OPINION: So who is running the show, Mr President?

Norman McFarlane

Watching a journalist and a departmental spokesperson bashing each other on national television might be funny if it weren’t so unseemly, Mr President, but this is what we were treated to on Sunday night.

But aside from the embarrassment of watching Department of Defence and Military Veterans head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, dancing on eggs in a sterling attempt to not answer the hard questions put to him by the television anchor, there is the disconcerting realisation that you seem to have little or no control over what is happening in your own administration.

Mr Dlamini’s circumlocutory machinations (he ought to be a politician with that uncanny ability to not answer the question) did more to expose the schism in the ruling party, than it did to reassure the nation that what happened when Department of Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, allowed the likes of Ace Magashule, Pule Mabe, Tony Yengeni and other ANC luminaries, to hitch a free ride on a South African Air Force jet to Zimbabwe, at taxpayers’ expense last week, was completely above board.

It is unclear how people who fill such positions are chosen, but if I may render some advice, logic suggests that only people who do not have an overweening and disproportionate sense of their own self-importance, and who actually understand the rule of law and the intricacies of the various facets of executive fiat, be appointed.

Were that the case, Sunday night would not have happened.

Instead, the nation was treated to the unedifying spectacle of a man with zero understanding of the roles of the various branches of the executive, take unto his department – and presumably, his minister – the authority to determine what is in the national security interest, override the National Coronavirus Command Council’s (NCCC) prohibition on international travel by civilians, and to treat civilians in the ANC leadership on a junket to a neighbouring country for a party-to-party engagement, as if they were de facto diplomatic representatives.

The last time I checked, you were the head of the executive, and chairperson of the NCCC, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula was the executive authority when it comes to international travel matters, and International Relations Minister, Naledi Pandor, was the executive authority in the diplomatic arena.

But considering the speed with which things move in the ruling party administration, it is entirely possible I missed the news report in which it was revealed that you have delegated all of these executive powers to Ms Mapisa-Nqakula.

What we did glean from Mr Dlamini’s sterling effort not to answer the questions put to him, was the assurance that the report you demanded from Ms Mapisa-Nqakula, had hit your desk, but by the time of going to print, you had yet to take the nation into your confidence about this shameful affair.

One can only imagine the damage this flagrant disregard for procedure and the rule of law, will do to your laudable attempt to put a stop to the corruption that has riddled the ANC for the better part of the last quarter century.

How on earth can you expect the ANC cadres, to whom you so earnestly appealed in your recent open letter to party members to take your entreaty to root out corruption in the ruling party seriously, if senior members of the ANC’s leadership are permitted to get away with this disgraceful squandering of taxpayers’ money?

And what of Ms Mapisa-Nqakula’s apparent undermining of your executive authority?

I ask this question because, as Mr Dlamini pointed out on Sunday night, you are the commander-in-chief of the South African National Defence Force. Ergo, unless you have delegated to Ms Mapisa-Nqakula the significant executive authority she would need to make the sweeping decisions she seems to have made, she has in fact usurped your executive authority, and ought to, at the very least, be publicly disciplined for her transgressions, if not face dismissal from the executive.

You started your term as president of the country on the back foot, having laboured mightily to unseat your predecessor after his nine years of wrecking-ball rule, and you managed to gain the support of the overwhelming majority of South Africans for your stated intention to fix what was essentially a badly broken country.

Almost three years on, there is little evidence to support the narrative that you have made much progress towards fixing what is broken. Pleading the long game just won’t cut it any longer, for it begs the question: just how long is your long game? If the past almost three years are any yardstick, the country does not have the luxury of time that your long game seems to require.

The coronavirus pandemic wasn’t your fault, and we know that, but it is what it is.

You initially rose magnificently to the daunting challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, and for a time, we once more felt as a nation, that we were all in this together.

But as the weeks of lockdown have rolled by, the scales have fallen from our eyes.

The often illogical and counter-intuitive lockdown regulations have morphed national co-operation into increasingly wilful intransigence.

The oft excessive and sometimes brutal behaviour of the security forces in enforcing lockdown regulations, has caused many to view the very people to whom we must turn for help in times of crisis, with suspicion.

The extent of rampant corruption in the Covid-19 tender space has turned simmering discontent into widespread outrage.

The extent of the economic contraction that we have suffered as a result of the pandemic-induced lockdown paints a bleak picture of the prospects for the future, with seemingly little on the policy horizon designed to ameliorate the inevitable bloodbath in unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Your prior assurances that there is a firm hand on the tiller of the ship of state notwithstanding, can we at least have the assurance that it is yours?