Actors change but our story’s still the same

Amnesia is a terrible thing.

White South Africans didn’t know what happened during apartheid (even less voted for apartheid). No South Africans knew that state capture was happening and, by Wednesday, Markus Jooste, the erstwhile CEO of Steinhoff had never known of the accounting irregularities in the company that went from hero to almost zeroing the Joburg Stock Exchange.

None of the audit firms signing off the annual financial statements knew either apparently. Nor did anyone in cabinet, including our current president, apparently know of the industrial scale looting of Eskom and SAA. They were seemingly unaware of the systemic emasculation and interference with constitutional agencies set up precisely to ensure that everyone remained equal before the law.

Then again, no one in the apartheid regime knew of the Civil Co-operation Bureau or deaths in detention.

Actually, we all knew.

We just didn’t pay any heed to it. None of us wanted to. We rationalised it. From apartheid through to the present day, where we now have two distinct commissions of inquiry going on – one into the broad canvas of state capture and the other into the more granular defanging of SARS.

The receiver needed to be neutered because, as Al Capone would tell you, it’s one thing you can’t run away from – which incidentally (spoiler alert) is the premise of Jacques Pauw’s runaway bestseller, the President’s Keepers.

How long it will take to fix SARS, the NPA, SAPS Crime Intelligence and the other suborned agencies, remains to be seen. There’s also the quite frankly terrifying financial state of our SOEs – and we are in a recession, officially, this week too.

It’s enough to make the doomsayers positively OD on gloom, but we dare not run away from it either.

The problem often in our country is that the stories are so egregiously evil and vicious, that we get to appoint where we don’t believe them anymore.

We are very good at commissions of inquiry, they’re probably the only growth sector in our otherwise flaccid economy. But nothing ever comes of them. Instead we become inured to the revelations until we start actively ignoring them in an act of national cognitive dissonance. We all knew there was trouble in paradise when the Guptas landed an entire wedding party at Waterkloof – before heading off to Sun City in a blue light convoy. That was in 2013, but we’re only having the commission five years later once uBaba’s safely ensconced in Nkandla.

All commissions of inquiry seem to do is provide a court of public opinion, eye-screwing horror followed by ag shame forgiveness – and if you’re lucky a bit of feet washing. The worst offender was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One or two of the foot soldiers sat behind bars while the generals and the political bosses went on pension. The Marikana commission has been no better.

We need the masterminds jailed –from vicious police commissioners to venal presidents and unscrupulous and uncaring CEOs. Otherwise we’ll be forever trapped in this Groundhog Day where the actors change, but the story remains the same.

Originally published on the 8th of September 2018 in the Saturday Star