#AngeloAgrizzi: The Mirror We Should All Be Holding Up?

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.

We are too.

How history will remember the man who insists on being President

In August 2014 highly respected ANC veteran Pallo Jordan found himself in hot water over lies regarding his academic qualifications. He had claimed to have a PhD going by the title of Doctor for years. Via an article in the Mail & Guardian, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe explained that Jordan had written to the party’s leadership taking full responsibility for what Jordan termed as “deceit over a long time”. Jordan apologised to the ANC, its members and all South Africans and resigned. There are moments in all of our lives that come to define us as men and women. For leaders with position and power, these moments may go down in the annals of history. For leaders like you and I they may simply become part of the history of our own small lives, or be forever etched in the minds of our children: “My Dad was always someone who did the right thing”; “My Mum played fast and loose with the law.” The story of Pallo Jordan’s deceit did not end with an apology to South Africans. That is because Pallo Jordan is a man of integrity. How can we possibly say that about a man who lied and cheated his way through decades of his life, receiving benefits that he should never have been entitled to? Well, we can say that because when confronted with that dreadful moment of truth about his lie (a variation of a lie that many of us have spoken in our lives to make ourselves or our companies sound more impressive), he chose to admit his mistakes and resign. With only the evidence provided by his conscience and a Sunday Times expose; without any pronouncements of a court of law – he did the hardest thing possible; he took responsibility and action. His apology would have meant nothing had he not resigned; his apology would simply have been a request for us to let him off the hook: “You have been a naughty boy Pallo, but we forgive you. Just don’t do it again.” My primary memory of Pallo Jordan is not that he lied about his qualifications. I remember him for the fact that he resigned as a result of being exposed. I remember how quickly, how decisively and how humbly he did it. I remember how he saw fit to respect South Africans and our democracy by doing what only the strongest of men and women and the best of leaders can ever do – kick themselves when they are down. Regardless of the fact that he would lose money, face and power he did what I have come to understand any true veteran of the struggle would do; he stood up bravely against anyone who dared to compromise the integrity of that struggle and the democracy that resulted – even when that person was him. I do not need to spell things out and in any case, much has been written about the man who still insists on calling himself our President. Suffice to say that whether you love him or hate him, this man will now be relegated to the trash-heap of history occupied by corrupt leaders; those who lied, cheated, deceived, manipulated and put themselves before the people. But he will not simply idle away his final years in ignominy for Nkandla or the fact that he violated his oath of office or any of the other atrocities committed by him. Ultimately, this will happen because he apologised without resigning. Had he resigned on Saturday night he may in years to come have even been honoured for some of his not insignificant achievements as President of the Republic. But now, history will only ever remember him for being a man who – when presented with that moment – chose to apologise but not resign. He will be remembered for the fact that he not only placed his needs before the party or his people, but before the constitution of the Republic. And this is what stalwarts, elders and civil society leaders are now protesting over. They have nothing to lose from standing against the systematic destruction of this mighty organisation. They know that a weak ANC is bad for everyone and they will not look on as Rome burns. What the man who insists on calling himself our President – and the entire ANC – has missed is that this has gone beyond politics and a scrutinising of the letter of the law. This now sets in motion the ANC’s slide downwards to the trash-heap occupied by corrupt liberation movements; those who lied, cheated, deceived, manipulated and put themselves before the people. What a tragic trajectory. Is it too late for redemption for either him or the ANC? I do not believe so. Provided this once proud organisation is able to liberate itself from its own propaganda and make itself accountable to you and I by speaking truth to power, then anything is possible. Pallo Jordan proved that people are very forgiving when the right thing is done. 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.

