Begging For Embarrassment

There are moments in history when great individuals, organizations and governments are faced with really tough decisions. At that moment in time, deciding one way or another would appear to be giving in to popular sentiment. Failure to take decisive action  ultimately leads to embarrassment. History is littered with such examples. I’ll explore some of them below, but the main thrust of my piece here is that our government is facing such a time with e-tolling and the National Prosecuting Authority(NPA).

Students of history will recall that the US were embarrassed by having to pull out of a war in which they went in ill-prepared, ill-advised and a bit cocky if you ask me( Vietnam in around 1963). One online commentator put it this way: US forces fail to be effective in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and others because they lack respect for local culture and people,they rely too much on military might, they lack a  clear strategy or political will. The US forces fought a guerrilla force using the only tactics they know, conventional warfare. Schools of thought still differ today on whether they pulled out voluntarily, or were forced to pull out, or were simply defeated. What is clear though is the US went into Vietnam to help protect French interests(and help stop the spread of communism) but left with their tails between their legs: humiliated and embarrassed by a guerrilla force, internationally and on the home front.

Our government is going ahead with the launch of the unpopular e-tolls despite opposition on all fronts. The main proponents of the system argue that the user-pay principle has to be enforced no matter what. Some ministers, like Blade Ndzimande, have gone as far as saying that people who are opposed to e-tolls are those individuals who can afford to pay but don’t want to pay. They further argue that OUTA, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, is a front of the Democratic Alliance. What they choose to ignore is that, COSATU, an ally of the ruling party has been the voice of the poor in all of this. When the party that should be ‘pushing back the frontiers of poverty’ is helping advance them, another organization will step in and do their job. The truth is, you would have to be living on Mars to fail to realize that e-tolling is the most unpopular government policy since, well, apartheid. Never has a system garnered so much negativity from so many sections of our society since the advent of democracy in 1994. Even the self-emasculated churches have been stirred to life by the prospect of this system. Which begs the question: who is advising the government on its ill-fated attempts to go ahead with this? The most amazing aspect of this whole debacle is, most of us, the citizenry, are willing to pay, just not to a company that’s going to take 70% of the revenue generated out of South Africa. No one in government has put papers on the table and refuted this. Show us that no money from e-tolling is going to foreign companies and I for one, would gladly pay! Any continued efforts towards implementation would be the same as the American government claiming victory in an un-winnable war in Vietnam: embarrassment.

There are very few things as disconcerting and painful as listening to an intelligent individual defending mediocrity. The past few months have seen the Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe defending the indefensible:  Comrade President in Guptagate, and then following that up by defending the recents going-ons in the National Prosecuting Authority. Truth be told, Gupagate would never have happened if the Guptas did not have our First Citizen as a buddy. The less said about the Guptas buying our country the better. Of more or equal concern is the gradual erosion of our trust in the organs that administer Justice in our country. Jeff Radebe says it doesn’t matter that the killers of Andries Tatane, captured on camera, are still roaming free. He says it doesn’t matter Anene Booysen’s killers case seems to be going the same route. He says don’t worry that we are spending so much time and money pursuing one of our own, Glynnis Breytenbach when all evidence points to her being a hard-working, corruption-hating, innocent prosecutor. Yes, there are still such individuals in our midst you know. Another one goes by the name Thuli Madonsela. Corruption-hating. Yep. Best appointment Zuma made.  Minister Radebe says our jails are full because  the NPA is effective. Puleeezee Mr Radebe, convicting a house-breaker can hardly be compared to convicting Glen Agliotti or the killers of Andries Tatane. Convicting offenders in high-profile cases builds confidence in the whole system Minister Radebe! The concerned and  informed amongst us know that what causes overcrowding in SA jails are awaiting-trial prisoners, not the convicted prisoners as the minister would have us believe. As the NPA wobbles from one embarrassment to another, I’m left wondering, isn’t our government trying to hard to garner embarrassment?

As an unknown student of history once observed: “History teaches, but it has no pupils”. Those familiar with the embarrassing defeat of an elite American Helicopter Unit in Mogadishu in 1993 will tell you that however mighty you are, lack of respect and understanding of local conditions will leave you open to a sucker-punch. The movie Black Hawk Down tells the story of how Somalian Militia, armed only  with hand-held weapons of war shot down, not one but two state-of-the-art US Black Hawk helicopters. History taught the US in Vietnam to do their research to avoid such embarrassments but obviously, the lesson was not learned. History teaches, but it has no pupils.

Our government continues to go to court in opposition to OUTA,  clearly disregarding popular sentiment. Mediocre appointments in the NPA continue to be the order of the day. There is a looming threat of a KZN magistrate being appointed to head the NPA, clearly forgetting the embarrassment brought on by the Menzi Simelane saga. Simelane, a man who was proven to have lied under oath at the Ginwala commission was appointed to head the NPA. Really,  Mr Radebe, what lengths will our government go to to ensure our legal structures are emasculated, disempowered and left embarrassed? Clearly someone is afraid of a strong independent NPA. The question is who? Only the guilty are afraid.

It’s so sad that every appointment made by the President, Minister of Justice and the Judicial Services Commission will now be viewed through the opaque prism of previous embarrassing appointments. If there’s anyone out there who can help, when was the last our President made a clearly well-thought-out, confidence-building appointment? Any guesses, anyone? Our leaders just continue to beg for embarrassment! And we’ve got another five years of this coming!?!


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