Bongani Bongo claims he was poisoned. Now where have we heard that before? Picture: ELMOND JIYANE
Bongani Bongo claims he was poisoned. Now where have we heard that before? Picture: ELMOND JIYANE

The festive season is nearly upon us and many South Africans are looking forward to a bit of relaxation after a tough year. Things are not great in our beloved country, as we were reminded by yet another ratings agency on Friday evening.

People such as Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who currently sits in the chair meant for our public protector, like to disparage the ratings agencies. They forget, or are generally ignorant, that we invited the ratings agencies here so that we can play in the international market. These agencies, with all their faults, play a role that our politicians cannot always play. That role is to see ourselves for what we really are, whether ugly or beautiful, good or bad.

The red lights are flashing. The economy is tanking and things are not looking very hopeful for the future. Ratings agency S&P Global changed its outlook on SA’s sovereign credit rating from stable to negative on Friday, citing ailing growth and the government’s worsening fiscal and debt trajectory. That assessment was predictable if you had listened to finance minister Tito Mboweni’s medium-term budget policy statement last month.

Meanwhile, a careful reading of auditor-general Kimi Makwetu’s latest report last week indicates that the engines of delivery to the people — the municipalities — have collapsed. Officials and politicians are using municipalities as their piggy banks. As happens every year, the story that last week’s audit outcomes are “the worst they have ever been” came and disappeared without trace. No-one is fired or charged for these massive failures in local government. Who suffers? Poor people.

If anything, the past week illustrates just how much work there is to be done.

Yet we must not forget that SA had a few things to celebrate last week. Sure, it’s not a lot, but it’s something.

No-one in the ANC dies of poisoning. It’s amazing. Or maybe there aren’t any poisonings, just paranoid fantasies

A few politicians and government officials and their connections got their collars felt by the police. In a country where very few political bigwigs are charged, let alone stand trial, this is a step forward. Bongani Bongo, one of the many distinctly untalented and undeserving intelligence ministers in Jacob Zuma’s cabinet, appeared before the courts charged with attempted bribery.

Bongo proceeded to tell us that there was a plot to poison him, apparently orchestrated by his own comrade, Pravin Gordhan. He did not think it is worth calling the police to lay charges. Or calling the president of their organisation, Cyril Ramaphosa, to resolve this problem of comrade poisoning comrade. Or maybe there wasn’t a poisoning. It’s a fantasy that leaders of the ANC seem to enjoy.

After all, Jacob Zuma claimed he was poisoned. He is still alive and kicking. Deputy President DD Mabuza claimed pretty much the same. He is still going strong. No-one in the ANC dies of poisoning. It’s amazing. Or maybe there aren’t any poisonings, just paranoid fantasies.

Bongo also let it slip that he is one of eight politicians who, apparently, are about to familiarise themselves with the inside of a jail cell. What good news! Eight! Can we have more?

Horrific death

We should be happy with these developments. It’s a start. Of particular significance is the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to charge 10 senior officials from the department of co-operative governance with corruption, fraud and money laundering regarding the Amathole municipality toilet corruption case. These people allegedly stole and distributed R286m among themselves. That money was meant for building toilets for poor people in the Eastern Cape.

To understand this crime, think of Michael Komape. On January 20 2014 this five-year-old went to the pit toilet at his school in Chebeng Village, Polokwane. He fell into the pit while relieving himself. He suffered a horrific death. In 2018, another five-year-old died after falling into a pit toilet at a primary school in the Eastern Cape.

They would be alive now if it weren’t for the corruption in so many parts of our country — corruption exactly like that in Amathole district — that rob poor people of facilities and opportunities. There are no “victimless crimes”. The poor and the marginalised are always victims of greedy, spineless thieves in suits and 4x4s.

So these arrests are welcome. Many more are hopefully on the way. It was heartening to hear Hermione Cronje, head of the NPA’s investigative directorate, say the investigation into the Estina dairy farm in the Free State will be completed by the end of the month and will then be ready for re-enrolment in court. Some top ANC politicians had better lawyer up. Ordinary black farmers were supposed to benefit from that project. Relatives and friends of politicians ended up pocketing the loot. The good news is that finally we are going for the looters.

There is still so much work to be done. We need speed.

This article was first published by Times Select.