Pride is a heavy price to pay

South Africa’s Bill of Rights provides that no one may be discriminated against by either the state or any other person on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation, among others. It further states that national legislation must be enacted to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination.

Despite having constitutional and legislative protection of the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual plus (LGBTQIA+) community, there are distinct disparities between the policies that govern the country and the lived experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly those in townships and rural areas. LGBTQIA+ persons continue to face stigma, prejudice, and violence on a daily basis around the country which simply means that the protection afforded to this community by the Constitution is certainly not always guaranteed.

At least 20 LGBTQIA+ individuals were brutally killed across South Africa between February and October last year when the country witnessed an increase in the number of attacks against lesbians, gays and transgender people. Many of the victims were beaten or stabbed to death. Evidently, these victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. To illustrate, on 27 April 25-year-old Musa Xulu was gunned down in public while buying items at a garage in Inanda. It is reported that a man said he hated gays and thereafter shot him dead in the parking lot.

According to a 2017 survey conducted by the Centre of Risk Analysis at the South African Institute for Race Relations, four in 10 LGBTQIA+ South Africans know of someone who had been murdered because of their sexuality. In addition, black members of this community were almost twice as likely (49%) as white respondents (26%) to know of someone who was murdered on these grounds.

As a society firmly entrenched in patriarchy and misogyny, many South Africans still perceive LGBTQIA+ individuals as inherently immoral and/or “un-African” and therefore pay little attention to the violence that they endure daily. This is indicative of the work that needs to be done in changing societal attitudes in our communities. As the tally of hate crimes against LGBTQIA+ persons increases, there are additional calls to the government to take action, yet there has been continued limited recognition of the violence and victimisation towards this community.

While the South African Constitution states that LGBTQIA+ persons should freely enjoy the same rights as non-LGBTQIA+ persons, both the state and its institutions have failed to protect LGBTQIA+ people and have therefore been complicit in the further victimisation they faced.

Results from a 2016 OUT survey show that close to 88% of LGBTQI+ hate crimes in South Africa go unreported, which demonstrates the discouragingly low levels of faith the community has in the police. This challenge of visibility is further compounded by a lack of reporting of violence targeting LGBTQIA+ individuals. An influencing factor is the abuse and discrimination this community suffers at the hands of the police, which often prevents the reporting of crimes.

It is time for South Africa to respond decisively to this growing problem by adopting preventive measures against homophobic hate speech and hate crimes. The Democratic Alliance (DA) is committed to challenging human rights violations that target the LGBTQIA+ community. We reiterate that we are committed to being part of the solution.

As long as people are persecuted, threatened or harmed for simply being who they are, we cannot say that this segment of the population has “full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms”. As the DA, we will continue fighting for equal opportunities, justice, and rights for all members of the LGBTQIA+ community, while educating and sensitising members of society about the struggles and dangers faced by the LGBTQIA+ community.

Furthermore, we continue to call on the government to fast-track the implementation of the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill of 2018. Currently, there exists no clear schedule and timeframes as to when the Bill will be passed.

As noted above, there remains a material disparity between the constitutional and legislative framework in relation to the advancement of LGBTQIA+ rights and the practical implementation and execution of those rights. No one should live in fear of expressing who they are in both private and public spaces.

It is for this reason that we are challenging our DA-led local governments to lead the way in ensuring that LGBTQIA+ initiatives become a reality, and not just a talk shop. This is the only way in which we can ensure that this vulnerable group is given a safe space in which they are able to freely discuss the challenges they face on a daily basis and highlight what needs to change in various government departments to address these challenges.

To advance the plight of the country’s LGBTQIA+ community and to further bring these atrocities to light, we need effective reporting and analysis of violence against them and the documentation of their needs and challenges. While Pride Month in South Africa has generated much-needed visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community, we should further ensure that the very institutions that are tasked with safeguarding and enhancing these rights, do what they have been mandated to do.

