Posted on December 12, 2006

The State of the Nation

Barry Sergeant,, Dec. 8, 2006

Warren Buffett, an iconic investor who resides in Omaha, Nebraska, has given the world many words of wisdom and wit extending far beyond money matters. One indelible quote left his lips during the 1995 annual general meeting of Berkshire Hathaway, his mother company. He told shareholders that “it’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked”.

South Africa’s long-term tide started going out during 2006, and there’s no knowing when it will turn again. It started coming in around 1994, when the country held its first democratic elections. Those were the joyful times when practically everyone in the country, on the continent and indeed in the world believed in a rainbow-hued future. It seemed that an impossible fairytale, held on the fingertips of valkeries, had descended from the clouds.

But now the tide is really going out. The nakedness of those running the country is becoming increasingly apparent. It is not a pretty picture. According to the United Nations development programme 2006 Human Development Index (HDI), South Africa now ranks 121 out of 177 countries. Of all the measures and indices and statistics that conspire to drown daily lives, there is possibly none so profound and useful as the HDI.

Last year, South Africa was in position 120. South Africa has now slipped 36 places since 1990. As the tide continues to go out, South Africa’s placing on the HDI ladder will continue slipping. A single bleak fact can be cited here. This year a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) report found that 63% of Grade six pupils couldn’t read, write or count. If these are the fruits of democracy, the tree is poisoned.

But forget the Zimbabwe syndrome and the continuing meltdown in and around Darfur; the most cynical of cynics will tell you that South Africa has the Haitian disease. Earlier this year, as a “stylish” Finance Minister Trevor Manuel tabled his annual budget in Parliament, so Desmond Tutu, a famous man of the cloth, was airlifted out of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.

Tutu had spent four days preaching reconciliation before his hotel was stormed and he was airlifted by military helicopter to neighbouring Dominican Republic. Make no mistake; République d’Haïti is one hell of a place. Situated south east of Cuba, occupying the western portion of Hispaniola, Haiti is one of the maddest places in the universe.

It has been independent for 202 years but is crazier and crueller than ever, with humans living on dirty outcrops above a huge sewage farm that adds up to no more than the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

Each day, the tide comes in up the stinky Haitian shores, and each day it goes out. Some say the sun never sets in Haiti, because it cannot be trusted in the dark. Haiti has been independent longer than any other black country in the world.

South Africa has the Haitian disease, all right. This year, the South African auditor-general gave only three “clean reports” to 32 national departments and public entities that tabled annual reports for the 2005/06 financial year.

Staying with the statistics, 18 entities had “Emphasis of Matter” highlights and 11 entities received “Qualifications” or a “Disclaimer” of opinion. An audit disclaimer is the most severe opinion issued by the auditor-general; it’s issued where an audit simply cannot be performed.

Today, a very costly UN Mission of 6 500-plus troops and 1 700 police effectively runs Haiti. From Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour last month voiced “serious concern” about abuses in Haiti. “Though more is being said about civil and political rights, such as arbitrary detention and extra judicial executions, the general population suffers from violations of their economic and social rights in an equally severe way.” She noted that most people live in extreme poverty without basic goods and services.

In South Africa the rot is everywhere. At the provincial level, take, for example, the putrid Eastern Cape provincial administration that was unable to account for R30,2bn (89%) of R34,1bn it spent during 2005/06. The Eastern Cape auditor general issued five provincial departments with disclaimers for the 2005/06 financial year, including each of the four major service delivery departments, viz., health, education, social development and housing.

Economic Affairs was also issued with an audit disclaimer. It all means that the province’s cumulative figure disclaimed has almost doubled from the previous financial year when the auditor general disclaimed a total of R16,8bn, or 54%, of expenditure. The Eastern Cape Health Department was not only hit by yet another audit disclaimer, it is the department’s ninth disclaimer in the past ten years. This is real McCoy Haitian stuff, all right.

According to the lady in Geneva, “the government expressed its commitment to solving pressing human rights problems and to put an end to abuses and violations originating from violence, impunity and the absence of the rule of law. A lack of resources hampers the achievement of these goals and the support of the international community is, therefore, indispensable”.

There is sleaze everywhere in South Africa. As for the people, it was at the end of August when ANC politicians, including correctional services minister Ngconde Balfour, Parliament’s speaker Baleke Mbete and Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool all gathered to form a guard of honour for convicted fraudster and former ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni as he was ushered into prison. He was quickly taken to a nicer one.

For years, powerful gangs controlled areas of Port-au-Prince, forcibly recruiting children and banning outsiders. But the gangs declared a unilateral truce after the election of René Préval as the new president in February 2006. Around this time, auditor-general Shauket Fakie stated that South Africa was “in a vicious downward spiral as a result of rampant economic fraud”.

The auditor general’s report on the declaration of interest by ministers, deputy ministers and government employees released in January found that 1678 politicians and designated government employees held 3 747 directorships or memberships in 3 615 entities not related to government. Nothing was done about that. There are stenches in every direction.

KPMG’s Africa Fraud and Misconduct Survey, Transparency International’s own Corruptions Perceptions Index, and PricewaterhouseCooper’s Global Economic Crime Survey have each found that fraud and corruption is a severe problem in South Africa. It is hurting the country’s image at home and abroad. There are always people. The morbid fascination with erstwhile deputy president Jacob Zuma continues, while his friend, convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik, rots in a hospital bed, terrified of serving 15 years behind bars. What kind of a man is Shaik?

Then there is ANC chief whip Mbulelo Goniwe, accused of sexual harassment amid a slew of other allegations. Then there is Linda Mti, the erstwhile commissioner of prisons, forced to resign after being arrested for close-to-comatose drunk driving, and following allegations surrounding the illegal awarding of tenders to companies with which he was allegedly associated. Nothing has been done.

Then there are the streets. There are but few countries where illicit commando-type militias can roam around at will and, deploying deadly and significant ordnance, plunder, rape and murder at will. These criminal militias of unique South African distinction can number up to twenty or thirty, and sometimes as many as forty. South Africa now ranks as the world crime champion; if that is in doubt, it certainly ranks as the world violent crime champion.

The other country mentioned in this regard is Colombia, but there, people have indulged in a civil war for the past four decades. War crimes are very different to those occurring in a country boasting possession of “the world’s best constitution”. In Colombia, the 1999 massacre in La Gabarra (when 40 people were slain by an irregular militia) remains one of the bloodiest single incidents against civilians in that country’s history. In South Africa, this is not even a day’s work.

Jealously guarded police statistics show that 18 545 South Africans were slaughtered in the year to March 31 2006, equal to 51 people a day, holidays included. South Africa is a crime economy. This year’s UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report showed how South Africa and its neighbours comprise one of the world’s biggest growers and exporters of cannabis, one of the world’s leading illicit drugs, along with heroin and cocaine.

Cannabis is rated as the third biggest export earner for Lesotho; Swaziland exports cannabis to the UK, US, Netherlands, and Japan. In 2004, the Republic of Ireland reported that 99% of the cannabis consumed in their country originated from South Africa. Here, bear in mind that Haiti is the only country that ever staged a successful slave revolution.

In both South Africa and Colombia, money generated from illicit drugs corrupts a swamp-chain of never-ending crimes, ranging from money laundering to human trafficking, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, bribery and, where required, contact crimes. The tide is going out, all right. There are naked people walking around. They are rude and don’t look pretty, either.