Mkhwebane, lies and deceit

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane
Image: Eugene Coetzee/ The Herald

The psychology of lying is a very difficult and complicated - even if somewhat hilarious - phenomenon to fully understand, especially when what underpins the deception is either unknown and or unprovable.

From time immemorial, if you are inclined to consider Eve in the Garden of Eden, lies have always been an integral yet somewhat frowned upon part of human existence.

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, asserts as much, claiming it was a condition of life.

The nation has been up in arms over the fact that the occupant of an important office like the public protector is not only a liar, which is in itself a very bad thing to grapple with, but that she has the temerity to lie under oath for reasons we might never fully understand.

Yet people lie almost all the time - some for a living!

Some who will be judging Busisiwe Mkhwebane for lying in the case of the South African Reserve Bank/Bankcorp are themselves habitual, if not crafty, liars. Today, though, they self-righteously pontificate about Mkhwebane's lies.

The psychology behind the lies we tell has spawned many books and movies (those blessed with longevity will remember the movies Liar, liar; True Lies and others). My favourite is a book by Ian Leslie titled Born Liars:Why We Can't Live Without Deceit. Yes, I bought it to understand people like Mkhwebane and everybody else.

Leslie uses philosophy, psychology and neuroscience to explain why we lied when we were young, through school and why the entire industry of advertising is premised on make-believe. Leslie also uses examples in politics (some of our politicians are natural born liars who remember nothing under oath) to explain that lying is not some malware in our weak system (as City Power discovered this week) but that it would be difficult to understand who we are - our being - without understanding the basics of deceit.

Some of our problems today, Christians know, can be attributed to lies: Eve tried to lie to God. You get a sense of how daring she was? Yet, like Eve, many people lie to their parents.

Dr Bella DePaulo, author and social psychologist, found that relations between teenagers and their parents are "virtual magnets for deception" and that "college students lie to their mothers in one out of two conversations". So, the moral of the story is that you should trust what your prince or princess at university says at your own peril.

DePaulo finds that dating couples lie about a third of the time to each other - more than they do to strangers. They lie about indiscretions, about past relations and about their relationship with truth. In fact, even institutions like universities whose principal pursuits include truth are magnets for liar.

Some among us are some kind of good liars, excuse the paradox: they lie to avoid hurting other people's feelings. Brooke Benton yearned for this when he sang "Lie, lie, lie to me".

Other people, like Pallo Jordan, lie about qualifications, ostensibly to boost their stature in society.

Many of us would have others believe we are what we are not - not just academically. Comedian Chris Rock says in one of his videos: "You, you, you! Those heels, you're not as tall as you would like us to believe. And the make-up? You're not as light."

In fact, the entire skin-lightening chemical business is based on the psychology of deception that people like Steve Biko, Marcus Garvey and Frantz Fanon worked half their lives trying to undo.

What is unfortunate is that research has proven that all of us are agonisingly ill-equipped to detect lies and deception. So, for Mkhwebane, who has consistently been found by courts to have lied, the question is why?

We know that she is working with the same investigators and experts that worked with her predecessor Thuli Madonsela. Are the lies just part of her own self-destruction? Or is she in too deep with people she can't extricate herself from? What's terrible is that we can't even ask her to explain. We have heard enough lies, as it were.

And therein lies our biggest challenge.

Her reputation has been damaged irrevocably and this makes her continuation in her office untenable.

She has become a sad, unfunny joke. What must we make of her past reports? When exactly did she start? Did she lie about Malusi Gigaba? Is she lying about Jamnadas Gordhan and the SA Revenue Service rogue unit? Is she lying about President Cyril Ramaphosa?

This is terrible.

The national discourse on her is, as DePaulo puts it, like that of a teenager in varsity and their mother - filled with lies half the time.

Mkhwebane didn't have to lie about the case. There's no conceivable personal gain which, rationally, will explain her deceit. Yet she did. We will never know what is truth and what is fiction. She is the antithesis of a fit and proper person, as the law requires of her.

When she says Ramaphosa has "deliberately misled" parliament, we must believe her. It is what her office requires. When her words carry no grain of truth, like Eve's, that's when she must up and go. That time is now.

- Makhudu is editor of Sunday World. Follow him on @Sefara_Mak

X