The ultimate Christmas gift

It was a short sentence that had nothing much to do with the content of the story. It was just sort of, there. But it’s there-ness was like a cold beer on a hot summer’s day and as I read it a small drop of hope landed in my heart. The article was about a severe traffic snarl up in the Durban CBD caused by a scheduled blackout. Chaos reigned; points-men were in short supply and cars backed up for blocks. Then came the sentence – a quote from an eThekwini Metro Police spokesperson: “We apologise. We knew in advance that the power would go off.” We happened to be caught in that traffic and my wife and I had a couple of things to say about both Eskom and the Metro Police. But when I read those 12 words my attitude towards the Metro Police softened. This is the power of an apology. On a personal level I experienced this power in a meeting with an estranged friend and colleague. About a year ago we had had an altercation which had left our relationship in tatters but we recently made contact and decided to meet. It was a little awkward at first but then we began to talk and catch up and we both said our apologies in our own ways. We have begun a journey towards a renewed friendship and the world is a better place for it. All this got me thinking about Christmas. Now let me be clear upfront; the message of Christmas is there for all so please don’t think that what I am about to say is just a Christian thing; it is a humanity thing. On one level Christmas is about giving; it is a time for us to spoil and be spoilt. On another level Christmas has become known as a time of peace; an opportunity to press pause on our crazy lives and take a breath in preparation for a new year. But perhaps an aspect of Christmas that has been lost in all the noise is that – at its core – Christmas is about forgiveness. This is simply because the man whose birth this day marks – Jesus Christ – personified forgiveness in a way that no historical figure before or since has done. He spoke of a new way of relating to one another and indeed to God regardless of what we may or may not have done. This remains as powerful now as it was 2000 odd years ago simply because forgiveness brings healing. This orientation towards forgiveness shows up in people in a number of ways most notably the humility to ask for forgiveness. Contrary to what we may think this humility is a sign of ultimate strength; a leader – indeed any human being – is never more powerful than when he or she is admitting their mistakes, asking for forgiveness and – very importantly – explaining how they will fix what they have done. Take the recent case of Pallo Jordan apologising and then resigning from parliament for lying about having a doctorate. As a result of these actions the issue simply died. Yes he will have lost a great deal as a result of his lies but he will have regained his soul through one simple act of humility and contrition. The obvious implication of the sincere apology is that we are admitting that we were wrong and that we need to fix things. But the danger in not apologising is that we prevent this healing power of forgiveness from taking effect. Nkandla is a great example of this; without an admission of guilt, a sincere apology and a commitment to repay the money from the President the issue will never go away and the damage to him personally and politically will become incrementally worse with every day that passes. Having decided on his current path of inaction he must understand that the unapologetic leader will remain on the side of their power and that that power will dwindle and ultimately die. On the flipside of this the power inherent in seeking forgiveness is immeasurable; parents asking children to forgive them and vice versa; mines or oil companies sincerely apologising for an environmental disaster; banks saying sorry when clients are defrauded of money. The sincere, personal apology; not one sent through the post, printed on a sign at the door or worse still, expressed by a spokesperson, has the power to change hearts and minds when accompanied by remedial actions. Finally, I do not wish to imply that any of this is straightforward; human relationships are complex and often fraught with pain. But what I do know is this; if we can just take one small step towards apology and forgiveness this Christmas then we will be slightly closer to experiencing the peace, joy and goodwill that the season promises. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.

Zuma vs Madonsela: The public speaks

As the winner rose to her feet and made her way through the crowd to the stage, a thousand plus people rose as one to their feet and roared their unfettered approval. The night belonged to her, and her fans – each and every one of us in that room – were not going to let her victory pass quickly or quietly. As she made her way through the tables and up onto the inordinately long runway leading to the stage, the adulation of the crowd got louder and louder; “This is what being a rock star is all about,” I thought as waves of emotion swept the auditorium leaving many – the night’s very glamorous hostess included – wiping back the tears. But this was not a music awards evening and this woman taking away the nights most prestigious award is not a rock star. She’s an advocate; very gracious, very dignified – but an advocate nonetheless. Now I ask you – what kind of advocate receives an ovation fit for a mega-star? What kind of advocate stirs the emotions of South Africans to such an extent? Thuli Madonsela – accustomed to being in a very different kind of spotlight – stepped tentatively towards the microphone. You could tell that she hadn’t countenanced being named the overall winner of the South African of the Year awards: “South Africa never ceases to amaze me,” she quipped with characteristic humility. 24 hours before our Public Protector was named the South African of the Year, a dinner was held for all nominees of the competition across the various categories. It was a glitzy red carpet affair at the Inanda Club in Johannesburg. As the guest of honour made his way into the beautifully decorated ballroom a booming voice-over instructed all guests to rise to their feet. We did as we were told. A smattering of applause could be heard from a largely disinterested audience of several hundred of us. What guest of honour receives such a lukewarm welcome? As President Jacob Zuma stepped confidently towards the microphone the audience continued to enjoy their starters. He spent most of his 15 or so minutes on stage eulogizing about the main sponsor of the South African of the Year Awards – 24 hour news channel ANN 7 referred to by Tokyo Sexwale as “Gupta TV”. Two back-to-back gala events; arguably South Africa’s two most powerful citizens. One clear winner: hope. When you meet Thuli Madonsela (I have long wanted to say that) you are immediately filled with a sense of hope; hope for the present and hope for the future of South Africa. This is because she exudes those human qualities so lacking in many of our leaders; humility, integrity, wisdom, vulnerability and trustworthiness. But the crowd – from the great and the good of South African society on the one hand to Cathy and I on the other – the crowd added to the sense of hope. For in stark contrast to our reaction to the guest of honour the previous evening, we were all on our feet whooping and cheering – not for our Public Protector per se – but for humility, integrity, wisdom, vulnerability and trustworthiness. These values – embodied in Thuli Madonsela – were the real object of our praise and adulation. The wildly contrasting reactions to the two night’s honoured guests could – in my humble view – be seen as a bellwether for the future of South Africa. Am I saying that Madonsela should be President? No. She would be wasted in that role. What I am saying is that the values she displays will likely be in some evidence in our next President. I know that because as a people we are celebrating – and celebrating wildly – those who model such values. Our reception of those who don’t is cool at best. It is a matter of time before we insist on such values being in evidence in our elected President. Now the Eeyores amongst us will disagree – but hold your horses. The South African of the Year awards was made possible by our incumbent President’s besties the Gupta’s. Given her current spat with JZ over Nkandla you would have thought that Thuli Madonsela would be the very last person to win the Gupta’s talent contest wouldn’t you? But here’s the thing – she won by public vote; the public insisted that humility, integrity, wisdom, vulnerability and trustworthiness trump political power and influence. The public – ironically made aware of the competition and how to vote largely via Gupta TV and Gupta News aka The New Age – are those who will determine who runs this country going forward. It should be unnervingly evident to the ANC that it must act quickly and decisively to give humility, integrity, wisdom, vulnerability and trustworthiness the No. 1 position in South Africa because if they don’t – someone else will. Either way, South Africa is the winner. Hope Springs Eternal. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysen: gang raped, mutilated and murdered

