Secretary-General Mbalula dodges accountability as SA’s problems continue to pile up – Ivo Vegter

In a scathing opinion piece, Ivo Vegter’s focus falls on Fikile Mbalula, the secretary-general of the ANC government. He highlights Mbalula’s recent interview with the BBC, where he attempted to deflect criticism by arguing that the ANC should not be defined solely by the issue of loadshedding. However, Vegter argues that the ANC’s failures extend far beyond the energy crisis, encompassing a multitude of issues ranging from healthcare and education to corruption and infrastructure collapse. Vegter asserts that the ANC’s track record demonstrates a lack of competence and integrity, and questions whether the party deserves to remain in power.


Fikile Mbalula’s one single issue

By Ivo Vegter*

Secretary-general of the ANC, Fikile Mbalula, chides interviewer for defining the ANC ‘by one single issue’, namely load-shedding.

Fikile Mbalula, former cabinet minister and now secretary-general of the ANC, was one of three South African politicians interviewed for BBC HARDtalk by Stephen Sackur.

The good comrade tweeted a video of the full interview, apparently believing, as a friend of mine put it, that he killed it. (If he deletes it, the BBC posted an audio-only recording.)

It was not an impressive performance. It amounted to a whole lot of evasion, hand-waving, blaming external events, blaming colonialism, and defensive promises to do better. I suppose someone had to go face the firing squad, and Mbalula drew the short straw.

Mr Fear Fokol, as he once styled himself, relieved himself of a few quotable soundbites, including an acknowledgement that South Africa might become a failed state (though he says the ANC is working hard to prevent that).

Promises

I want to focus on just one single issue, however.

Talking about load-shedding, as well as the ANC’s record on connecting people to the grid, extending social security to the poor and building decent housing, he said: ‘In 30 years, we have done so much, and yet we are defined by one single issue. We will defeat that issue. As the African National Congress, we are determined to ensure that load-shedding is something of the past.’ (My italics.)

We’ve been hearing that promise for decades, and nobody believes it anymore. The ANC has had 25 years of warnings that Eskom would fall short of electricity demand by 2007, and 16 years since the first bout of load-shedding duly arrived. Besides building two coal-fired power plants that went billions over budget and years over deadline, mostly because they were feeding troughs for corrupt ANC patronage pigs, Eskom has done pretty near diddly-squat to ‘ensure that load-shedding is something of the past’.

But let’s leave that aside.

Read more: How the world sees SA – GIS on “The lost promise of South Africa”

Horde of issues

That Mbalula thinks the ANC is unfairly maligned by defining it ‘by one single issue’, despite all its successes, is outrageous. The ANC’s era of misrule is defined by a horde of issues, none of which reflect well on the party’s policies, the party’s integrity, or the party’s practical ability to govern.

The three achievements that Mbalula mentions were all Mbeki-era successes. Since then, it is hard to name any issue (independent monetary policy and an independent judiciary come to mind) on which the ANC has not failed miserably.

Let’s consider just a few of them.

Hammanskraal. Dear Fikile. Cholera affects 0.05% of the world’s population. In the absence of a major natural disaster that destroys clean water infrastructure, you have to be really, really incompetent to have cholera break out in your country.

The only real surprise here is that it took so long. Only 23 out of 995 wastewater treatment plants are Green Drop certified. A total of 334 (39%) of municipal wastewater systems were identified to be in a critical state in 2021, compared to 248 (29%) in 2013. A total of 102 (89%) out of the 115 systems owned by the Department of Public Works were identified in critical state, compared to 84% in 2013.

Water reticulation and treatment infrastructure has been a looming crisis for years, thanks to widespread neglect and corruption.

Read more: South Africa’s crucial ‘Container Corridor’ rail line crippled by cable theft

Shortages

The treatment of cholera is dead simple and dirt cheap: rehydration with oral electrolyte solutions, or intravenous Ringer’s lactate in severe cases. To have 20 people and counting die of cholera requires an additional failure in primary healthcare in the area, and this reflects a broader failure with ANC government-run healthcare services.

Outside the Western Cape, public health facilities are collapsing. The government has had to defend itself against such claims since long before the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are chronic shortages of essential medicines. People spend many hours, and sometimes days, waiting to see someone. Sometimes they die waiting. Hospitals are overcrowded, and patients are sometimes doubled up in beds or unceremoniously dumped in corridors.

