the poisonous factional leadership groupings within the ANC.

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There are deep questions to be asked about how we arrived at this state of moral breakdown as a nation.

Who started this madness of amassing ostentatious wealth while in political office, that has now brought us to this feeding frenzy for money and power?

Long before the Guptas were allowed political power and long before Jacob Zuma became the gatekeeper for that cohort of the corrupt, we saw a serial abandonment of the commitment required to ensure a just and equitable future for all South Africans by many ministers and senior civil servants.

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Instead of setting up a proud public service that would robustly serve the mandate of “we the people” they quickly saw the temptations of capital - lots of capital.

The commitment to a steady and progressive pro-poor government policy and public service became marred by the leadership's own silent wealth-creation ambitions.

Cyril Ramaphosa, Saki Macozoma and Tokyo Sexwale became the first in that group to make serious money. They became billionaires by allowing their political leadership to become a doorway for them to enter personal business deals.

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I have no issue with anyone becoming economically successful - if it’s based on sound justice fundamentals. However, these leaders were trusted with serious obligations to lead a post-April 1994 South Africa. They were tasked to continue the work of liberating this country and deepening its democracy.

Instead, they bought into the culture of wealth when it really was their moment to say no to the personal amassing of excessive wealth.

They did have the opportunity to tell those foreign powers and multinationals that unless the people of South Africa prosper, they will not accept personal prosperity as a worthy trade-off. They did not.

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There was a missing moral awareness in the amassing of private wealth by our Struggle and later government leaders.

Many became rand millionaires and billionaires, later dollar millionaires and billionaires within our first 10 years of democracy.

As these leaders bought their private jets and their multiple mansions, they foolishly did not consider the effect that would have on the stability of our democracy, and specifically on our public service.

The suspicion would linger that they used their public office and access to power (especially to President Mandela) to amass that wealth.

Downstream in the provincial and local government offices, the recipe for wealth-creation was clear: make your money from the public service.

The perceived manner in which many of these leaders became wealthy became the model for those who wanted similar access to wealth.

These deals became big business for many in the state.

It has erupted all over the country, in most state business deals. In the Free State under Ace Magashule, in the North West, and virtually every other province.

Dubious institutions were set up all over to access all kinds of resources - from tenders for toilet rolls to mining licences and from tenders to feed prisoners and to tenders to provide government with stationary.

The politicians who got us to where we are today are the ones who left the leadership of our public service and political office to go into business at a time when their moral leadership was most needed to grow this democracy for all.

Instead, they left it to make money. They poisoned the well.

The rest of the public service, the state and several political parties are now all still drinking from it. That culture is now, very sadly, deeply ingrained in the DNA of our country at every level of business.

And the poor are still with us.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.

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

Cape Argus

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ANCCyril Ramaphosa