FREEDOM DAY 2019 : THE LONG WALK TO DEMOCRACY

We have good reason to celebrate twenty-five years of freedom but the promise of true democracy in which citizens are sufficiently empowered to hold elected officials to account remains unfulfilled. Violent protests, in which community members resort to burning to make their voices heard, are a consequence of political arrogance and unaccountability. Instead of engagement, governance is through marketing in which money which should be used for service delivery is spent on a plethora of ‘communications’ officials, spin doctors, and expensive colour media advertisements with pictures of beaming politicians.  A key component of modern democracy is absent, for there is no effective bureaucracy which is sufficiently independent of political interference. Management members deployed to senior positions are reshuffled together with their political bosses and the whole system depends on patronage – a recipe for untrammelled corruption – and not recruitment on merit. Most elected officials show no understanding of their responsibilities and political interference in departmental operations is rife. Transparency is government has steadily declined, and a culture of secrecy is endemic. This dysfunctional system impacts seriously on constitutional rights in KZN, including to shelter, health and safety and security.

Shelter and housing

While there are abuses in rural areas, as homes and land are lost to mining, the most conspicuous impact of poor governance is in urban areas. Take, for example, the failure of eThekwini Metro municipality to address adequately the atrocious conditions in apartheid era hostels, and the needs of shack dwellers and homeless people. Housing allocation lacks transparency because there are no publicly accessible housing lists. Many long-standing informal sector dwellers have seen newcomers allocated housing while they remained side-lined.  Patronage networks emanating from councillors are linked to land and housing allocation – tasks which should be carried out by bureaucrats.   Most councillors shirk their responsibility for ensuring that those tasked with delivering services do their jobs, and meaningful engagement between councillors and ward members is generally lacking. Huge tenders are awarded to favoured tenderpreneurs to build what are often badly planned and shoddy homes, instead of training and employing unemployed shack and hostel dwellers to carry out the maintenance and upgrades. The site and service schemes pioneered in the 1980s in areas such as Inanda Newtown could have been re-introduced years ago had it not been for the tender obsession and the benefits it brings to politicians.  Millions of rand wasted on unnecessary events, and foreign junkets for politically favoured taxi operators, should have been used to provide basic shelters for homeless people.

Health :  Gross mismanagement, corruption and a lack of professional ethics

Health starts with prevention and requires inter-departmental co-ordination. The type of insanitary conditions prevailing in hostels and informal settlements fuel pandemics such as TB – which all but disappeared in Europe following the provision of decent housing and sanitation. Instead of embracing long-standing local primary health initiatives and policies the department has wasted millions of rand, which could have been used to build a new medical school and empower local medical professionals, to send students to Cuba.  Well run treatment programmes for cancer patients at Addington collapsed because of corruption and countless cancer patients suffered painful deaths. The PFMA and Hazardous Substances Act was broken yet Departmental management members were not charged, and nor was the MEC who breached the anti-corruption legislation indicted and removed from office.   Despite eight years of qualified audits and billions of rand of irregular expenditure, no one in government – including the provincial premier and portfolio committee – hold the miscreants to account.  Forensic mortuary services have virtually collapsed – with extremely serious consequences for justice – because Tripartite Alliance political interests are given priority over professionalism and service delivery. Grossly inflated administrative management structures at hospitals and clinics – including superfluous CEOs – mean that there is less money for sorely needed health professions.  That these structures are often grossly inefficient is shown in a recent press article about the shocking state of some Durban hospitals. The Department, having clamped down on information following negative publicity about the oncology crisis, predictably seemed more concerned about the public exposure than the root causes.

 Without effective bureaucratic management, and a clean up of the public health sector, the introduction of a National Health Insurance would simply throw good money after bad,  providing yet  another conduit for siphoning off funds for politically connected medical patronage networks. It is self-evident that all responsible for the current mess, starting with the MEC, should play no part in health services when the new government takes office.

Policing, safety and security

Former IPID head Robert McBride has described the SAPS as a patronage network.  Nepotism in promotions has been evident since 1994 but the situation deteriorated rapidly under the stewardship of ministers and commissioners appointed during the ‘wasted’ decade. Another bloated management structure has taken root, especially in KZN, which is over-staffed with generals and brigadiers, while failing to reward and promote competent members who risk their lives at the coalface of crime, their good work often unrewarded with promotion. There are extremely serious problems with crime intelligence and detective services management, and torture is still rife.  There are also challenges, linked to equipment, training, and numerical strength, with Public Order Policing, which plays a vital role in dealing with protest, and protecting vulnerable communities generally. That eThekwini Metro police are now taking on Public Order Policing duties is a cause for concern since it is clear from the Police Act that it is not their role, unless they are acting as backup to the SAPS.  A panel appointed to review Public Order Policing has submitted a report to the national minister, but he has not released it. Why not?

Encouragingly, there are signs of positive change with the appointment of professional, well-trained police members as national and acting provincial commissioners.  Their efforts to build professional policing need support, so media reports suggesting that their minister appears to be over-stepping ministerial boundaries and interfering in policing, raise serious questions.  Why should the minister interfere if a deputy national commissioner has been suspended following an IPID report? Since the suspended member was head of Human Resources, was she involved in any way with the alleged planned promotion of TRT members (who are believed to be favoured by the Minister) at the expense of other members?   

In conclusion

There are signs that the present government recognises some of the problems spawned by the malfunctioning civil service and its own oversight failures. However, it remains to be seen whether – given the destructive factionalism in the ANC – it will have the power to take the necessary remedial action, or to jettison the culpable ministers and MECs. Freedom Day should honour the memory of those countless thousands who died for the universal franchise we now take for granted. We can do that by dedicating ourselves to building the type of society they gave their lives for, including by demanding accountability from the victors in the forthcoming elections, and from all public representatives.