Angelo Agrizzi has put a new face to the rot of corruption
in South Africa. He is forever stuck in our minds as a corpulent manifestation of
the excesses he so minutely detailed at the Zondo Commission into State Capture.
But BOSASA, the Guptas, Jacob Zuma and any other
high-profile individuals or organisations that emerge from these commissions represent
only a part of the corruption story in South Africa. Over the past few years I
have worked with and/or mentored several SMME’s – businesses that typically turnover
less than R10 million per annum. Each one has told me their own painful stories
of how they have had to play the “tender game” to survive. Whether they are in
waste management, building, consulting, electrical contracting you name it, if
they are supplying government (or indeed the private sector for that matter),
they have a story to tell of corruption.
Corruption is our malignant cancer that doesn’t just exist amongst the big players. It has spread into every province, every city, every municipality, town and village. It is a part of South African’s every day, lived reality. It has infected every sector from construction to music (allegedly, bands have to bribe judges to win a SAMA music award.)
This stuff will never make it to the Zondo Commission and most
of it will never see a courtroom. But it
is killing us. Because corruption is not something we do per se, it has become
a part of who we are – of what makes us South African. If you don’t believe me,
ask a small business owner. Or easier yet, ask your friends and family.
The good news is that at our end of corruption – the “little
people’s” end – there is stuff we can do to put an end to it. You may not like
what I am going to say, but if we all do our bit it will help to save our
country. We will need to be prepared to spend time in jail if we are caught
drinking and driving, because we refuse to pay a bribe. We will need to be
prepared to report anyone who asks us for a bribe. I suggest SAPS plus the
Corruption Watch hotline 0800 023 456. The more detail we can
provide the better. We will need to do the same with our friends and family who
are engaged in corruption.
If we are not prepared to tackle corruption ourselves, then
we can’t say that the likes of Agrizzi, Watson, Gupta, Zuma or anyone else is solely
to blame for the ruin of South Africa at the hands of the corrupt.
Not long before one of those, “let us know if we aren’t living up to our mandate not to promote gratuitous sex and violence on radio” announcements, East Coast Radio’s morning DJ Damon Beard described in some detail a video that has now gone viral.
In it a man on a street in Gauteng is seen trying to steal a bag – presumably a laptop – from the passenger seat of a car. The driver and him get into a tug-of-war over the bag. Then, as if from out of nowhere, a motorcycle appears and hits the thief causing him to run away in shock. In a post on Facebook the driver later thanks the man for helping him and says that he chased after the thief, ran him over and thankfully, recovered his laptop with only minimal damage to his car. He then thanks Jesus Christ for protecting him.
Beard celebrated the motorcyclist as a genuine hero. In fact, he even called him a Good Samaritan. I read literally hundreds of posts on line all saying basically the same thing – what a hero this guy is.
What has happened to us as a nation when we celebrate with such glee a man being hit by a motorcycle and then run over by a car for trying to grab a laptop off the passenger seat of a vehicle? Have we totally lost the plot? I am not saying what he was doing was right – very far from it. I am saying, that we cannot condone such a response as heroic. It is as criminal – more so in fact – than what this petty thief was doing. I have no idea whether the thief is alive or not, but if he isn’t then these guys are going to be up on charges of murder. That’s how serious this is.
By celebrating this kind of thing, we are condoning vigilante justice, and this is not the answer to our crime epidemic. We need to slow down and get some perspective and understand that we still live in a nation wracked by poverty and employment. Until this is brought under control, desperate people will steal and riding over them with our motor vehicles is a barbaric and inhumane response that will do absolutely no good in the long run.
Back to that announcement about broadcasting standards, was this story not a case of Beard celebrating and advocating for vigilante justice? Is this in line with good radio practice?
I don’t think it is.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter
If you know the greater Johannesburg area, you will be familiar with a sulphurous smell that permeates the air at certain times of the year and reminds one of being on a long road trip with a windy family member.
Theories abound as to the cause of the smell; when we were kids we were told it “came from the mines”. But everyone has a theory; some rather randomly say it comes from Modderfontein, others blame factories, landfills and sewerage.
I was in Johannesburg recently and caught a familiar whiff. Suddenly, I was in Parliament and it was the 8th August 2017 and I was listening to the results of the motion of no confidence in the President. As I listened the smell seemed to get stronger. Next thing I knew, it is three weeks later and the smell which is usually gone by morning, is still hanging heavy in the air. It just won’t go away and although it isn’t nauseating, it is just – there; constantly.
