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Officials caught with hands in the cookie jar deserve more than slap on the wrist

Fred Khumalo Columnist
Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu. /ALON SKUY
Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu. /ALON SKUY

Every time I listen to the radio or open a newspaper to be confronted by a story about yet another politician embroiled in a scandal I want to scream out in anger and frustration: not another one!

But another part of me, or more optimistic part of me celebrates every time I hear of yet another exposé.

That rational part of me argues that at least these things are coming out. At least some people in such organisations as the Reserve Bank, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Office of the Public Protector and other investigative organisations of civil society are doing their work.

We derive hope from efforts by these people who work, risking their own lives, to expose the rot that is threatening to choke life out of our nascent democracy.

Now the next logical level in this process surely is for something drastic to be done to those people who have been caught.

It has become a norm in this country that when an official has been found with their hand in the cookie jar, or has been exposed for some misdemeanour, he or she will simply be transferred to another post.

If a government minister is implicated in wrongdoing and the media and civil society start making a noise that particular person gets shunted to another portfolio; or gets an ambassadorship in some far-off land where he will sit until the public has possibly forgotten about their past shameful behaviour.

What this means is that the authorities - that is to say those in the ruling party - act not out of acknowledging that a wrong has been committed.

They act simply to control damage.

When the miscreant in question gets the riot act being read to them it is not because the party hates the wrongfulness of the act he is being accused of.

He is simply being punished for putting the ruling party in a bad light.

To emphasise the point, the wrongdoer is being rapped on the knuckles not for the wrongdoing, but for the fact that he has been caught.

That is why we have the likes of former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo still strutting about, even though his name is mud considering the number of scandals he has been implicated in.

Another case in point is Brian Hlongwa. Between 2006 and 2008 when he was still health MEC in Gauteng, he was implicated alongside other officials in a report by the specialised investigative unit into corrupt activities to the tune of R1.2bn.

The unit made its findings public in 2010. Which is to say the ruling party has known since 2010 that he was corrupt, yet it entrusted him with power and responsibility in the position of chief whip in the Gauteng legislature.

Only this week did Hlongwa ask to be relieved of his duties as the ANC's chief whip.

It is disgraceful that the man was allowed to serve in such a powerful position for such a long time given his less than exemplary behaviour.

His successor in the health portfolio, Qedani Mahlangu, also sits in the invidious position of being unfit for public office - but yet her cronies in the ANC continue to protect her from prosecution for what happened under her watch at Life Esidimeni.

To recap, on September 13 2016 Mahlangu disclosed during an oral reply to questions in the legislature that 36 psychiatric patients transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni earlier that year had died while in the care of ill-trained NGOs.

This was a clear case of negligence and a dereliction of duty that was definitely criminal.

Until the likes of Mahlangu, Hlongwa, Mahumapelo and others are tried in court for their wrongdoing, the rot will only deepen.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has vowed to clean-up his administration, must strike while the iron is still hot. With strong, determined leadership, this country will turn the corner.

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