On a daily basis they see things, hear things, and submit documents to be signed, or have documents submitted to them for signing; documents whose contents or related processes worry them a lot. But these people have to master the age-old art of looking the other way and pretending not to be aware of anything happening around them, for their own sake and those of their loved ones.
Sometimes it is better not to know what is happening, some have told me.
Take Mandisa, for instance – a brilliant professional in her own right, and someone whose love for South Africa cannot be doubted. However, as a single mother with little or no material support from anyone else, she needs her job to sustain her lifestyle.
She has to pay her bond, make monthly car payments, pay premiums for various insurance policies and her gym membership, as well as ensure that school fees are paid regularly for her two young sons and that there is enough to eat at home to last the entire month.
With all these commitments, by the time each salary arrives her household already needs it desperately. She knows things that could help unravel some mysteries, yet she would rather keep her mouth shut while she too cries silently for our country. There are many others like her throughout our public service.
Mandisa often reminds me that having grown up in abject poverty in Atteridgeville, outside Pretoria, she will do everything never to return to that life – and this includes looking the other way and pretending not to know anything.
She can also not afford to have people who watched her rise out of poverty see her fall back to where she used to be. There are appearances to be maintained.
Not too long ago she said this to me: “I see things, lots of things and, as a senior manager in my organisation, I also attend management meetings where we discuss stuff and people; especially people. Our acting CEO is paranoid because he knows the carpet can be pulled out from under his feet at any time, with little notice.
“When politicians call, he jumps. I’ve had to help create reasons to get innocent people out of the organisation on trumped-up charges because they were not trusted to keep company secrets; bad secrets in front of which everything you’ve read in the media so far would pale into insignificance.
“Even I could easily go the same way others have gone. I suspect the organisation that employs me is captured.”
Another friend told me that the “Gordhan factor” receives a lot of media and public attention because of the position the finance minister occupies, but it is just a symptom of a widespread malaise gripping the country.
Brazen beyond the point of no return
It cannot be right that South Africans employed in public entities are being placed into positions where they have to choose between personal and family survival and the interests of the country.
However, all South Africans have a role to play in protecting country, constitution and democratic institutions from being taken down. The brazenness of the people we see acting against our political and economic order has reached worrisome proportions, probably even beyond the point of no return in some cases.
Much is at stake as the clock ticks louder ahead of 2017 and 2019. Having failed to remove Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan ahead of his medium-term budget policy statement – a speech they no doubt would have tampered with to suit their own aims – the enemies of our state have not given up.
They will keep trying other means to plant captured people in our national vault. They might have lost a battle through recent blunders of their own making, but this is no time for us to celebrate. We haven’t yet won the war to protect South Africa’s interests from the far-reaching tentacles of the dark forces. Our collective vigilance should remain high, even when key state entities we should be relying on to return our country to a semblance of political stability continue to be used to weaken our nation.
The Hawks seem a lost cause, so does the National Prosecuting Authority, our intelligence agencies, the South African Revenue Service and, by the look of things, the Public Protector’s Office. Despite the decision by many of us to give her the time she needs to settle into her new position, initial signs emanating from the new public protector have not been encouraging.
If that office’s leadership in fighting high-level corruption has been lost, the road ahead is going to be truly treacherous. If we lose them, the gains realised under the leadership of Advocate Thuli Madonsela will be hard, if not impossible, to recover.
The world is watching and people are asking questions. With each attempt to bring more of our democratic institutions down to their knees, it gets harder to keep walking with our heads held high in foreign capitals. Something has to give.