I have tried to understand this smell that won’t go away. Of course, the easy answer is that it is the stench of avarice; greed upon greed upon greed; corruption breeding with itself to produce a deformed and grotesque fart bag. But that is too easy an explanation because we have lived with that smell for so long we hardly notice it anymore. (Note to self: When citizens become numbed to the crimes being committed by their leaders, the nation is on very rocky ground. Wrongly, I have stopped reading anything that has #Guptaleaks in the title. It’s become like ambient noise that I just tune out. I must wake up, read everything and allow indignation to rise again.
But this time it seems different. The stench I am smelling is, I think, a rather toxic blend of fear mixed with helplessness. Many South Africans from all walks of life had been unrealistically hopeful about the motion of no confidence. Some even believed that it would succeed in removing the President. When it did not, we seemed to collectively drop down onto the pavements of our country, our banners limp and impotent, and quietly give up. The dominant collective mindset seemed to say: “Well, we have him until 2019 now – lets ride this out and hope we don’t get someone even worse.” And then the fear kicked in as it began to dawn on us just how long two years is when you are being led by a Jacob Zuma.
But surely if the smell is fear and helplessness, then the smell is coming from us. After all, these emotions don’t come from outside of ourselves; they come from within. And if we have quietly resigned ourselves and hence our country to the fates, then are we not to blame if we get more of the same?
But I sometimes find myself asking: “What more can we do? We have marched, prayed and railed. We have signed petitions and e-mailed MP’s. What is left for us to do?”
The answers to some of these questions came to me this last week as I facilitated a 2-day workshop for the organisation Partners for Possibility. Their ground-breaking and internationally acclaimed program pairs a business leader with a school principal for 1 year to help the principal develop and refine his or her leadership skills. This workshop was all about how to build authentic community in and around a school and indeed, in one’s businesses and neighbourhoods. Half way through day 1 a couple of things occurred to me: the first was that these school principals – who have every reason to be negative – were anything but; they were positive, eager to learn and passionate about their schools and the kids. The business leaders were equally as positive; they sought solutions and were eager not to pass the buck onto government or anywhere else for that matter. The positivity in the room was infectious and as a result, the community of this group built quickly and discernibly.
The realisation was two-fold: when we surround ourselves with positive people – and are open to having our minds changed – fear falls and hope rises. Secondly, when people come together to discuss possibilities rather than problems, solutions emerge. This feeds the positivity, and the fear and hopelessness are further eroded.
Another thing became very clear to me for the umpteenth time since I have been involved in community and NGO work; as we get involved by volunteering our time and skills, something shifts in us. We stop focusing our attention solely on what isn’t and begin to build on what is.
This of course does not mean that we will suddenly be rid of our corrupt leaders. But what it does mean is that we will triumph over our own fear and helplessness; we will find ourselves in a position where we are able to celebrate what is great about our country. And when the moment comes when we need to once again rise, lift our banners and take to the streets, we will have the energy and the zeal to do just that.
It is difficult to imagine the psychological and physical suffering that precedes death by Stress-induced Cardiomyopathy also known as Broken Heart Syndrome.
How much pressure; what levels of anxiety can the human heart endure before it deteriorates to breaking point? What dis-ease needs to afflict a person before the thing literally falls apart. According to the Mayo Clinic website: “The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is unclear. It’s thought that a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, might temporarily damage the hearts of some people. Broken heart syndrome is often preceded by an intense physical or emotional event.”
I see her young face everywhere I look; a picture of Hlaudi Motsoeneng has Suna Venter’s face reflected in his eyes; those violent, conniving eyes boring into her, trying to intimidate her and her colleagues into submission. I imagine him whispering to his henchmen: “Break her heart; whatever you do, make sure she doesn’t return.”
And in the next instant, his eyes reflect our President; fattened and giggling. This woman’s heart break is no accident. She was harassed, threatened and attacked until it broke. Will we ask ourselves in 5 years’ time, what happened to the SABC 8 who are now the SABC 4? How many more hearts will break? What will be the ultimate death toll in the war between evil madmen slathering and foaming at the mouth in pursuit of money and those trying to defend our democracy? If you see this as anything but an out-and-out war, you are deluded. Of course, the aim was silence but it never worked because these people fought to the death – and won. And the fight was always for us – the people of South Africa. Suna Venter and a small group of colleagues from the public broadcaster stood firm and took on the might of a towering empire of corruption and deceit – and won. The pen won the day.
