SLR: Tina Joemat-Petterson and the entitlement of impunity

Simon Lincoln Reader discusses the recent death of Tina Joemat-Pettersson, a controversial figure in South African politics. He highlights the division in public reaction to her passing, noting that while some people celebrated her death due to their political differences, such celebrations are often frowned upon. SLR delves into TJL’s career, pointing out her numerous failures and allegations of corruption during her tenure as a public servant and questions whether her incompetence prevented her from being corrupt or if she intentionally obscured corrupt activities. He also suggests that her extravagant lifestyle, fueled by her wealthy late husband, influenced her poor judgment and detachment from the consequences of her actions. Ultimately, SLR concludes that Joemat-Pettersson will be remembered as a dangerous and entitled individual, and her story may find a place in a future account of how the ANC compromised its principles.

Tina Joemat-Petterson and the entitlement of impunity

By Simon Lincoln Reader*

Last week a skirmish broke out between two groups of people. The one group was not so much upset about Eusebius McKaizer as they were lying in wait for some unflattering commentary by the other group. When it emerged they stormed out of their houses and, in scenes reminiscent of what happened in Mondeor and La Rochelle in 2001 when Vanessa Carreira won Miss South Africa, they turned over cars, commandeered traffic intersections and set bins on fire – with the difference being this group were deeply offended. ‘We’ve had enough! We cannot accept that there are still white people in South Africa unmoved by the events of Minnesota, May 2020, and unconvinced by the magnificent experimental therapeutics, brought to us with kindness from the major pharmaceutical companies,’ a statement released by the group read. 

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I agree: it’s not good form to use the occasion of death to express political differences – but rarely does it work both ways. When Sheldon Adelson died in January 2021, his critics had to be crowbarred off ordering a national holiday with an open-bus procession. Same thing with the Queen last year, and to a point, our dear Rhoda Kadalie – attacked for leaving the world a critic of the Clinton crime empire. In all these cases people who would identify with the sesquipedalian Eusebius celebrated, then defended their celebrations with: ‘well, it’s different when we do it’. 

Now we’ve learned that Tina Joemat-Pettersson has shuffled off her mortal coil – and we have an issue. Because even the most deranged social justice enthusiasts will struggle to locate a single point of her career as a public servant that reflects agreeably: she was simply the worst of a bad party. 

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One of the first things Jacob Zuma did upon his victory in the 2014 election was appoint Tina to the energy portfolio. Previously she’d run agriculture, forestries and fisheries – very badly as it happened – so badly that she earned two raps from the public protector, both involving reckless expenditure and improper procurement (today’s depleted state of lobster stocks can be directly attributed to her refusal to follow advise). Despite a reputation as an inept administrator surrounded by corrupt parasites, she was parachuted into energy attached to a single purpose: remove resistance to Jacob Zuma’s nuclear ambitions. 

She failed, but in her failure there was pause for consideration: did she fail because she was too incompetent to be corrupt? Or did she willingly or intentionally obfuscate plans because the scale of potential corruption frightened even her? Some members of the DA suspected the latter – she was even thanked in Parliament as much – which would explain John Steenhuisen’s remarks today. But her decision to sell off the country’s oil reserves below market prices should defenestrate any accidental admiration. 

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Having had the misfortune to correspond with her, I have a different theory but one that arrives at the same conclusion. Tina’s late husband was a Swede who was cash wealthy: in the 2010 register of member’s interests, she disclosed that his estate granted her R2.4m per annum. Her behaviour betrayed the impact this extravagance had on her judgement – no reasonable person, in the event their holiday was interrupted by a request to assist at a wedding, would haul their family and assistants into the business class section of a wide body without wondering: ‘who is paying?’ Couple this detachment to philosophical investment in the most incoherent passages of the National Democratic Revolution – and you are left with a dangerous, stubborn fool. 

If the story of how the ANC cannibalised finds a publisher one day – if the manuscript escapes obedient social justice devotees swamping the industry – then Tina should be the subject of an entire chapter. Alongside those condemned with ideological deformity or corruption, she’ll be remembered as someone who acted with impunity simply because she felt entitled to. 

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*Simon Lincoln Reader works and lives in London. You can follow him on Substack.

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