There is a critical shortage of nurses, while qualifications systems are in disarray and the private sector is restricted by law from training more than a given number of nurses.

The ANC thinks it can magically turn all these failures into success by extending government healthcare to include those who are perfectly able to pay for healthcare themselves and becoming a sole central planner of the entire healthcare system. Needless to say, doctors and nurses are deserting that ship before it sinks.

Collapse

Infrastructure collapse is all around us. Our ports are among the worst in the world. Thieves are stripping railway stations and even stealing the actual railways. Our railways are broken.

We recently learnt that only 18% of Grade 4 learners can read for meaning in any of the country’s official languages.

Even before the pandemic, Dr Nic Spaull of Stellenbosch University reported that 80% of teachers lack the knowledge that they are supposed to be teaching. For example, 79% of Grade 6 mathematics teachers cannot get 60% on a Grade 6 or 7 mathematics test.

More than 60% of Grade 5 learners are incapable of even the most elementary arithmetic – adding and subtracting whole numbers or multiplying by single-digit numbers.

Wrote Spaull: ‘Approximately half of South African primary schools (45%) could be described as “cognitive wastelands”, that is that not a single learner can read and make inferences. Similarly, in 47% of high schools not a single child could reach the intermediate international benchmark in mathematics. By contrast, the figure in Botswana is 2%.’

The responsible minister (and loyal ANC cadre), Angie Motshekga, acknowledges that primary schools neglect reading comprehension, and added that ‘the country lacked concrete evidence regarding the most effective interventions’.

Not only aren’t they teaching children to read, they have no idea how to do so! That, Mr Mbalula, is ‘an issue’.

Read more: Cholera outbreak in SA – a red flag indicating severe trouble that good governance could have prevented (UPDATED)

Corruption

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo needed four volumes to contain all the corruption uncovered by the State Capture Commission.

In his HARDtalk interview, Mbalula blustered that the ANC commissioned the Zondo report, but that does not change the substance of its findings, or the fact that not a single senior ANC member implicated – Jacob Zuma, Tom Moyane, David Mahlobo, Dudu Myeni, Mzwanele Manyi, Malusi Gigaba, Lynne Brown, Brian Molefe, Gwede Mantashe, Nomvula Mokonyane, Zizi Kodwa, Mozebenzi Zwane, Ace Magashule, and a host of lesser-known cadres – has faced any consequences, within the party or before the courts.

The ANC has also not responded in any way to the recommendations and criticisms Zondo directed at the ANC itself, such as that the policy of cadre deployment is illegal and unconstitutional and was a root cause of state capture.

Unemployment. Enough said. Poverty. Ditto. Both have gotten worse in the last decade or so.

The South African police in 2021 required urgent reform ‘before it’s too late’, and in 2023 remains ‘in crisis’, ‘atrocious’, ‘mismanaged’, and ‘corrupt’. As a result, crime is ‘out of control’.

The government, despite protests that it is non-aligned, has maintained firm friendships, including high-level visits to and fro, with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, despite the latter’s unprovoked invasion and carpet-bombing of a sovereign neighbouring country.

That this threatens relations with a good number of our largest trading partners, while Russia doesn’t even make the top 25 trading partner list, seems not to have entered the simple minds of the dogmatically subservient ANC officials responsible for what passes for foreign policy in this benighted country.

Read more: SA a failing state on the cusp, stirring analysis from Dr Edward Mienie

Deserving power

We can carry on. Land reform efforts have largely failed, with some 90% of redistributed farms now lying fallow. Service delivery protests are so routine they rarely merit headlines in local news rags anymore, let alone in national media. Xenophobic violence is widespread, as politicians scurry to blame the failures of the ANC government upon innocent immigrants or refugees from countries worse off than our own. Digital television, still not done, 12 years after the deadline. Economic growth is flat, and well below population growth, meaning we’re all getting poorer.

Dear Fikile, the ANC government is not defined by one single issue. Load-shedding is perhaps the most critical right now, but your party’s government is defined by dozens and dozens of issues, all of which represent gross failures on the part of the ANC. Whether the failures are of policy, of implementation, of mismanagement, or of corruption, doesn’t really matter to the people of South Africa. What does matter is the fact that almost everything the ANC touches turns to dust.

That is the point your interviewer was trying to get across when he asked whether the ANC deserves to remain in power. It doesn’t. Not by any measure.

*Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets.

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This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission

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