But not so fast fellow South Africans. Not so fast can we move on from the death of this young woman. We must not allow for the standard period of outrage and mourning and then forget the price that was paid. One of the last remaining vestiges of our democracy untouched by the fattened fingers of the Guptas and our president, was saved by their bravery. Suna Venters heart broke because she was defending the very ground we stand on; our free press. For if Motsoeneng and his compardres had succeeded in their mission to curtail what news we could and could not see, the attack on our democracy would have been virtually complete, bar the judiciary. That was what was at stake and people were willing to give their lives to defend us from this. I believe that Suna Venter – and indeed the rest of the SABC 8 – must be remembered and honoured as heroes.
How do we do this? For a start Suna Venter should by remembered and immortalised by every media outlet in this country. Their very relevance is thanks in large part to her and her colleagues. Every paper, magazine, radio and TV station should hang a photo of her; put up a plaque if you like. Get creative – but do something. Let everyone who sees it pay their respects and remind themselves that her life was given in the fight for the freedom of our press. Let it be a constant reminder that we will not tolerate anyone who tries to trample on our democracy. We will take them on and we will win – even if it breaks our hearts.
Anyone who is involved in the media should take every opportunity to remember the sacrifice made by Suna Venter et al. In my way, I have used this column to keep the memory of Anene Booysens and Josiah Sithole alive by dedicating every piece I write to them. This is so we keep the fight against xenophobia and gender-based violence top-of-mind – not just when an attack occurs. The same applies to Suna Venter. Her name will be added to the dedication of every column I write.
As for us as citizens of South Africa, what can we do to ensure that her memory is kept alive and that we join the fight against the powerful and the corrupt who are trying to rob us of our democracy? For a start – as I have written about before – we must resist the temptation to join the system of corruption and abuse; our businesses, our homes, our cars, our places of worship, our NGO’s – wherever we operate – must be places where corruption and abuse of power is not tolerated no matter how much we may stand to gain or lose personally from the transaction. Our complicity fuels the engine. Secondly, we must be prepared -as the SABC 8 has been – to speak out when we see abuse of power and/or corruption or even manipulation taking place. This is very tough – especially when we love those committing the deeds – but we cannot turn a blind eye.
On a personal note, the passing of Suna Venter broke my heart and enraged me. I am enraged by what the President, the Gupta’s, the Molefe’s, the Van Rooyens, the Motsoenengs and many others are doing to our country and her people and I want it to stop. Too many people have been robbed from and too many people have died.
When will it end? When we – like Suna Venter – put our hearts on the line.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.
As I write this I am watching a TV screen that is flashing up the plummeting value of our post-junk-status Rand.
I pick up my phone and the anti-Zuma rants pour in on social media. An e-mail comes from a pastor friend inviting us to “pray up, speak up, stand up, march up, and shout from the rooftops, against the firing of Gordhan and his deputy, against Zuma’s shameless blatant ‘treasury capture’ to further pillage and rape the nation’s resources for his own ends of security and power.” My wife sends me news of a local march we can join.
We march, we pray and we speak out as many South Africans have. But is it just me or does this response seem so inadequate, so uncreative, given the scale of the evil against which we are protesting? Are these actions our only answer to a president who is committing willful acts of violence against our people? I ask this as a person who fully believes in the power of prayer and protest.
Violence? Yes, I use this word deliberately. I believe this is where we have gone horribly wrong in our assessment of Jacob Zuma and hence how we deal with him. Jacob Zuma is not just a corrupt man. Jacob Zuma is a violent man.
A Sanskrit definition that proves this point says that non-violence is: “A lack of desire to harm or kill; the personal practice of being harmless to self and others under every condition.” By this definition, our president is a violent man; out to harm people through stealing from them; systematically destroying our currency and hence the value of people’s savings, pensions and grants. He is killing our economy, squeezing every drop of life out of it for himself and his cronies. And the ultimate insult? This is all being doing in the name of ‘radical economic transformation’; that absolute necessity that has thus far eluded our post-apartheid democracy without which we simply cannot succeed.
And all the while our poor are getting poorer, hungrier and sicker; people will undoubtedly die because of Zuma’s acts of violence. They will starve because their grants will no longer afford them the necessities they need to survive as junk status rips our economy to shreds. They will be unable to afford transport to clinics to get life-saving medication.
Please let us stop reducing Jacob Zuma to such relative niceties as some buffoon with a shower rose on his head. Jacob Zuma is a calculating, violent despot who must be made to answer a litany of charges including why he willfully and knowingly brought yet more poverty and starvation to the poorest of the poor in our country, by knowingly taking us into a junk bin.
But the question in all this is within democratic and peaceful parameters, what do we ordinary citizens do to rid our country of such a violent man? Are praying and marching – both of which are powerful and necessary – our only options? Must we wait for the 2019 general election? Or are there other tools?
