Posted on October 10, 2006

Gone Bananas

Justice Malala, Financial Mail (ZA), September 29, 2006

“Mashatile took his colleagues to Auberge Michel after his budget speech “to celebrate”. Celebrate what? Doing his job?”

This country is going straight to hell in a handbasket and we are doing nothing about it. At best, we mumble our dissatisfaction at dinner parties while the more fearful scratch their armpits. But a word in public from any of us? Nada.

A friend was held up and a gun put in his mouth the other day. Another friend’s daughter was tied up in her house by an intruder. Another friend was held at gunpoint for 30 minutes in a gym.

Rape is rampant. Do you hear any noises from those on high?

Unemployment is rife. The minister of health is a total failure, but if you think Thabo Mbeki is going to show her the door, then you must be a strong believer in miracles.

Take the transport ministry. My friend, Lucky Montana, used to be number two in Jeff Radebe’s department. Then taxi thugs came into his house, held him and his family at gunpoint and told him to stop his efforts on the taxi recapitalisation programme. Fearful for his life, he was told by the police there was nothing they could do. He now heads the railways.

Don’t forget the signal failure that is our policy on Zimbabwe. While 3m Zimbabweans climb over electric fences to enter our country, President Thabo Mbeki had the gall to stand up at the UN last week and lambast Western powers for ignoring the poor.

I guess the timber forest in his eye does not bother him at all.

If you thought this was bad enough, along comes Paul Mashatile, the Gauteng MEC for finance, who nonchalantly blew R96 000 of taxpayers’ money on a meal at Auberge Michel, the upscale eatery in Sandton. Yes, I know, he was with his underlings from the government, but really? Auberge Michel?

Apparently Mashatile took his colleagues to Auberge Michel after his budget speech on June 23 “to celebrate”. Celebrate what? Doing his job?

I hope Barney Mthombothi is reading this because we should have a little party at one of SA’s top restaurants every time I bash out an article.

Mashatile seems to be a serial offender in this regard. The Star points out that in February he spent R17 183,50 for just two visits to Auberge Michel; various other amounts running into the thousands at other eateries.

What is this government for, exactly? In a country where hundreds go to sleep with, as Mbeki put it at the UN, “hunger pangs”, how do the likes of Mashatile square that with their expensive tastes at taxpayers’ expense?

I think Mashatile is as entitled as the rest of us to his expensive tastes. In fact, I believe this government positively encourages the creation of millionaires. But I am sure no-one has ever said “go forth and enjoy on government’s credit card”. It is a bloody scandal — and anywhere else in the world, Mashatile would be fired.

But, hell no, we encourage lax moral standards. The man will be at Auberge Michel next year with his colleagues, sipping expensive merlot with the rest of them. It will all go on the government credit card, too.

That is the country we have. An MEC blows R96 000 on a jolly with his employees and there will be not a whimper from civil society. There will be not a whimper from his boss, Mbhazima Shilowa. If you think the ANC and its lame-dog MPs will say a thing you really are dreaming. They will be begging to be invited to the next jolly. After all, as said by their leader Smuts Ngonyama, they did not struggle to be poor.

That is why I went to Gramadoelas at the Market Theatre in Newtown. My wife and I had a delicious and filling curry and two glasses of wine, and the bill came to a modest R161,48. Why aren’t people using this place more often? It is spacious and beautifully decorated. It is full of history. And it is a mere walk from the Gauteng legislature — but I guess Mashatile and his cronies were afraid they would be mugged if they dined in the city.

Service was excellent when we got there on a Saturday evening and there were only three other tables. Two of them were tourists.

We asked for our meal to be done quickly and so it was. No hassle, great atmosphere, decent food at an extremely affordable price.

It is a place for people who do not, unlike the Mashatiles of this world, want this country to become a banana republic.

The second volume of a retelling of South African history, which includes the accounts of liberation movements and icons, was launched in Pretoria on Thursday.

The book entitled The Road to Democracy in South Africa draws on the oral and documentary evidence of a variety of sources, previously excluded from history books, and provides important new insight into the liberation struggle.

“It is a story of the past but it will be the foundation to tell us how to handle the future,” President Thabo Mbeki said at the launch.

Among the sources cited by the second volume are trial records, state archives and archival records kept by liberation movements.

The book is the President’s brainchild, emanating from his concern about the lack of historical material on the laborious and complex road leading to the country’s democracy.

Reflecting on some of the events that led to this country’s liberation, Mr Mbeki shared some oral history of the African National Congress’s activities while in exile, including in Gaborone, Lusaka and London.

One such story was that of ANC members receiving word that the previous government was ready to engage the liberation movement in talks in London.

This was a move which Mr Mbeki said was welcomed by then ANC president OR Tambo, as an opportunity not to be missed.

The book is compiled through intense research and analysis by the South African Democracy Education Trust (SADET).

SADET is responsible for examining and analysing events leading up to the negotiated settlements between the erstwhile regime and liberation movements.

SADET said The Road to Democracy project is a chronological analysis of four decades which are 1960-1970, 1970-1980, 1980-1990 and between 1990 and 1994.

The first volume, published in 2004, outlined strides by figures of all races and institutions to achieve a democratic state.

It also focused on how the previous governments intervened in the education system to infuse inferior education.

Volume 2, (1970-1980) traces the history of Black Consciousness Movements (BCM) by amongst others, vividly painting a picture of the student struggle in the early 1970s, recording the Soweto uprisings and the murder of the BCM icon, Steve Biko.

This book further tells the story of the rising number of trade unions in the 1970s as well as the emergence of a generation of black writers.

It also uncovers the underground activities of the liberation movements and their exile experiences.

Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad, who also serves as chairperson of the Trust Board overseeing SADET activities, said the book would help tell the country’s history as “it has not been told [but rather] the way it is.”

He said the next two publications are expected to focus on the role of international solidarity movements and the contribution of African countries in the achievement of South Africa’s freedom.

The first volume was distributed to schools throughout the country in August.