SA Governance - Opinion

South Africa on verge of failed state status

PP Busisiwe Mkhwebane

Waiting ad infinitum last week for final word on President Zuma’s departure from office, Friday’s news, contained two hardly noticed items illustrating how close to failed state status South Africa has drifted under Zuma administration. 

In fact, a good number of South Africans on the receiving-end of these two incidents, can justly claim the state is already failing them.

We are referring to the Public Protector’s (PP) report on the infamous Vrede Dairy Project, and the callous response of the state lawyer during his closing argument in the public hearing of the Life Esidimeni tragedy. It told the story of a government that might be led by a government elected by the people but certainly not for the people, showing scant respect and compassion for the people of South Africa.

Signs of things to come under ANC government dates to at least 2004, when then ANC national spokesperson, Smuts Ngonyama, set the tone – publicly declaring “I did not join the struggle to be poor.”

The two incidents

Firstly, the concerns aired that the time when advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane replaced Thuli Madonsella as PP, that she would not be of a similar caliber, was soon confirmed as justified by her actions.

The Vrede Dairy Project report effectively removed all doubt regarding her suitability for the job.

She must have anticipated that her latest report was well below par, probably trusting that criticism thereof could be limited by publishing it on the PP’s website without any fanfare or the usual press conference on a Friday dominated by other political news.

If that was the case, she was dead wrong. - the response was scathing.

Her explanation for omitting arguably the most important suspects in a scheme, also described as a “grand project of looting”, particularly by Free State Premier and ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule, former Free State agriculture MEC, now Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane and - most striking - any members of the Gupta family due to “capacity and financial constraint” and to “a lack of information” will not wash with the majority of South Africans.

If claims by “insiders,” quoted in reports, are true, she turned a blind eye to facts presented to her. According to “insiders,” Mkhwebane was given sufficient evidence implicating Minister Zwane of gross misconduct, but she chose to ignore it.

One of the first reactions to the report came from the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFU), which described it as, “an insult to the intelligence of all South Africans, which confirms the view that she has betrayed the principles of her office, and who has been captured by those corrupt individuals she is supposed to be exposing.”

According to SAFTU, the report is, nothing but a feeble attempt to exonerate the main, politically prominent, figures in the scandal, switching attention on to minor players who had committed relatively minor offences and are now convenient scapegoats.

SAFTU’s demand that, “every one of those guilty of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and tender manipulation, from the junior officials right up to the Presidency, must be brought before the courts, tried and, if guilty, be severely punished for the theft of billions from the people of South Africa” strongly resonate with most South Africans.

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), and the original complainant, described the report a "mind boggling whitewash" and lamented that, “it is frankly mind boggling how it could be that, after an almost four-year investigation ... Advocate Mkhwebane found only that the Free State Department of Agriculture contravened the prescripts of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA)”.

According to the DA it is nonsensical for her to seemingly ignore the large amount of evidence of grand corruption and money laundering relating to the project already in the public domain and complained that the report was not sent to the DA as the original complainant, as was past practice.

Meanwhile, in an emerging trend of Parliament finally having found its voice as representing the electorate, it’s portfolio committee on Justice and Correctional Services, through its chairman, expressed "extreme concern" and decided to urgently call her to appear before it to explain herself and her comments about not having the capacity or financial resources to investigate information relating to the Gupta leaks, implicating individuals she exonerated.

In the meantime, the emerging farmers, their families, and their communities that were supposed to have been be the beneficiaries of the dairy project, have seen no change in their plight for a better life. In the final analysis, they are the ones who were robbed at grand scale.

Secondly, like happened with the Marikana massacre, the callousness showed by some officials implicated in the Life Esidimeni tragedy during the judicial enquiry into this tragic event, is a most brutal and hurtful example of the ANC-led government’s disrespect and contempt for ordinary South Africans.

This insensitivity reached a new low point when the lawyer representing the Gauteng government on Friday, the last day of the enquiry chaired by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, shocked the judge, family members of the 144 deceased mental patients, others present, and many South Africans, when he argued that the families of the deceased should not be paid compensation for ‘constitutional damages.’

Judge Moseneke described the argument as "incredible" and, in disbelief asked the lawyer if he was conveying the view of the Gauteng government.

The Gauteng government has agreed to pay a paltry R200 000 to each affected family for emotional shock, psychological injury, and funeral expenses, but is opposing the claim by the families for an additional R1.5-million in constitutional damages for the violation of their deceased relatives’ right to dignity, family life, equality, and for cruel and inhuman treatment. R500 000 of the requested R1.5-million will go back into the Gauteng health system to improve services.

The Gauteng government’s lawyer argued that the circumstances surrounding the deaths of mentally sick patients should be disregarded when it came to compensation, and that evidence that their rights had been violated should be ignored. He also said the relatives do not have a valid claim because they are trying to collect compensation on behalf of those who died; the responsible department had taken steps to improve the mental health care system, and then the coup de grace – the claim of R1.5-million in compensation per family is not affordable!


It might be trying times for ANC-president Cyril Ramaphosa, and Jacob Zuma’s stubborn intransigence is a major obstacle that must be resolved sooner than later.

However, the two incidents highlighted here, are just prominent examples of an whole litany of incidents where the state and its institutions are failing its citizens – from a collapsed train service in Cape Town to schools in Mpumalanga waiting for ever for text books.

These are the really urgent matters needing immediate attention to prevent the country from becoming a full-blown failed state.

To that can be added issues like the need to restore confidence in and respect for the office of the PP, and for that matter the NPA, and for the government to start serving the people of South Africa in earnest before public unrest explode and the country becomes ungovernable.    

by Garth Cilliers

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