SIMON LINCOLN READER: For the elite, nothing succeeds like excess of entitlement
People with a tenuous grasp of economics are handed credit cards, enabling the collision between status and irresponsible housekeeping
The latest example of political detachment in SA comes from Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Michael Masutha. Retained in the Cabinet through an act of strategic placation by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Masutha might be less controversial than some of his Zuma-era colleagues but he remains an insufferably useless individual.
Last week he declared that National Prosecuting Authority boss Shaun Abrahams enjoys his full confidence, despite Abrahams’s multiple shockers and general personality.
There’s been a lot of this over the years. Most of the time it involves daft remarks, but then someone buys an unnecessary car or spends a fortune on take-away chicken or holes up in some pseudo-Roman mansion resorting to excuses like "hayfever" when scrutinised.
So what compels someone to say something so stupid? Masutha isn’t thick like Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane or ANC deputy secretary Jessie Duarte, nor is he a particularly bad dude, in the way that ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule or secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana are bad dudes.
Although Jacob Zuma’s deeply dishonest world views were almost contagious among his deluded ministers, it’s an oversimplification to suggest that Masutha’s remarks form part of the lingering shadow Zuma continues to cast.
Cars, hotel rooms and remarks are related to the same curse of political detachment that continues to blight the judgment of ANC officials.
It occurs in the party for two reasons. First, cabinet ministers and other top officials mistakenly believe their appointments indicate they have "succeeded", and second, because they are then treated as such, presented with food trolleys in Parliament to stuff their faces with and other perks determined by the patently evil, self-authored 2007 Executive Handbook. Ideologically vulnerable people with a tenuous grasp of economics are handed credit cards and 30-day accounts, enabling the collision between status, irresponsible housekeeping and oblivion.
They cannot or refuse to listen. Warnings have ranged from political groundswells such as Brexit in 2016 and the election of Donald Trump that same year, to outright civil wars across the Middle East in 2011. Convinced that racial hatred motivates any criticism of them, very few — if any — ministers would be able to provide details of these historical events.
There is a solution but it would virtually guarantee the kind of resistance that recalls presidents. Were Ramaphosa genuinely eager to address the poor judgment of the members of his Cabinet, his first exercise should be to torch that bastard handbook. If even a quarter of officials’ privileges were scrapped and their salaries frozen for five years, it could possibly instigate a process of elimination, with the outcome of making ANC look less attractive to useless or slimy people.
In recent years Botswana’s Ian Khama was the only regional leader to remind his party that duty is actually unpleasant, that there is no such thing in politics as success, only service and failure. While Robert Mugabe and Zuma were brazenly enriching their families at the state’s expense, Khama was in a taxi, surprising police stations and hospitals. For his efforts he was excoriated: "homosexual" is how Mugabe responded to Khama’s disciplinarian approach to public service.
People who support idiots such as Abrahams and Mkhwebane don’t care about their competence; they believe there is a shadowy network of white supremacists seeking to destroy Zuma’s economic wizardry and his legacy. In 2002 I encountered a very naughty group of people who were blowing stuff up and thought exactly the same way. They were called the Boeremag.
• Reader works for an energy investment and political advisory firm.