By Jabulani Sikhakhane (Business Day)
An old township joke has a tsotsi approach a pot-bellied, Zulu-speaking security guard: “Heita madala. Linjani igwinya la? (How’s the vetkoek here?)”
“Heyi wen’mfana. Akwenziwa magwinya lapha (We don’t make vetkoek here),” retorts the old man. “Kwenzima insimbi lapha (This is a steel factory).”
The tsotsi had done a Julius Malema on the old man: he used vetkoek as a metaphor for the opportunity to augment his wages by pilfering, a common occurrence in factories and other places of employment. Each worker’s theft may be small relative to a company’s profits but over time, and when the committed by the majority of employees, pilferage can cripple a company and eventually even force it to shut down.
SA hangs perilously close to such a precipice as an increasing number of interest groups scramble to claim for themselves a bigger share of the country’s resources.
This mad rush is being spurred by the belief, not unfounded, that those entrusted with the management of the country and its institutions are using their positions to enrich themselves, their families and friends. “Why not join in and grab your share before the resources run out?” goes the thinking.
The latest episode of the long-running SABC drama shows what happens when the every-man-for-himself mentality grows roots. City Press reported yesterday ran another instalment of how the public broadcaster’s executives ran the corporation’s finances to the ground.
The Sunday paper quoted a report compiled by the Broadcast, Electronic Media and Allied Workers’ Union and the Media Workers’ Association of SA, stating that SABC executives had engaged in wasteful expenditure, including the R18m bill ran up between November 2007 and June this year.
The abuse was happening at the same time as the SABC management was pleading with the unions to accept lower wage increases because of the corporation’s financial woes. The unions are pointing to such wasteful expenditure to justify their demand that the corporation live up to last year’s agreement of a 12,5% wage increase. Union members were expected to go on strike this week.
Similar scenes are playing themselves out across the country. The demand, however ridiculous it sounded at the time, by Bafana Bafana players for bonuses that were substantially more than what they had earlier agreed to is another example. I bet that Bafana Bafana players are sick and tired of seeing South African Football Association officials make a killing out of the national team while the players, who have become the subject of ridicule because of the team’s poor performance, have had to make do with what they see as peanuts.
This dash-and-grab mentality could not have come at a worse time for SA . Last week, Pravin Gordhan, the finance minister, and his deputy, Nhlanhla Nene, warned that, based on current trends, government revenue for the fiscal year to March next year is projected to be R50bn to R60bn lower than budgeted because of the dramatic decline in tax collections. Gordhan said that the government would have to make up the revenue shortfall by cutting spending in those areas of the budget that didn’t form part of the key priority areas.
“Finding savings is not only about reducing budgets, it is also about combating corruption, wastage and leakage in government,” Gordhan said.
Nene took a swipe at extravagant entertainment and excessive foreign travel. He called for better control of consultancy contracts, better management of information technology and communication services, and called for an end to ineffective or wasteful programmes and projects.
The objectives outlined by Gordhan and Nene are easier spoken about than achieved. Yet, it has become more urgent for government to be seen to be taking harsh measures against corrupt individuals in its ranks, especially those in management and other positions of authority. The same goes for the ruling party, whose handling of the abuse of travel allowances by parliamentarians creates an impression that the party is soft on corruption within its own ranks.
Success or failure in stemming the tide of corruption will determine whether SA slides down the path of most African countries. Failure to reduce corruption will result in more groups clamouring for their share of the state resources and the small pool of income tax payers seeking ways to hide their hard-earned money from the tax man . The skilled — who pay the lion’s share of income tax — will leave the country, as they did in Kenya and Nigeria.
So, beware of the vetkoek mentality.
- Sikhakhane is editor-in-chief of Destiny Man and a freelance writer.
Monday, July 06, 2009
By Jabulani Sikhakhane (Business Day)