Disrupting Corruption: The Case for Data Science

By Ina Cilliers MPL, DA Gauteng Spokesperson on the Standing Committee for Public Accounts (SCOPA 

South Africa has a big problem with corruption in government supply chains. The most salient recent example would be the looting of funds during the Covid 19 pandemic, specifically the procurement of personal protective equipment in the Gauteng Department of Health. Mark Heywood correctly asserted in the Daily Maverick that unless we introduce the certainty of punishment for corrupt public officials, we will lose the fight against corruption. The “July Insurrection” has taught us that these events affect our daily lives. They cause job losses and food price increases and are especially hard on the Youth sector. Even Cosatu recognized back in 2017 that corruption costs us at least 27 billion rand and 76 000 jobs a year. That was before the pandemic. 

Now imagine a scenario where an accounting officer in the Department of Health can accurately predict the likelihood that fruitless and wasteful expenditure will occur, and act to prevent it? Ponder for a moment the transformative power to predict the likelihood of xenophobic attacks or unrest such as the now infamous July unrest of 2021, so that they may be averted altogether? What if an entire government supply chain can be managed by a distributed ledger like a Blockchain, so that not a single public official is involved? 

Business domains including the banking and insurance industries have been making these kinds of predictions using data science tools for some time now. By employing machine learning to predict risks to its own business models they predict the likelihood of a client defaulting on a loan or instituting an insurance claim. Have you ever wondered why the bank did not want to give you a loan? There is an algorithm behind that!  

Data Science is an emerging field of inquiry usually associated with buzzwords such as Big Data (BD), Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). All of these terms have their roots in classical statistics. Stated plainly, statistical learning is quite simply, learning from data (. This is made possible by two conspiring realities: the costs of storing data has decreased enormously over the years, and commensurately, the computational power of hardware has increased exponentially (McCallum, 2008). This means that it is computationally possible to find patterns and correlations in very large datasets (hence, Big Data). One way of understanding this ability is to say: if the data is too large for an Excel spreadsheet, or too large for a CPU to handle, its potentially a job for data science. 

What if we brought data science and good governance into the same room for a chat? I think there are enormous benefits to such an approach for good governance, evidence-based policy making, and in the fight against corruption. Full disclosure: I am wearing more than one hat. 

As a legislator in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL) and a member of The Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), I often hear well-founded complaints about the ex post facto way we do oversight. The Sector Oversight Model (SOM) adopted by the South African legislative sector is a backward-looking tool. Oversight typically occurs months after irregular public expenditure has occurred. Committee recommendations do not scare corrupt officials. 

As a social researcher and budding code writer (Python is fun!), this makes me wonder of the potential to use an Artificial Neural Network (ANN) or a Decision Tree Regressor as a catalytic mechanism in the fight against corruption. The specific model is not as important as a few reality checks though: 

In the web-native world of data science, anybody can write code, train a computer model, and set it free on real data. This is indeed encouraged by the fact that free and open-source resources are now ubiquitous. According to Urban and Pineda adequately problematizes this abundance of free information: Most of it is not sufficiently rigorous to warrant deep enquiry, and few resources, if any, are aimed specifically at the policy maker. A simple Google search reveals thousands of short form resources in the form of “How To” video tutorials, articles, listicles and snippets each dealing with a specific subset of the myriad of elements of data science. Topics such as “Preparing data with Pandas” or “How to select features and responses” or “How to determine if my chosen algorithm is performing” all invite enticing glimpses of problem solving. Rarely is the world of data science systematically unpacked, referenced and peer-reviewed specifically for the policy maker, the legislator and the government official. And yet, on the periphery of applied policy making, most officials are aware of concepts such as BD, ML and AI. These concepts need to be firstly demystified before being introduced formally in the governance domain.  

The second question is whether the data exists. Let me explain. Data about government performance is everywhere, and it is abundant.  In my case SCOPA members are inundated with data all the time.  Data sources include portfolio committee reports, the AGSA, the public service commission, the financial and fiscal commission, the SIU, internal audit reports, departmental quarterly reports, and the list goes on. Yet in the midst of all this information, I very much doubt that a dataset exists that is ready for machine learning. If anyone reading this would like to rebut my assertion, I would welcome such a development. It will save my research several months! 

