[DEBATE] : M&G editorial: Once upon a time ...
grinker at mweb.co.za
Fri May 9 10:02:24 BST 2008
Once upon a time ...
09 May 2008 06:00
When our children's children turn around and ask what happened in the land
of Madiba, when they ask why democracy lost its way and when hope was dimmed
by ambition, their elders may point to the past week. It was one in which
incontestable evidence emerged of an onslaught against key democratic
institutions, born of political expediency. What they will be told might run
"Once upon a time, South Africa was a fine land with a grand Constitution.
The people governed, but under the rule of law. The symbol of the new order
was the founding president, Nelson Mandela, under whose hand a peaceful
transition from racial tyranny was negotiated and a Constitution finalised.
This enshrined the highest principle of the separation of powers to hold
abuses in check, and set up institutions intended to advance the democratic
dream. Among these were a prosecutingauthority enjoined to do its work
without fear, favour or prejudice.
"Then came the first test of democracy, the arms deal. Many good democrats
tried to ensure that the corruption intrinsic to the international weapons
industry did not blight the new order. But one by one our institutions
crumbled, unable to withstand the pressures of political ambition and the
lure of lucre.
"First, the speaker of Parliament was drawn into the executive's determined
drive to ward off scrutiny of the deal; then Parliament's standing committee
on public accounts was subverted; then Parliament itself. Key constitutional
institutions set up as democratic watchdogs, including the Public Protector
and the Auditor General, were suborned into giving devious politicians a
clean bill of health. Heroes and sheroes tumbled like skittles, bowled over
by ambition, greed and fear of exposure.
"And so it continued into the early years of the 21st century. But there was
one institution that continued to pursue its mandate pretty much without
fear, favour or prejudice -- the prosecuting authority and its highly
specialised weapon in the war against organised crime, the Directorate of
Special Operations, or Scorpions.
"Initially, this institution won the approval of democrats by showing that
it was no respecter of the mighty and that no one was immune to its sting. A
big politician who favoured yellow jackets and shiny cars was fired from
Parliament and eventually jailed for consorting with the men of arms and
accepting a cheap luxury vehicle from their basket of bribes. A large band
of crooked parliamentary representatives was prosecuted for fiddling their
travel and car allowances.
'But then the Scorpions ran into two men with especially thick skins and
especially heavy clout in ruling circles, called Jacob and Jackie. Jacob was
accused of falling for the enticements of the men of arms; Jackie of showing
a particular weakness for the company and bounty of bottom-feeders from the
shadowy depths of organised crime. Both were ushered into the courts by the
"And so, the leaders who had once walked in the colossal shadow of Mandela
decided: enough. The man with a taste for yellow suits, perhaps. Even the
bent MPs. But not Jackie. And not Jacob.
"At the end of 2007, the light of democracy, due process and the rule of the
Constitution started dimming in this fine land, and a death warrant was
served on the unit that had dared challenge the mighty.
"A lonely president ruled the land at the time. Facing a prosecutions boss
who refused to bend in the wind of political expediency by dropping the
investigation of Jackie, he decided to fire him. The Scorpions' general, a
man called Leonard, now lives in a faraway country where he shuffles paper
at a big international bank.
"In that autumn week early in May 2008, the country discovered just how weak
and small a man had stepped into Madiba's shoes. It discovered how he lied
to his country and tried to shield Jackie from the full force of the law.
And they saw how he was prepared to make a scapegoat of an honest lawman to
protect himself and his political ally.
"South Africans learned in that week how the president ignored the advice of
an honest judge who investigated the Scorpions and found that while they
needed to be more accountable, they served the goal of protecting the new
democratic order from criminals.
"The president sat on the judge's report until he could sit no more. When he
released the report, he claimed, against all the evidence, that he had
implemented all the good judge's resolutions.
"Nor could the country expect much better from his arch-enemy, whose star
was in the ascendant but who, to ensure his accession to the highest office,
needed the Scorpions to die.
"So, the party of which he was now the leader lined up obediently behind him
and twisted the good judge's words, claiming that she thought exactly as
they did: that the Scorpions should die.
"And so it was that the light of democracy dimmed as institutions were
systematically eroded by political ambition, the rule of law was twisted,
and the words of good men and women contorted in defence of base,
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