Friday, September 11, 2009

Politics: it's a calling

The Point has devised a vocation test. Yip, after Julius Malema explained that politics, like theology, is a calling (perhaps he was thrown by the title 'minister'), it didn't take long for me to come up with this sophisticated model.

Which of the following would you choose?
(a) A new BMW seven series
(b) A homing pigeon
(c) A jaguar fitted with a mini bar
(d) A computer, internet connectivity slower than Winston, and a not much else

If you picked Option A you are no doubt destined for political greatness (or at least opulence). Those who went with Option B are the country's great entrepreneurs, you think outside the box; love a challenge; and are fed up with Telkom. Option C involves a long slog at law school, but once you've hit the bench, you're pretty much untouchable. If you chose Option D, well, welcome to the club, sucker.

The archetypal Option A figure, Julius Malema, unpacked the meaning of 'corruption' at the annual Peter Mokaba Lecture:

"What is corruption? Driving a Mercedes Benz? Driving a Mercedes Benz cannot be corruption. If that is how you define corruption then you are jealous."

Ah, yet another infallible argument from the ANC Youth League. Not quite in the 'sleeping around is sleeping around' category, but compelling nonetheless.

In an unusual turn of events, I find myself siding with Cosatu. I have even considered taking a 'solidarity' day off work tomorrow. This is what they had to say about Cargate:

"If ministers are allowed to purchase expensive cars at taxpayers' expense it gives an impression that they do not care about the message this opulence gives to the poor. Spending so much money on vehicles is a slap in the face of the unemployed and people living in shanty towns. It gives politics a bad name."

I would like to venture that it is also a slap in the face of the employed taxpayer, who funds such opulence. The Communications Ministry's Tiyani Rikhotso disagrees:

"We also find it absurd for Cosatu to suggest that the minister should now return the official vehicle, the tools with which he is supposed to deliver on his mandate."

Tools. Mandate. Such flexible words.

One minister, at least, seems to be concerned with the public reaction to unnecessary government spending. Yip, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale drives his own car and flies economy class:

"We need to lead by example. We have to tighten up on expenditure, particularly on some of the big-ticket items such as travel."

I'm working on two theories here. The first is that Tokyo's own car beats the government-sanctioned one. The second is that he's not actually in politics for the freebies. Considering he probably took a pay-cut, I'm leaning towards the latter.

One man not likely to take a pay-cut despite racking up a criminal record (and not the Robben Island kind) is North Gauteng High Court Judge Motata.

Yip, while the JSC and Reverend Ray McCauley (clearly also confused by the word 'minister') quibble with former Constitutional Court judge Kriegler over that other badly-behaved high court judge, the fact that we will now have a criminal determining the fate of other criminals seems to have slipped the nation's notice.

"What is in drunken driving? There is nothing impeachable in it as far as we are concerned," said Motata's lawyer Bantubonke Tokota.

Hmm, the words 'gross misconduct' come to mind. Coincidently, so do the words 'prison' and 'sentence'.

"It's very difficult for him to pay if he gets a fine," said the lawyer who seems to have, at most, a rudimentary grasp of finances. "He's gone through that heavy fine, legal fees were enormous. The salary he earned, is very low. I don't even consider going to the bench. I earn more than 10 times what they earn."

Two points.

One: Motata earns R57 000 a month; that's R684 000 a year. Hardly pocket change. If Tokota is raking in R6 840 000 a year, he is being overpaid, he didn't even get the guy off!

Two: there is always Option B. Yip, 12 months in prison with all those other guys he sent to jail.


Our beneficent president waded into the drama around a man, Sikhumbuzo Mhlongo, who committed suicide after being refused an ID, with the tact of a demolition ball.

"The fact that an official decided to tore (sic) up his application shows violence. It shows that we have no feelings for other people," said Zuma.

So far, so good. But then: "Only cowards kill themselves."

Hmm, what was that about 'no feelings for other people'?

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