The third issue is with reproducibility. If my team and I build an ML model that performs well on unseen data, we must share! It should be standard practice that not only datasets but the actual code must be made available as a standard part of the research (Data School, 2014). This is because sometimes algorithms don’t work, machine learning models experience degradation over time, or we make the wrong business decisions from the data. In such cases, we may all learn from our failures just as much as from our triumphs. 

For the policy maker, machine learning can become the tool that helps us prove or disprove our intuition about the problem we are trying to solve. Here are a few of my recommendations for disrupting corruption with a data-driven approach: 

Firstly, governments need to become data driven learning organisations. For this to happen much more research and experimentation is needed. Officials and domain experts in government department are vital to the success of the undertaking because they make those vital inferences from the data on which decisions for say, corruption busting, hinges 

Secondly, we need  to find a place for data science in the policy life cycle. Ideally more than one place. Statistical models can help policymakers move from inputs and outputs to outcomes and impacts. This would depend on the computational efficiency available and the particular problem that the machine is trying to learn on, but every stage of the policy life cycle can benefit from machine learning. 

Next is to bring together the data scientist, the statistician and the domain expert. Governance is an immensely complex undertaking. Every moment of the day, thousands upon thousands of financial transactions happen across municipal, provincial and national budget line items, often involving staggering amounts. This is all happening in an environment regulated by a myriad of complex laws and regulations. Officials often underestimate their domain knowledge and they don’t get credit for being able to assimilate all this complexity. The current consensus is that the best problem solving teams include data scientists, statisticians and domain experts (Mukherjee, 2019). All three have distinct roles to play in arriving at informed governance decisions. 

The possibilities for machine learning to tackle corruption are very exciting. But it still requires humility from the data scientist, an understanding of the theory, and a willingness from the government official to give freely of his domain knowledge. And finally, no model can ever predict with a 100% accuracy. We should be honest about that when pitching solutions to legislatures and governments alike. 

Water an Economic Enabler in any Growing Economy 

by Nico de Jager MPL, DA Gauteng Spokesperson on Infrastructure Development and Property Management 

Gauteng is widely agreed upon to be the economic hub of South Africa and even Africa. For any economy to grow there are certain enablers and services, water, power, transport, and connectivity, that must be uninterrupted for business to grow. Without these enablers the development of that economy will be stifled. Water is one enabler that is critical to growing the economy, creating jobs that will lead to political and social stability in the country.  

Gauteng is a landlocked province and with Johannesburg being the biggest city in the world not next to a port or a big river. Because of its’ topography Gauteng is almost completely reliant on electricity (from ESKOM) even for its water supply. As an economic hub Gauteng should have an uninterrupted supply of water, yet over the past 10 years we have seen a decline in the ability to provide uninterrupted water to the province.  

With the growing demand for water used in industries and mining and potable water for household use several water companies were in operation since 1903 until the establishment of the Rand Water Board to supply raw water to the Witwatersrand area.  

Rand Water has not been able to secure meaningful upgrades to its bulk services to the province for many years. Since the late 1980’s the bulk supply has been constant while the demand far outweighs the supply; basic economics of supply and demand which can explain the disastrous situation with regards to jobs and economic growth with which we are faced.  

As the population and industries grew so did the demand for additional water resources. Major schemes were developed such as the Vaal River and Barrage scheme in 1914 and 1924, Vereeniging Purification Plants in 1924, Vaal dam in 1938, Zuikerbosch Purification Plant in 1949 and then the Lesotho Highlands Scheme (LSH) in 1998. Phase I of the LSH was completed in 1998 and since then the design and budget process of phase II of the project has not only been delayed by almost 10 years but the cost of the project ballooned with allegations maladministration and corruption.  

The unwillingness of the National Department of Water and Sanitation to issue a license to Rand Water for an additional bulk supply line to bring more water to Gauteng has led to the increase in water shortages in Gauteng over the last couple of years where demand for potable water outweighs the supply of water. Lack of increased bulk supply lines by Rand Water and failure to proactively maintain water infrastructure has left many industries paralyzed and households water insecure for days on end.  