I do not know specifically what you should do in your unique world with your unique skills and passions. Only you will know that. All I do know is that we need to do more:
If you are a spiritual person, begin an inter-faith, national prayer chain that prays continually – not for 24 hours but until Jacob Zuma is removed from power. As a student, form a protest group like the anti-apartheid demonstration that occupied the steps of South Africa House in London for 1408 days in the late 1980’s. As a musician, organise a concert of all the biggest acts in our country in aid of the victims of Jacob Zuma’s regime. If you or your establishment has a South African flag, fly it at half-mast until Zuma is deposed. At the very least spread peace and tolerance in every interaction you have with your follow South Africans and do not allow racist rhetoric to win the day.
And as for the privileged amongst us, we must actively close the gap between rich and poor that is being widened by Zuma. We must pay decent living wages and empower people with skills. We must embody the radical economic transformation that our President uses to justify his pillaging of our nation.
We cannot just march as we did last Friday and this Wednesday, as a once off. It takes years – sometimes decades – of sustained and focused national and international effort and pressure to bring down corrupt regimes and despotic leaders.
“Just as the power of water often lies in the ability to bend around obstacles, sometimes the most powerful step you can take is a step back”.
Advocate Thuli Madonsela posted this quote on her Twitter timeline just hours after last Wednesday’s release of her State of Capture report. The quote was not direct and not credited to anyone which made it more of a note-to-self than anything.
I have always had a sense of this woman’s unique ability to intuit the metaphysical and spiritual requirements of the moment beyond the physical aspects of her work as our Public Protector. Without naming it as such, I believe this is why most of us esteem her as we do. We in turn intuit the extent of her impact rather than just see, hear or feel it. Madiba elicited the same response. The fact that her response to the release of this final labour-of-love was to step back, should confirm what we may have sensed all along; that she is as much a spiritual leader as anything else. This is not a badge of honour and certainly not a mantle that I would expect her to wear comfortably, but that very fact would serve as further proof of the hypothesis.
When I say spiritual leader, I am not using this term in any kind of religious way, although that is how she – and indeed perhaps you the reader – chooses to give expression to spirituality. I am talking about a leader who “leads from the deep” as it were; from beneath the heart level; from that level of intuition that exists in those that understand that to fall is to rise; to step back at the right time is the ultimate power-move. As my favourite Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr puts it, the power of “falling upward”. Is this servant leadership? Yes, in its very purest form.
Thuli Madonsela is a person who understands what it means to lead in such a way. How can we tell this? Because in her finest hour, she knew instinctively that her most powerful response would be to step out of the limelight and into the shadows. She knew that for her work to have the maximum power and impact, she was going to need to humble herself and – without taking so much as a bow – exit stage left. This would allow the necessary processes to unfold untainted and uncluttered by her presence. The job was done.
Now, had I been her, I would have booked interviews on every radio and TV station possible. I would have made sure that the whole dang world knew how great I was. I would have got someone to sky-write “Justin For President” but pretended it was just an adoring fan. I would have planned the release of my book – entitled “Just in Time – How I saved South Africa” – to coincide with the release of this report. There would have been mugs, pens, t-shirts – the works. Now come on admit it; you would have been tempted to do the same and shore up your fame and fortune for good.
But she chose to post a quote about stepping back. Why? Firstly, she knows that we are ultimately only ever as powerful as we are humble. That is the conundrum of falling upward. The extent to which our ego is in control determines our impact for good in the world. Alas, this does not mean that ego-driven human beings will not become powerful leaders. It simply means that their legacy of positive impact is an illusion that will ultimately fade and die.
Secondly, by leading from this place of humility she will have sensed that in the days and weeks following the release of this damning report, crooks and cronies would come crawling out from under their rocks to try and discredit her. By stepping back she would give them nothing new to say. They would simply have to follow legal processes; not something that criminals like to do.
And finally, she drew a line in the sand and said, this job is now done; this fight is fought. I can now rest and prepare for the next challenge – whatever that may be.
Of course, there is also an implicit challenge in Madonsela’s above quote. It is her time to step back but where does that leave us? It is most certainly not our time to step back. As our Public Protector, she left us her legacy as well as lessons and of course tools to step forward and continue the fight for our democracy. But the battle is far from over. As Vytjie Mentor said, we are the same now as we were before the report. What can we do to ensure that South Africa emerges victorious from this battle for her soul?
I do not have 3 steps you can follow here, but I do know that our role in the process will come to each of us as we seek to lead humbly where we are and as we understand that each of us must play our part – however big or small – in the healing of our nation.
This – more than any report – is the greatest legacy that Thuli Madonsela leaves us.