Rot is so deep it will take a lot to restore our frayed moral fibre

Fred Khumalo Watching You
Suspended SARS commissioner Tom Moyane allegedly used the tax agency’s money to pay a law firm R120000 to read a book to see if it defamed him.
Suspended SARS commissioner Tom Moyane allegedly used the tax agency’s money to pay a law firm R120000 to read a book to see if it defamed him.
Image: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Just when you think we’ve plumbed the depths of corrupt conduct, when you say to yourself “nothing will surprise me anymore – I’ve seen the fire pool, I’ve seen the Guptas run our government by remote control” something does come along to do exactly that: rob you of your last ounce of strength, and you collapse, shocked.

I am of course referring to this week’s revelation at the SA Revenue Service (SARS) commission of inquiry that the agency paid a law firm R120000 to read a book to determine whether it defamed Tom Moyane, the erstwhile head honcho of SARS.

The exorbitant fees paid to Moyane’s lawyers, Mashiane, Moodley & Monama, by SARS came under the spotlight this week, with the tax agency’s human resources head Luther Lebelo telling the commission he had repeatedly complained to Moyane about the hefty invoices from the law firm.

Lebelo himself is under fire for instructing the same firm to compile evidence on the alleged “rogue unit” at SARS in preparation for his own appearance before the inquiry, which was invoiced at R1m.

The book in question is believed to be Jacques Pauw’s bestselling The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison.

I am not sure which element in this story shocks you more: that a government official whose job involves a lot of reading would pay someone to read a book on their behalf, or the figure involved? Oh, if only my friend Ndumiso Mapholoba Ngcobo and I were getting paid even a 10th of the money paid to Moyane’s law firm for every book we read we would be super rich. Somebody must tell Moyane et al that my reading services are way cheaper than Mashiane’s.

But on a more serious note, the revelations at the tax commission are just a side attraction of the bigger main show called The Zuma Legacy.

When there are so many scandals being exposed almost every day in both the public and private sector, the logical question would be: why now? My pedestrian response would be simple. Theft, corruption and general malfeasance became normalised, acceptable as a way of South African life during the Zuma years.

Whenever questioned about inappropriate conduct – be it those extraordinary alterations to his Nkandla compound or his unkosher relationship with the Guptas – Nxamalala behaved in a manner that sent a message to the average South African that corrupt behaviour was acceptable. People started plundering resources with impunity. If Number One can do it, why can’t we? A logical response if you recall that the Chinese tell us the fish rots from the head.

President Cyril Ramaphosa this week told the nation his administration is on a clean-up operation in government. We hope he means it, and gets the support he needs. For the rot is way deep, bro!

Speaking of which, there are now calls for VBS Mutual Bank to be given a government bailout. The curious thing is that this was most stridently propounded by Floyd Shivambu, whose brother Brian is implicated in the looting, allegedly benefiting to the tune of R16m.

I believe priority should be to reimburse the ill-fated bank’s clients – all those poor gogos and mkhulus we saw waiting outside VBS outlets for their money, only to be told it had disappeared into the purchase of Lamborghinis and other fine toys for the rich. Once these poor clients have been given back their life savings, those implicated should be prosecuted and must spend time in jail.

That will convince us Ramaphosa means it when he says he is Mr Clean-up. The message will reverberate across all sectors of society and thus shall we begin to restore our frayed moral fibre.

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