Municipalities need to be more biased towards maintenance and refurbishment of critical municipal services.  

For too long municipalities have failed in the upgrading and maintenance of water systems and as a result we have seen an increase in technical losses and poor service delivery achievements. Infrastructure backlog on water infrastructure in Johannesburg alone is more than R22 billion rand. A concerted effort to change overall Municipal Capex spending from below 60% on economic enabling infrastructure to a 75% targeted investment is what is needed to eat away at this backlog.  

How can we turn this situation around?  

As much as the national government and Gauteng provincial government cannot interfere with the autonomy of the municipalities, national and provincial government do have a responsibility to advise, capacitate and even incentivize municipalities to achieve infrastructure objectives.  

Infrastructure development should be at the forefront of Gauteng government and the budgeting of municipalities as it is needed to grow the economy and create jobs in the province. As much as municipalities must remain autonomous in how they spend and allocate budget these municipalities should be incentivized through a grant system. When they reach set targets and objectives on infrastructure development and spending, a municipality should qualify for additional grant funding as an incentive to spend more on infrastructure refurbishment and replacement.  

In recent months we have seen the municipalities of Tshwane and Johannesburg cut services to government institutions and big corporates for non-payment of services while hiding behind all sorts of legal excuses. The reality is that the revenue from these organisations also impacts on the ability of municipalities to execute on their mandate to deliver services to all. The ability for municipalities to provide a basket of social services to indigenous people relies on the ability to collect revenue owed to the municipalities.  

Municipalities cannot afford to carry default payers or late payments; account managers in the different entities must be equipped to resolve queries timeously and collect payments where there are disputes. Now, it is also true that some municipalities in Gauteng do have outstanding accounts with Rand Water and when a municipal account runs overdue because of a dispute it must be resolved quickly to ensure Rand Water can do upgrades and maintain their infrastructure.  

Municipalities and entities must ensure that project managers on water and networks are equipped with the knowledge to do their jobs and be held accountable for executing projects on time and within budget. No municipality can afford the inflated budgets on projects that benefit the corrupt elite as we have seen over the years. It can no longer be business as usual.  

In my opening statement I spoke about the state of infrastructure across the province and the dilemma we are faced with due to underspending on infrastructure to drive economic growth, but the province is also plagued with the vandalism of infrastructure. The quickest win would be to follow on what the President had alluded to in his State of Nation Address and declare all municipal electrical and water infrastructure as national key points. This will allow water towers, water reservoirs and substations to benefit from national security provided by the state.  

In addition, national key points are exempt from loadshedding and this will also protect infrastructure unnecessarily being switched on and off. During load-shedding substations are switched off for extended periods of time causing coolant to coagulate and when it comes back on the erosion because of the lack of coolant has a devastating effect on the lifespan of infrastructure while water reservoirs and towers often run dry during load-shedding adding to the frustration of residents. No power means no water and that ultimately impacts on the ability to grow the economy.  

Across the province many municipalities still have thousands of kilometers of asbestos pipes. These pipes are fragile and far beyond their useful lifespan and as soon as there is a sudden increase in pressure after a burst or loadshedding, multiple bursts will occur. Again, this highlights the importance of maintenance and refurbishment as well as for the exemption of water infrastructure from loadshedding schedules.  

Expensive recycled water from wastewater treatment works is pumped back into rivers that could have alternative uses. Municipalities should therefore be encouraged to start work on a policy that will allow for a dual pipe system on all new township developments. All parks, golf courses and industries should be encouraged to make use of recycled water suitable for industries.  A dual pipe system will provide a line for recycled water to be pumped back to be used for toilet flushing, watering of gardens and parks, etc.  

Lastly the provincial government could set a target, say 70% of total capital investment spending for municipalities on infrastructure replacement and refurbishment. As much as the municipalities will retain their autonomy, an incentive to reach a goal will assist municipalities to achieve a more enabling environment for economic growth in the long run.  

