The last week points to a new era of accountability in South Africa: the public hearings of the Life Esidimeni project, the Eskom inquiry and the inquiry into the atrocious behaviour of the Minister of Social Development have laid bare the state of accountability in South Africa, and have made me pause and ponder a different kind of future.
Adding to things to watch closely was the release of the terms of reference for the commission into state capture. All these public hearings, one hopes, will result in a heightened level of accountability among our public representatives and civil servants.
If our public officials were truthful you wouldn't need these commissions - in other words, if those who did wrong simply confessed their part in the chaos that is being probed in all these public hearings, you wouldn't need to spend so much money just trying to get to the bottom of the true story.
This is why those found guilty in these inquiries must truly be punished where it hurts most - in their pockets, by being fired from their ill-deserved jobs, or by being made to spend some time behind bars to help them reflect on their misdeeds and how these have affected the people who expect better from them.
The trouble in South Africa is a poor sense of consequence. Money is spent on these many commissions of inquiry and the public battles to remember a single person who was sent to prison following spectacular lies at these commissions.
My friend, advocate Menzi Simelane, comes to mind in moments like this - does anyone remember the Ginwala commission and how this chap lied through his teeth implicating some big people? Do you think he was punished? No, he was promoted and kept his perks of some top job as a ministerial adviser. Even after the Constitutional Court pronounced that he was a two-faced liar, nothing ever happened to the guy.
But one has a sense now that the commissions taking place currently have a new sense of purpose - I hope I am right. A few themes are emerging from these public hearings:
Ignorance is no longer bliss.
The answers “I do not know” or “I don’t remember” no longer cut it as a response to questions about politicians' roles in their misdeeds that have led to the inquiries. This should send a strong message to officials to be alert to decisions they make and the impact of these decisions on organisations they lead as well as on the public.
Politicians’ authority over civil servants is limited.
South Africa is a constitutional democracy and the very existence of the rule of law means that politicians' power is tempered by laws that govern the civil service.
What is coming out of the Eskom inquiries implicates the president in a messy interference resulting in the unjustified firing of competent officials who wouldn't do his bidding.
The Esidimeni hearing shows the pointing of fingers in all directions with the HOD claiming to have been afraid of Qedani Mahlangu, while Mahlangu claims that information was kept away from her. It's messy.
Another big question that came out of the Esidimeni hearings is where political accountability should end. Is it enough that Mahlangu has resigned, or must there be bigger consequences? Is it enough that she is the fall guy, or should the premier and minister of health be held to account by also falling on their swords?
After all, 140 people died as a result of failure of governance in a crucial portfolio.
Perpetual legal appeals now rest on you.
Throughout the last two decades, it had become easy for politicians to flout the law and then use the public purse to pursue frivolity through the courts.
Both in the SABC saga as well as the SASSA saga, the misuse of the public purse is being brought to a screeching halt. Now politicians will know that if they insist on legal gymnastics that have nothing to do with the truth or justice, they will have to pay from their own pockets.
The Bathabile Dlamini testimony was a house of horrors, showing how much politicians have come to abuse the system when no one is looking. What makes this worse is the most vulnerable of our society faced the real possibility of not receiving the grants that stand between them and destitution.
These themes are at the heart of the poor culture of accountability in South Africa.
In 2012 the ANC recognised the integrity deficit that is painted in these public hearings. It set up an integrity commission alongside a resolution that those who are accused thus must step aside voluntarily and avoid dragging the organisation with them.
Obviously, this resolution along with the integrity commission was ignored and became a laughing stock both within and outside the ANC.
So the question is now, what is going to be new? At what point will leaders fall on their sword and not wait for the situation to implode first, as we saw in the Nkandla saga?
Look at the damage that Zuma’s clinging to power cost the ANC: can it afford more damage coming out of the State of Capture inquiry? Would it not be better if some of those implicated in the Gupta leaks stepped aside before their misdeeds are serialised on live TV so close to the general elections?
Whatever the decision of politicians, the commission ahead and the ones in process can only be good for the people to know that whatever is being done by our politicians in the dead of night will one day be ventilated in broad daylight; and those who flouted the law now face the real possibility of going to prison for it.
* Tabane is the author of Let’s Talk Frankly and host of Power Perspective on PowerFM987, 9 pm to midnight. Follow him on Twitter @JJTabane
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.