It was sad to watch the bright-eyed new Members of Parliament being sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Wednesday and to find oneself thinking: When will they be corrupted or when will corruption allegations be made against them?
It’s a sad situation when one cannot look at MPs, who are supposed to be among the most exemplary citizens, without thinking the worst. But the allegations that have been made almost daily at the Zondo Commission into state capture have forced us to trust our so-called public representatives only as far as we can see them.
Many of those who succumbed to bribes and corruption over the past 25 years (corruption did not start under Jacob Zuma, just ask those involved in the arms deal or the Sarafina! scandal, remember that?) have besmirched their honourable name and those of their colleagues.
Even those who are honourable, will spend months, if not years, restoring the integrity of their names, but also the integrity of Parliament, an institution in which all South Africans should be able to have trust. The confidence in our public representatives is at an all-time low.
The good news is that it probably won’t get worse and can get better, especially if those with morality and ethics once again put their stamp on Parliament and the Cabinet. Our public representatives will hopefully follow good leadership, which is what the president promised and which is what distinguished South Africans, such as Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and former public protector Thuli Madonsela, urged after the elections.
There have been good signs over the past few days, including ANC deputy president David Mabuza, declining to be sworn in until he addressed the concerns of the party’s integrity commission, and others like Malusi Gigaba, Baleka Mbete and Nomvula Mokonyane withdrawing their names.
There have also been positive comments from some of the newly elected premiers, such as Gauteng’s David Makhura, and KZN’s Sihle Zikalala vowing to promote clean governance and fight corruption. But we, the electorate, have been burnt before. We entrusted our hopes and dreams in the hands of people who have been less than honest, serving to enrich only themselves, their families and closest comrades.
It is up to us to be more vigilant and take ownership of our democracy. Democracy requires those of us who are not in Parliament to make sure that those who are supposed to serve us, do so diligently and without being compromised.
We should insist that public representatives declare all their assets and business dealings, so we can scrutinise them. Those who are economical with the truth, should be fined or expelled. When was the last time an honourable member was fired for dishonesty? The events of especially the past 10 years or so have shown the need for greater vigilance over the government by civil society.
There should be nothing greater than serving one’s country. But we have seen many people forgetting that they were supposed to serve the people, thinking instead that they were supposed to help themselves.
It is time to restore the dignity of the public service. When the new MPS become old hands, they must know that they served without conflict, without compromise and without a hint of corruption or bribery. We won’t be able to move forward unless we root out corruption.
* Fisher is an independent media professional. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.