In closing, all water entities and departments should at all times communicate the need to reuse, recycle and save water. All municipalities must prioritise the need to introduce first line of response teams that can isolate bursts and reduce technical water losses. Saving water is not only the responsibility of consumers but also lies on the side of the supplier. While we cannot make more water, we can save water and protect our environment.  

Road accidents hinder socio-economic development while impacting on the well-being of all South Africans

By Fred Nel MPL, DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Roads and Transport 

Road accidents have become recognised internationally as a social and economic burden. Despite governmental efforts to curb the soaring number of road crashes, the annual number of road fatalities in South Africa and the cost thereof remains exceptionally high.  

While substantial resources have been invested to promote awareness amongst the public, intensify law enforcement interventions and increase the visibility of our law enforcement officers on our roads, this is yet to yield significant returns in terms of a significant reduction in the number of crashes and loss of life.  

According to Arrive Alive’s 2021 Easter Road Safety and Fatality Statistics figures, 189 crashes were recorded during the Easter weekend, resulting in 235 fatalities nationwide. KwaZulu- Natal recorded the highest number of crashes with 42 crashes and 54 fatalities. This was followed by Gauteng which had 30 crashes resulting in 36 fatalities. Most of these fatalities were because of drunk driving, unsafe overtaking, excessive speed and not adhering to the rules of the road amongst others. 

The high number of road accidents has a significant impact on South African society. This is largely because road accidents hinder socio-economic development while impacting on the well-being of all South Africans. The financial and physical impact of road traffic crashes are not just borne by the individual but by the extended family, society at large, the health sector and the economy of the country. Injuries and deaths, therefore, create a significant financial burden for individuals and families as well as for the health care system. The death of the breadwinner/main income earner, the cost of medical treatment and subsequent loss of a job and/or income resulting from a road crash often have important adverse economic and social consequences on a household. 

According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), there were 12 956 deaths on South African roads in 2020 which cost the economy a staggering R176 billion. In the same breath, deadly crashes as a result of alcohol consumption cost the country’s economy R18.2 billion in the same period.  

The Road Accident Fund’s (RAF) 2019/2020 annual report further sheds light on recent RAF payouts. According to the report, the average claim value increased by 21% in the 2019/2020 financial year, compared to the previous year while total claims received by the RAF increased by 3% to R43.2 billion. 

In the face of such alarming road accident statistics, even the South Africa Sustainable Development Goals target to halve the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020 was not achieved. The country performed poorly and completely missed the target.  

The challenges in addressing road safety in South Africa are primarily those of human behaviour which includes a lack of knowledge of the rules of the road, an unwillingness to abide by these rules, inadequate enforcement and a lack of follow up of fines. This results in the current culture of impunity as seen on our roads. Repeat offenders know that they can get away with transgressions by just paying “cold drink or tjotjo money”. 

Behaviour that results in the safe use of roads is cultivated through proper education during a child’s foundation phase, reinforced through legally earned driver licenses during comprehensive testing and monitored vehicle driving experience even before earning a final license. 

There is a serious need for early and consistent education and awareness campaigns in our communities, increased visibility from our law enforcement officers and road patrols, and greater stakeholder involvement. In addition, there needs to be more roadblocks which entails checking vehicles, issuing traffic fines, and impounding un-roadworthy vehicles. 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng has called for the Gauteng traffic police to be declared an essential service so that they are to provide 24-hour road safety services to the citizens of the province. There is also a need to fully deploy and make use of technology such as body cameras to improve traffic policing and fight corruption on our roads which leads to further carnage.  

Equally, motorists caught driving under the influence of alcohol and those arrested for excessive speeding should face the full might of the law. According to NPO, South Africans Against Drunk Driving, a major issue with law enforcement and ensuring that drunk drivers are dealt with is the under-testing and the conviction rate for drunk driving which is between 2% to 7%. We need to work on ensuring that testing is correctly done and then followed by swift appearances in court for efficient prosecution. For as long as people know that they can drink and drive and not have to bear the consequences, this will remain a serious problem on our roads. No one should be able to get away with placing their lives and those of other road users at risk. 