On Nkandla

This blog first appeared in The Mercury on Monday 17th February 2014 I have been reluctant to weigh in on Nkandala. This is simply because politics is not my heartland as a writer; I prefer tackling issues that matter. But the more I learn about this scandal the clearer it becomes that the President’s pad is as much an issue of values as politics. And values do matter to me. To date the Presidency, the media and opposition parties have focused on whether or not the security upgrades to his property are a) permissible in terms of what ought to be spent on a President’s house b) whether the upgrades demonstrate corruption on behalf of the President or his people and c) whether or not the upgrades were in fact security related. In short, we have been focusing on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’; specifically we have been focusing on whether he has abused his position of power to procure – or have his people procure – significant improvements to his personal home-stead. But perhaps the even more interesting question is ‘why’? Why does Jacob Zuma – or anyone for that matter – need a home of such extraordinary worth? This is a values question not a political one. I must say that if I were a sitting duck – I mean President – with R206 million worth of heat under my rear end, I too would be encouraging the nation to focus on the ‘how’ – particularly if I was adept at avoiding corruption charges. What I would not want – just months before an election – would be for anyone to start questioning the why; my values. In a nation plagued with poverty that would be really dangerous. Here’s the point: we the people of South Africa should flatly refuse to permit Jacob Zuma – or anyone else for that matter – to lead our country when they have a personal property worth – at the very least – R206 million. It is indefensible – even by an ardent capitalist like me – that a President presiding over a nation whose key priority challenges are poverty, inequality and unemployment, has a personal homestead worth this extraordinary amount of money. And bear in mind that R206 million is not the value of the house by any stretch; it is just the value of the security upgrades. Now for the purposes of this piece it matters not how he came to have such a lavish home; whether taxpayers money was misappropriated or not. What matters is that our leader has the kind of values that allow him to be commander-in-chief of a poverty-wracked nation whilst living in a home worth an utterly unconscionable amount of money. His recent interview with The Sunday Tribune on the topic demonstrated the fact that his moral retina is now irreparably detached. He did not feel the need to defend such gross excess at all. He actually went on the offensive saying that the criticism of Nkandla was unfair. He then explained that we are all “misinformed”. That’s right; we are misinformed about the fact that our President has a medium sized village as a personal home. He has entirely missed the point: “The point Mr President – is why do you have it at all? You have completely lost touch – not only with your people – but with the real issues of life in South Africa.” How can we trust a man with such values? How can we possibly vote for a leader who has this little regard for his people? Now I am certain that this piece will be interpreted by some as a none-too-subtle pre-election leg-up for opposition parties. That assessment could not be further from the truth; at this point I personally cannot find a single political party worth my X; our politics is currently not just third world but childlike. All I know is this; whether the leader’s name was Cameron, Obama, Zille or Zuma I would be unable to vote for a person who paraded wealth in front of a poverty-wracked nation to the extent that President Jacob Zuma has with Nkandla. The simple reason for this is that if these are the values – heartless and utterly self-serving – that he is applying in his personal life, we can safely assume that the same values are being applied in his running of our country. I will end with a prediction that is safe as houses as history has proved it time-and-time again: This man – who so callously and indiscriminately parades wealth in front of millions of unemployed, poor and hopeless people – will sooner or later be tossed onto the scrapheap of South African history. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysen: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.