We now have to deal, not with how to stem the explosive rise of Covid-19 infections and deaths, but with serious allegations of Covid-19 graft, says the writer. File picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters
We now have to deal, not with how to stem the explosive rise of Covid-19 infections and deaths, but with serious allegations of Covid-19 graft, says the writer. File picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

My fellow South Africans, the season of weeping is upon us

By Opinion Time of article published Aug 2, 2020

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Tinyiko Maluleke

In June 2004, the Kenyan anti- corruption head who later fled his country as a whistle-blower, John Githongo, uttered words whose foul smell would linger for years in the corridors of the mind of British journalist and author Michela Wrong: “I knew of at least one other minister who was a complete crook, but I was Kikuyu, in a Kikuyu government, and people around me were saying: “It’s our turn to eat.”

When it comes to vukungundwani, bonweenwee, inkohlakalo no rhwaphilizo (corruption), democratic South Africa may have long overtaken the Kenya of Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki.

Unbeknown to our founding negotiators, the air inside the hallowed chambers of the World Trade Centre was thick with the virus of corruption and graft.

As they cobbled their famed power-sharing deal together, as they delineated the property classes and crafted the sunset clauses, they were also infecting one another with the novel corruption virus - a bun-shaped virus that causes insatiable greed as well as a drastic reduction of moral and ethical conduct among the infected, the criminally affected and the politically connected.

One-hundred-and-twenty-nine days of lockdown later, more than 8 000 deaths and half-a- million Covid-19 infections later - as our country is up there among the top five countries with the most Covid-19 infections in the world - more than seven “My fellow South Africans” speeches later, we now have to deal, not with how to stem the explosive rise of Covid-19 infections and deaths... but with serious allegations of Covid-19 graft.

What an energy-sapping diversion at time of a genuine national crisis. What a time to steal from the sick and the dying. In his last “My fellow South Africans” address, President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed concern about “instances where funds are stolen, where they are misused, where goods are overpriced, where food parcels are diverted from needy households, where there is corruption and mismanagement of public funds”.

So much so that, on that day, the president “signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigations Unit to “probe any allegation relating to the misuse of Covid-19 funds across all spheres of the state”.

Already when he was announcing the “extraordinary coronavirus budget” of R500billion on April 21, the president said he was “deeply disturbed by reports of unscrupulous people abusing the distribution of food and other assistance for corrupt ends”.

Finally, three months and R2.2bn of stolen money later, the president has taken action. Applause, applause? No, Africans feel numb and defeated. It seems that the blood of corruption runs in the veins of the party and flows in the arteries of government. The hope of the nation that Ramaphosa might help us discover a vaccine against the novel corruption virus is dissipating.

Soon, the proceedings of the Zondo Commission may be reduced to a comedic side show of no consequence so that its final report could become entertaining toilet-reading material of no eloquence.

What with the smoke of allegations of graft rising up to the level of the high office of the president himself - with the name of his own spokesperson being dragged into the mud’... What with the spokesperson, an MEC and an member of mayoral committee now on special leave, owing to these allegations...

In a joint statement issued on July 29, King Madzikane II Diko and iNdlovukazi Khusela Diko assured South Africans that “there was no corruption in the bidding and subsequent awarding of the PPE contract to Royal Bhaca Projects” and that “no public funds were ever paid to Royal Bhaca Projects”.

Nevertheless, the AmaBhaca King and the iNdlovukazi seem to understand and accept the validity of the suspicion that the awarding of the tender to Royal Bhaca Projects may have been unethical, when they write: “We have attempted to rectify this by seeking to cancel the contract and we deeply regret the error of judgement that led Royal Bhaca to seek to do business with this department in the first place”.

Nor do they deny their close relationship with Dr Bandile and Loyiso Masuku.

In an interview on Power FM on the same day, Dr Masuku also acknowledged “the issue of conflict of interest might arise because Khusela is a member of the provincial executive committee and she is also a close colleague that I have worked with since our days in the youth league up to now”.

Towards the end of the Diko statement, there is a switch from the first person plural to the first person singular, when King Madzikane appears to be attempting to clear his own name.

In the process, he comes close to retracting earlier admissions when he expresses regret “that these efforts to earn an honest living and improve the well-being of my people are now mired in controversy”.

The jury is still out as to whether this was indeed an effort to earn an honest living.

The jury is still out as to whether Ramaphosa will actually do what he has been threatening to do since he started campaigning for the ANC presidency in 2017, namely to put an end to the culture of corruption both in Luthuli House and in the Union Buildings.

Three years later, the nation still waits with bated breath and increasing rage. Caught between a governing party and a government that seems to have become little more than a glorified labour broker for tenderpreneurs and covidpreneurs, ordinary South Africans are unable to breathe.

Somewhere in the good book there is a passage that talks about there being a time and a season for everything under the sun. There is, we are told, a time to weep and a time to laugh. My fellow South Africans, we have indeed moved into a season of weeping, where laughing is also used to camouflage weeping.

We are told in the good book that there is a time to mourn and a time to dance. My fellow South Africans, open your ears, and hear the gut-wrenching sounds of mourning in the squatter camps, villages, locations and the suburbs of our land.

Can you hear the shuffling feet of grieving people gathered in crowds of 50, dancing the death drill?

Among the Vatsonga, there are two melancholic funerary traditions of grieving; forms of lamentation called kutitshandza and kutirila. The first refers to the most profuse self-denigrating lamentations about one’s own sense and experience of utter wretchedness. Literally meaning to cry oneself, kutirila is to be found at both extreme ends of the pendulum of grief and mourning.

Sometimes it consists only of sounds and groans. Sometimes it is expressed in song, spoken word, furious gesticulation or through what writer Fred Khumalo calls “dancing the death drill”.

My fellow South Africans, the season of weeping is upon us. Come then, let us weep for our leaderless country. Come, let us dance the death drill - to the sounds of the hit song of Kgaogelo Moagi, Jerusalema.

* Tinyiko Maluleke is a senior research fellow, University of Pretoria Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.

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

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