Driving under the influence of alcohol, failure to wear a seatbelt, excessive speeding, disregarding road conditions and road signs is indicative of negative conduct that contributes to fatalities on our roads. Such loss of life is both unwarranted and preventable. However, achieving reduced road crashes, injuries, and fatalities, will require collective and sustained action from all of us. 

The Democratic Alliance wishes Gauteng residents and those who will be visiting the province a safe and happy Easter holiday. We appeal to everyone to exercise caution and to be considerate on the road. Drivers are additionally urged to rest between long journeys so as not to endanger the lives of other road users. Those who disobey the rules of the road must face the full might of the law.  

Why is the government so bad at implementing infrastructure? 

By Alan Fuchs MPL, DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Infrastructure Development 

A string of failed infrastructure projects across the country and in Gauteng have given rise to a huge backlog of infrastructure. This impacts negatively on the economy and kills any hope that citizens have of a better future. In a meeting with development financiers President Ramaphosa said that in recent years, the government has witnessed the accelerated deterioration of some of its most important assets required to improve the quality of life of citizens. 

At last year’s Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium, he said that the infrastructure backlog was so immense that it would take billions of rands and decades to fill the gap without the contribution of the private sector. During this year’s State of the Province Address (SOPA), Premier Makhura finally admitted that the poor performance of the Infrastructure Development Department in Gauteng has had a negative impact on service delivery and job creation.  

 So why is the government so bad at implementing and maintaining infrastructure?  

It should come as no surprise that one of the major contributing factors is the lack of skills and expertise in the public sector. The haemorrhaging of technical engineering and financial skills has contributed significantly to the bleak state of public infrastructure. The situation is exacerbated by ideological considerations such as BEE, employment equity and cadre deployment, which do not necessarily result in the appointment of the most skilled applicants for a position or contractors for a tender.

Any skilled professional worth their salt is naturally attracted to the private sector as working in government is associated with chaos, lack of discipline, wastage, and inefficiency. The loss of necessary skills has undermined all aspects of infrastructure implementation from planning and design to project management, asset management and maintenance. 

Then, of course, there is the vexing question of corruption. It takes many forms including fraud, or more subtle forms such as rent-seeking, abuse of power or patronage. Procurement systems enable the appointment of ‘connected’ middlemen who inflate the costs and provide kickbacks to officials and political parties.  The wilful subversion of government decision making processes gives rise to the extraction of billions of rands which land in the pockets of the manipulators. 

The emergence of so-called “business forums”, which demand participation in projects and resort to violence and project stoppages if they do not get their way, is becoming more prevalent. 

If not thwarted by robust policing and an agile criminal justice system, the dream of infrastructure development that supports the economy and job creation is pie in the sky. This criminal activity exacerbates the inability of the public sector to spend the available budgets allocated to projects.  

One cannot underestimate the impact of bureaucratic red tape and regulatory framework inefficiency on the ability of the state to implement and manage infrastructure.

The regulatory framework needs to be re-engineered because more than sixty per cent of any development process is currently spent on obtaining statutory approvals, twice as long as it takes for construction. The cost of these delays is borne by the taxpayer.

In addition, not only do public sector developments have to adhere to the same statutory approvals that private sector projects do, but public projects are further impacted by extremely slow and complicated procurement processes, decision-making and inter-governmental regulations, which results in regular under-expenditure of budgets.

A very important aspect that prevents efficient infrastructure implementation, but which is not visible to those outside of government, is the question of governance in terms of how and where decisions are made that affect infrastructure implementation.  

The institutional governance model in Gauteng has several weaknesses.  

There are numerous participants in the creation of infrastructure including the different levels of government, SOEs, government agencies and the private sector.

It is essential that their activities are coordinated by a single vision that ensures the strategic objectives of growth and spatial coherence. That is currently not the case because of a lack of coordination.  

