Is it a fire pool or a swimming pool? According to the ministers whose new portfolio now it is to defend the impugned reputation of President Jacob Zuma it is a fire pool but the Public Protector says it is a swimming and one that cost the taxpayers a sum of R2million. In the melee of words and attempts to gain legitimacy there is one thing that is being ignored in the argument about Nkandla and it is ethics.
South African politicians are now becoming specialists in surviving close enough to the boundary line of guilt when it comes to the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ divide. Their ready defence when questioned about a situation that raises an ethical dilemma is that ‘I have broken no law.’ In this ‘catch me if you can’ attitude it is left up to the prosecutorial services to prove the politician’s guilt after surviving and going through his phalanx of expensive lawyers.
In most instances these lawyers are paid by the aggrieved taxpayer who has already been looted by greedy and uncaring politicians. It is time that we discuss the Nkandla scandal in light of the social landscape of South Africa. 27% of our population is unemployed, a child died in Limpopo while using a toilet, many school children lack the bare minimum educational facilities, etc. Unfortunately some people because of their proximity to power take a defensive position when it comes to this scandal.
They tell us about MPFA, security risk assessment, etc. Is there anywhere in the world where a president builds himself a cattle culvert with a chicken run, a visitor’s centre, amphitheatre, etc. all in the name of security? On top of that he relocates his neighbours at a cost of R8 million because they pose a security risk. I do not buy the argument that the president was oblivious to what was being done in his own house.
The president had his personal architect who was hired without following due process overseeing the improvements. As a matter of fact it is doubtful whether any part of this project followed any process prescribed by the law otherwise how else did it escalate from R27 million to the current level of R215 million (and still growing). What is shocking is that when the project was around R60 million the media broke the story around it.
Obfuscation and denials
Instead of rushing to curb the escalations our government entered into the now familiar zone of obfuscation and denials. Ethics are described as ‘moral principles that control or influence a person’s behaviour.’ It is possible for your behaviour to be legally justifiable and yet remain morally reprehensible. It can never be morally justifiable for a president who earns over R2 million per annum to have over R200 million of taxpayers’ funds utilised on his behalf.
Morality and ethics is not just for the realm of religion but cuts across all sectors. For instance there are ethics that govern the medical field and there are also religious people who are unethical. An example of religious people who are unethical is the church leaders who are castigating the Public Protector without even reading her report into Nkandla. I was happy to hear the South African Council of Churches (SACC) distancing themselves from the actions of these misguided churchmen.
If anything, the actions of these church leaders reveal the ever-shifting ethical standards of those who seek to endear themselves to powerful politicians. I was reminded this week that some church leaders actually ordained President Zuma as a pastor though I am not clear of the machinations behind this decision. I think what Nkandla did was to reveal the ethical divide in the country. On one side are those who think the means are justifying the end even if those means are a wholly disgraceful. On the other side are those who are terribly upset about what seems to be sliding slope to anarchy. They never imagined that people who call themselves public servants would parade themselves as high and mighty rulers. I suspect the officials who worked and approved the payments for the Nkandla project did so because of a misguided sense of duty to the President. They saw what was going on and were perhaps even conflicted but felt you cannot refuse the First Citizen.
The gross manifestation of the ‘big man – small people’ syndrome means that political leaders are not held up to ethical scrutiny. The job of civil servants seems to be to give politicians what they want and then tomtake the fall for them. What a stressful job!