It was moments after the Boks trounced Scotland at St. James Park. Spirits were running high and flowing liberally. The family – along with the nation – were elated.
My Uncle Reggie was in good form but I noted with some concern that he was getting quiet. This always suggests that one of his famous political proclamations is not far off.
And so it came. Somewhere between a Nick Mallett technical tirade and a Naas Botha – well, a Naas Botha, Reggie murmured: “They must just bring back Bheki Cele.” We all turned slowly, jaws slightly ajar.
It was not this bewildering non sequitur that elicited our collective bemusement but rather the fact that Reggie had learnt how to pronounce “Cele” properly – click and all. (Like most English speakers he would usually pronounce it Chelly as in “Jelly”). This new-found respect spoke volumes. Reggie clearly meant business and we could tell that it was time to turn off the tellie.
The most recent crime statistics have caused justifiable shock. The details are well documented, suffice to say that we are slowly but surely turning the tide on nearly two decades of solid progress in reducing most categories of crime. Our National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega’s head is being called for and the general vibe is that people want Bheki back.
Of course on paper this makes some sense. The man served for only three years and managed to reduce crime in nine out of 10 categories. His predecessor the lake Jackie Selebi was also relatively successful in reducing crime. He wasn’t as successful as Captain Fantastic but he was certainly more successful than Phiyega. Now let’s be honest the only thing that she currently has going for her over the other two is that she hasn’t been found guilty of any crimes or serious misdemeanours. Selebi died in disgrace having been jailed for corruption. Cele was also found guilty of maladministration by a Commission of Enquiry and relieved of his duties by the president.
“Reg,” I ventured tentatively; “Bheki Cele was found to be unfit for public office”
I knew I was in trouble the moment I said it. Twenty minutes later we all excused ourselves and went our separate ways.
You see we South Africans do many things well; braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and international TV personalities. But we are Olympic when it comes to double standards. Without any hint of irony, we can call for Jacob Zuma’s removal from the presidency for alleged corruption and in the same breath call for Bheki Cele’s reinstatement as Police Commissioner in spite of his guilt not being alleged. How does that work?
Well, it’s quite simple really. Our values hold no value. Simply put, we are willing to flip-flop our way through life going wherever we can get the best deal. What is the result? A nation bedevilled by some of the highest crime rates in the world. Get it? We are the problem.
Now you may ask what the connection is between our nebulous values and the soaring crime rate. Well if lawfulness is our value – which I am trusting that for most of us it is – then we have to hold to that value (not simply hold others to that value!) in spite of what benefits there may be to compromising it. This means that there are some things that we are not permitted to do. Here are some of those:
- We are not permitted to call for the return of Bheki Cele as Police Commissioner – however much we may believe his approach to policing worked – because to do so would be to endorse maladministration.
- We are not permitted to break the law however “small” we may feel the infraction to be.
- We are not permitted – however tempting – to act on the question; “everyone is doing it so why can’t I?”
- We cannot withhold revenue or information from SARS.
- We cannot pride ourselves on doing the right thing “most of the time”.
- We cannot work in an environment that is corrupt or unethical without either speaking up or resigning.
- We cannot give or receive bribes even if to do so would prevent us from being imprisoned.
- We cannot take revenge when a wrong is perpetrated against us.
This list is not exhaustive and hopefully you will already have noted one or two that I have missed. Now remember these points only apply if lawfulness is your value. If it isn’t then not to worry about any of it. The law may or may not catch up with you. But if – like me – you are passionately concerned about peace in our country then the above points need to be adhered to as a minimum requirement. It begins by putting an immovable stake in the ground when it comes to living our values. Then it takes us acknowledging the double standards we have got so used to living by, and ridding ourselves of them.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.