In the case of Gauteng, this vision exists as the Gauteng Provincial Government Spatial Development Framework 2030 (GSDF 2030). This document gathers dust inside the cupboards of officials and politicians and in addition, has weaknesses such as a distinct lack of linkage between policy and implementation. Within the Gauteng government, there are several departments that implement social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals and economic infrastructure, such as roads. The scarce skills that exist are thinly spread across these departments and are diluted to the extent that the quality of output is poor.

It would make much more sense if the scarce skills in terms of planning, design, financial management as well as data analytics were centralised. The individual departments that currently implement would then be stripped of responsibility for planning and design and only be responsible for implementing the plans developed by the centralised, strategic, multi-disciplinary infrastructure entity.  Every one of the impediments mentioned above has a solution but requires skill, experience and commitment to fix them. There is doubt that the current government has the wherewithal to do so, hence the promise of an infrastructure-led economic recovery will remain a distant dream until this government is removed.

Tshwane judgement: Open letter to Premier Makhura

The Constitutional Court ruling delivered on Monday was a damning indictment on the petty political games that COGTA MEC Lebogang Maile was playing at the expense of the residents of Tshwane.

We call for the immediate suspension or firing of MEC Maile for putting the continuing DA service delivery to residents at risk in a poorly veiled attempt to discredit the DA and the work it was doing to uplift and improve the lives of people in Tshwane.

Before ANC administrators took over, DA-led Tshwane had a surplus of R297 million in the bank. By the time the administrators were removed we inherited a budget deficit of over R4 billion.

This cannot be allowed to be swept under the carpet like so many other attempts to sabotage the DA as it goes about fixing what the ANC broke. We say that the time for games is over, and those who think otherwise should find a career where their failures do not impact the lives of the most vulnerable.

Acting Justice Rammoka Mathopo’s judgement is very clear:

“This leads me to one conclusion: the provincial government misconstrued its powers and failed to apply itself to the issues faced by the municipality. It is clear to me that the dissolution decision should be set aside and that the municipality should be allowed to do its job. The dissolution decision falls to be set aside on the basis of offending the principles of lawfulness.”

Please allow the DA to do its job. Fire MEC Maile.

Another rise in xenophobic sentiment and violence demands a response now

The video clips are disgusting.

A security camera across the street from the bus stop captures yet another senseless hateful act of xenophobia. An 84-year-old Chinese woman who was sitting, waiting patiently for a bus is knocked to the pavement with a flying kick from a young man. In another incident, a 65-year-old Filipino woman is kicked in the stomach by a passer-by and repeatedly stomped in the head, as she lies defenceless on the pavement.

The videos are identified as recorded somewhere in the United States. There has been a reported upsurge in random unprovoked attacks on Asian-Americans. Indeed, there are many of such clips circulating on social media.

This begs the question, “Why?”

There does not seem to be any easy answers.

Social scientists would point to the increasing anger among jobless communities and a belief that somehow China’s emergence as a global economic giant has created the impression somehow that “these people” are to blame.  This is not an acceptable justification, but it might serve as an insight into the thinking of those who perpetuate such hate. Not only is this reasoning not supported by facts, the reaction to the “problem” cannot add a single job to the American economy so nothing is achieved, except for a rise in fear and conflict and with it, the greater likelihood of more unemployment.

But how could the attackers have reached their irrational conclusions? We do not know for certain, but surely the recklessness of some in the “Make America Great Again” camp, explain the violent nature of the anger?

Donald Trump’s insistence on repeatedly referring to Covid as the ‘China Virus’ and ‘Kung Flu’ was intended to deflect accountability away from his own failure to respond appropriately to the global pandemic and redirect it towards an external “threat”. This is an age-old political trick, ably defined in Anne Appelbaum’s book, “Twilight of democracy”. We are seeing the consequences of his words.

In Appelbaum’s book, she unpacks the rise of right-wing leaders in a range of countries on the back of anti-foreign rhetoric. When these leaders start to fail, the viciousness of the rhetoric rises both in tone and substance. There is only one objective: whip up anger of potential supporters, and turn an opponent into an enemy in order to secure sufficient votes to stay in power, despite the failures of the government under that leader.

