Lockdown has all of us on our knees

A picture tells 1 000 words and the stories at the weekend were bad: the controversial former minister of communications Faith Muthambi and her gaffe prone successor Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams separately doling out relief to recipients who are on their knees – literally.

Lockdown has all of us on our knees. But these pictures follow reports of the political abuse of food parcels abuse and were hot on the heels of a tsunami of PPE corruption scandals that spurred Ace Magashule, faithfully supported by Carl Niehaus, to deliver an apparently irony free lecture to us all on the need for probity.

Niehaus had more to say about Ndabeni-Abrahams’s picture: “I find this photo very disturbing. I have for years worked with Madiba and whenever something like this happened, and someone tried to kneel in front of him, he would ask that person (young or old) to stand up. Our leaders (especially such a young leader) should not allow this.”

Ndabeni later explained that the picture wasn’t from this weekend, but actually 18 months ago, when she helped a disabled man by organising him a wheelchair. It helped explain her lack of physical distancing and mask. It implicitly explained why the man was on the floor. It still doesn’t explain why it was posted last weekend – or who did it.

Sometime afterwards Niehaus’s tweet was deleted. It’s not the first time he’s weighed into her. He did it in April when a year-old clip of her jiving next to a new luxury car was posted – suggesting she’d bought it during lockdown.

Muthambi in turn explained that the man kneeling on the ground before her, as she gave him R 1 000, was how younger people respect their seniors in Venda. She didn’t explain why she wasn’t wearing a mask – or even why she was there. She also omitted to confess that it wasn’t her event, the money she handed over wasn’t hers and – critically – that the man is almost exactly the same age as her at 44.

We are a highly religious country. The good book gives unequivocal advice: Let not the left hand know what the right is doing – it’s supposed to be an injunction about charity, unfortunately too many have taken it as a guideline for graft.

When it comes to charity far too many look to the cameras; Magashule did last April in Phillipi opening someone’s fridge in their kitchen while on a walkabout for votes. Seeing it bare, he opened his wallet in front of the assembled media and gave the householder some cash. Niehaus on the other hand has rarely been seen opening his own wallet – in front of anyone.

If there’s anyone who has been doing charity the right way during this unprecedented lockdown it’s been Springbok captain Siya Kolisi. He’s been tirelessly partnering with organisations and raising money to feed the desperate. He’s literally been seen kneeling down to the same level to serve the needy. He’s been vocal on gender abuse. And he won the world cup too. What a pity we can’t vote for him.

Originally published on 15 August 2020 in the Saturday Star