MY ONLINE dictionary, which is a globally shared resource, defines ‘impunity’ as “exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of an action”.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (C) introduces his delegation to South African President Jacob Zuma (R) upon his arrival on November 17, 2015, at the Union Building in Pretoria, for a one day visit to South Africa. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (C) introduces his delegation to South African President Jacob Zuma (R) upon his arrival on November 17, 2015, at the Union Building in Pretoria, for a one day visit to South Africa. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

It goes on to say that “if doing something usually results in punishment, but you do it with impunity, you will not be punished for the deed. For example, students are not allowed to chew gum in school but teachers often do it with impunity.”

Ordinarily, it shouldn’t be hard to tell the students apart from the teachers in the South African context. But even this is getting more complicated by the week because, having observed the conduct of their teachers for far too long and become tired of it, the students are beginning to emulate the teachers.

We’ve seen increasing numbers of students, who come from the ranks of people like us, also want to have their gum and eat it, just like the teachers. The teachers should be able to resort to the regulations in place to restore order, but their own gum-chewing habits have gradually eroded their moral high ground.

Their nakedness is too glaring to ignore.


Zuma at it even before he became president

President Jacob Zuma, school principal that he is, has been chewing his gum at our collective expense with impunity even before he became president.

Despite his earlier demands for a day in court to get his name cleared, his many reported crimes – bizarrely withdrawn by a crony a few years ago – remain untested because he has used all state resources at his disposal, including political reach, to prevent this from happening.

Nkandla remains a sore wound for many of us, especially after a damning report by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Insults have been thrown at her person, and her recommendations have been rubbished and ignored. The standing school regulations have been thrown to the dogs, right in front of us, the students.

Lately, the public protector’s office is being denied the resources it requires to carry out its mandate of protecting ordinary citizens from the rampant gluttony of those close to the principal’s office. In a strange twist, the public protector desperately needs public protection.


Defending the indefensible

The ruling African National Congress leads the pack here because it controls the bulk of public resources at all levels of government. It also dominates national parliamentary subcommittees and their counterparts at provincial and local government levels, so very little gets done without its blessing.

This oldest liberation movement in Africa has, strangely, decided to invest valuable energy and massive resources in the defence of the indefensible in recent years. The expression “bringing the party into disrepute” often gets selectively used against others in the party but never where it concerns the school principal and those close to him, who continue to chew their proverbial gum with impunity, as if there were no tomorrow.

The once widely-respected movement has chosen to disregard any attempt to remind it of the need to take our country’s Chapter 9 institutions, notably the public protector, seriously. The Democratic Alliance, which holds sway in the Western Cape – the only province not dominated by the ANC – also has reasons to keep its teachers in check, as there have been reported incidents of negligent gum-chewing in its ranks.


Parastatals take it to a new level

The level of impunity by the likes of Hlaudi Motsoeneng – and those who continue to use state resources to protect him, even in the face of clear evidence of wrong-doing – never ceases to shock. This man is now reported to have spent R40m on the purchase of a television studio whose value doesn’t look anything close to R100 000 and yet there is no indication of a transparent investigation of this blatant abuse.

Much has been said and written in recent weeks about the storms in which our embattled national carrier South African Airways has been flying. No matter how many times and in what direction these troubles get turned, one common figure is always at their centre: one Dudu Myeni, the chairperson of the SAA board.

Clearly, the wannabe school principal decided long ago that she would not sit behind her student’s desk any more. She has spent enough time sailing close to the real principal to learn his tricks, knowing that his vast shadow will forever shield her from any law-wielding force.

Like a cancer, reports show that the growing levels of impunity at the higher echelons of our society have begun to metastasise throughout our society. Policemen and -women have been caught collaborating with criminals and many middle and senior public office bearers have been found with their pants way below their knees. Many either remain in their positions or get suspended on full pay for many years, at taxpayers’ cost. Some even get posted to our embassies abroad – which have been turned into asylums for dodgy personalities of all stripes, to represent us!

Isolated as they might seem, all of these things add up and contribute to the general malaise in our society. Agreed rules of the game and the institutions that are meant to protect and administer them are compromised and, in the end, our trustworthiness as a national brand is also compromised.

This country needs change; this country needs leadership; something has to give.