Thabo Mbeki had just been inaugurated as president in June 1999. He defended former apartheid apparatchik Ndaweni Mahlangu, who for some inexplicable reason Mbeki had appointed premier of Mpumalanga. His first public utterance (and the province even then, long before DD Mabuza took its helm, was riddled with corruption) was to defend a proven liar’s appointment in his administration. Mahlangu’s defence was way ahead of its time but it set the standard for the mendacity of mediocrity soon to become the norm.

“It is permissible for politicians to lie in public,” was the soundbite to posterity Mahlangu provided. No contrition or remorse from him back then (unlike Nene now).

When I suggested to Mbeki he could set a golden example to illustrate his government’s standards in fighting corruption, the president declined. Not only would he not do so, but he branded me and my political cause “peddlers of a soulless theology, homegrown Tories, who define some races as subhuman and believe in the survival of the fittest”.

Nearly 100 years ago Danish physicist and philosopher Niels Bohr wrote: “The opposite of a fact is a falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may be another profound truth.” These past five days in SA, and the swirling controversy around Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, have provided an updated example of Bohr’s original observation. On Tuesday afternoon Nene was dropped from his post by President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose default speed of slow-moving caution and crablike decision making was ill-tuned to the hyper-speed of international markets, which in his four-day indecision found another reason to pummel the rand. The falsehood part of the Bohr philosophical equation is easy to demonstrate in the case of the beleaguered finance minister. He confessed to lying about his proximity to the infamous Guptas and his frequency of visits to their notorious Saxonwold compound. He was perhaps harassed into this confession by the kompromat which the leaders of the Economic Freedom Figh...

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