In such societies there is an increased resort to caricature, even in less obvious ways. In America, not only have Republicans resorted to Sinophobia, their number one news outlet, Fox News has had the habit of referring to the former President as Barack Hussein Obama. But they never refer to the Republican Senator as Rafael Edward Cruz. Go figure.

Could it happen here?

I doubt that anyone would contest that South Africa is prone to xenophobia. The outbreak of violence in 2008 is clear evidence. The sporadic incidents throughout the years since then indicates that it lies just under the surface and has never gone away.

Like America, there are leaders that have no qualms against using rhetoric to inflame emotions. Regrettably, they achieve notoriety and success because media rewards them with attention and people reward them with votes. But their recklessness is harmful, to say the least. After all, if Mr Malema says, “cut the throat of whiteness” then it cannot be surprising that there is an increase in violent attacks.

Our politicians and their activists are quick to resort to stereotypes that directly or indirectly ridicule opponents on the basis of nationality or ethnicity. When the former Johannesburg Mayor designated one of his deputies, Cllr Michael Sun to receive a memorandum from a crowd assembled outside the Council Chambers, was it really necessary for the leader of that crowd to refer to him as “Fong Kong” because he is of Chinese descent? Certainly not. But the emotive reaction from the crowd in support was sickening and sinister.

More recently, the ANC appointed a South African citizen originally born in China as an MP. Social media was abuzz with disparaging posts. You may take a subjective view and justify satire and parody as legitimate forms of criticism. In this case you can even explain that it was a criticism of the government’s absolute dependence on a foreign communist regime. But if there is a potential for stirring racial hatred, then it is best that you criticise clearly and avoid racial stereotypes.

Make no mistake. The objective is simple. Intimidate your opponents and their supporters into silence. But in the process, if there is risk that the morons in our society will seize the reckless statements as moral permission to commit violence, then the line has been crossed.

It is an indictment on our politics that these are the tools of our trade. Indeed, when one questions such tactics you are told that politics is not for sissies and you must grow a thicker skin. But how does that save us from the risk of violence?

Justification for insults and counter-insults include two primary responses – “I was only joking” or “We have freedom of speech”.  A disparaging joke trivialises the intrinsic prejudice and mistreatment of the target and is destructive. Freedom of speech does not allow one to falsely shout “fire” in a crowded cinema. Both responses cannot justify placing people in harm’s way.  The better options are rationality, not emotion, buttressed by institutions that will fairly and effectively penalise crimen injuria. To an extent we still have those in South Africa. Let’s use those instead of fanning flames.

If ever there was a time for leaders to condemn racial inflammatory statements, surely it is now. If ever there was a time for citizens to reject leaders who capitalise on ethnic and racial tropes, surely it is now. If ever there was a time when our institutions needed to fairly and effectively penalise recklessness, it is now.

Billions of rand of taxpayers’ money wasted by government, yet no consequence management takes place

It is extremely concerning to note that the latest Auditor-General’s (AG) report on the audit outcomes of national and provincial government has highlighted the fact that billions of rand in taxpayer money has been wasted without any consequence management taking place.  

Of particular concern is the fact that the AG noted that there was inadequate monitoring of preventative controls and insufficient consequence management in Gauteng, which resulted in a stagnation of the audit outcomes.   

In addition, the AG noted that non-compliance with supply chain prescripts remained a concern, with irregular expenditure increasing to R7,49 billion, with a closing balance of R36,6 billion.    

It is categorically evident that more needs to be done to ensure that irregular expenditure by the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) is curbed, as it does open the door for corruption to take place, and further points to poor planning.   

Further to this, more needs to be done to ensure that the GPG complies with the Supply Chain Management (SCM) process, as this will ensure that all businesses, especially those that operate in the township economy space, are given a fair chance at providing goods and services to government. This will go a long way to ensuring that these small businesses are equipped to provide the youth in our province an opportunity to enhance their skill set. This is important if we want to bring down the high unemployment rate.   

It is high time that consequence management is implemented by the GPG, where officials who are found to have not adhered to the proper procurement and spending protocols put in place by National and Provincial Treasury, are disciplined accordingly.