The public health-care system in the Eastern Cape has been in dire conditions for decades, and as some commentators have pointed out, has finally collapsed under the strain of Covid19 infections. Nowhere has the failure of governance been unambiguous than in the Eastern Cape, where corruption, mismanagement, indifference, and sheer incompetence have ensured that the province has been leading in Covid19 infections.
On the 18th February 2021, Premier Oscar Mabuyane made a long-overdue decision to fire Former Eastern Cape MEC, Ms. Sindiswa Gomba. This came after numerous calls, since the start of the pandemic for the former MEC to step down, and undeniably so, these calls went into death ears resulting in an increase in corruption within the Health sector, but also unnecessary deaths that could have been avoided. Although the decision by Premier, Oscar Mabuyane is welcomed we must criticize the extent and impact of the delay of such a decision.
After refusing to resign without a fight, axed Eastern Cape, MEC of Health, Sindiswa Gomba has since implicated other politicians for misdemeanors (writes Sunday Times,21 Feb 2021) arguing that “she was sent by her party” and is displeased that she was alienated. This is understandable, considering that she was fired for the same incompetence and criminal allegations that the same party usually condones. The Eastern Cape has over the years notoriously earned a reputation for blatant corruption that is not only criminal but disgustingly immoral, Illustrating moral decay in the ANC. The ANC in the EC has been referred to as a ‘criminal enterprise masquerading as a political party’, which has lost its cause for fighting for the dignity of Black people. Ironically, Premier Oscar Mabuyane is allegedly implicated in the same atrocities (i.e. corruption).
Corruption & mismanagement:
The main challenges to leadership in South Africa include a crisis of leadership, where corruption, nepotism, and cadre deployment are hallmarks of South Africa’s political leadership. The systematic State Capture has damaged state institutions and abandoned the once-revered concept of Ubuntu. Corruption has been a huge concern for South Africa for years and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop now- CORRUPTION is the only sector of the Eastern Cape economy that seems to be booming.
Corruption scandals in the Eastern Cape have gone from astonishing to ‘no longer surprising’. There was, however shock and disbelief at leaked invoices from OR Tambo municipality showing an invoice worth millions for a “door-to-door Covid19 awareness” campaign at a time when it was illegal to leave one’s home under level 5 lockdown. This is how things are done in the Eastern Cape.
The province’s leadership also fielded hard questions about a slew of allegations of corruption ranging from the use of a guest house owned by a politician’s (MEC for Transport, Safety, and Liaison, Weziwe Tikana- Gxotiwe) daughter as an isolation facility, to unexplained payments by the OR Tambo district municipality, improper procurement of sanitisers and the infamous “scooter project”. Corruption and mismanagement are not incidental. They are instead a reflection of how the Eastern Cape has been run since the advent of democracy.
Consequently, those working in the frontline of fighting the virus faced challenges of insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), resulting in frontline workers refusing to work fearing risk of exposure &Vulnerability. Massive corruption surrounding the purchase and supply of PPE has placed front-line workers and immediate family at risk, increasing infections & deaths- that could have prevented by the ANC-led government.
Management and leadership crisis.
The Eastern Cape is the epitome (reflection) of SA leadership. Although the Eastern Cape has produced unforgettable stalwarts, including Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Albertina Sisulu, Martin Thembisile Hani, Raymond Mhlaba, Steve Biko, and Winnie Madikizela Mandela to name a few, the management of the pandemic under the ruling party in which these stalwarts represented exposed the moral decay that’s imminent within the African National Congress. The question remains, how is it possible that a province that has produced such astute leaders still faces challenges of deep engraved poverty, inequality, and poverty?
As we approach the 2021 National Municipality elections, one cannot miss the opportunity to reflect on the governance of ANC during a pandemic. South Africans have been ruled by unethical leaders for decades. The most vulnerable of our people have endured oppressive policies and leaders who steal from the public. The ruling party seems to have normalised corruption. For them, it is primarily ‘politics of the stomach’ and enrichment of family, and friends. Honesty and integrity are very distant from their minds.
We must professionalize the public sector- a point made by the current President of the ANC during his recycled SONA speech (2021). Appointments should be based on merit, competence, and a commitment to ethical service.
It is rather ironic, how President Cyril’s administration (New Dawn) is ‘seen’ as fighting corruption when in fact the same administration has been implicated in BIGGER atrocities; showing that the issue is the ANC. Those that called for the province to be placed under administration ignore the power of political patronage. The Eastern Cape ANC was a crucial voting bloc supporting his presidential ambitions, it’s unlikely that Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa will pull the plug on the ‘cesspool of incompetence and corruption’. There is a sense of entitlement from the ANC which dehumanizes the same BLACKS it is was established to liberate. Unfortunately, those who have grown frustrated either will leave or the ANC must face the real prospect of electoral defeat before any meaningful action is taken.
Notably, the decline in quality health care has caused the public to lose trust in the healthcare system in South Africa. Although inadequate leadership and excessive bigotry have played a role in these shortcomings, other factors such as the unequal distribution of resources, increased disease burden, political interference, dilapidated hospital buildings, outdated infrastructure and issues of hospitals being under-staffed has further crippled the Health sector.
Vaccine roll-out in the EC.
In early January, Mkhize promised that the vaccine purchases would be free from the gross corruption we have come to associate with government procurement & ANC. The public has a right to be informed, for example, of the steps been taken to roll out a vaccine, the widespread distribution of which is critical to any viable recovery of the economy, let alone the prevention of unnecessary deaths. An accountable government does not only employ media set pieces; it allows the public through the media, to ask a host of questions on issues that affect their lives. Effectively, commentators have suggested that rolling out of a Covid-19 vaccine in the Eastern Cape will require the province to up its game like never before and start thinking “out the box”.
As debates around the procurement of vaccines- and how they will be transported, stored, and distributed continue, there is enormous rage resulting from distrust between the ANC & its citizens – hugely impacting on the vaccine – communication roll-out strategy. Undeniably so, the scepticism, and daily doses of misinformation are entrenched within “ANC factions among the central organising fault
lines in the Covid 19 misinformation maelstrom” argues Dennis Wester (2021). Having noted the distrust between Government and its Citizens, more specifically greater in the Eastern Cape, there are still concerns of whether the ANC-led provincial department will effectively roll-out and convince citizens of the better-good of vaccines. Politics have proven to play a pivotal role in how the public buys into the Covid19 vaccine; however, denialism seems to be consistent with the ruling party, from corruption to Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS denialism and most recently, the GBV pandemic.
Food parcels and water shortages
While many called for the easing of lockdown regulations, millions of financially strapped citizens across the country continued to struggle with access to food relief. Although various systems had been put in place to ensure fair distribution to qualifying households, there have been several controversies around food parcel distribution including the politicisation of food, favouritism, and mismanagement of food parcels by councillors at a municipal level. Only the lowest of the low steal from the sick, destitute, and the dying. A disgrace to humanity.
I note the well-deserved monthly R350 unemployment contribution by the Government. In the EC, Black people continue to be dehumanized in long, super spreader ques to survive. Hopefully, the ANC doesn’t discontinue these remedial programmes AFTER elections.
How can South Africa recover from the crisis?
Despite signs that the current wave of the Covid-19 pandemic may be stabilising or past the peak in the Eastern Cape & some parts of the country, the ANC faces a crisis of confidence, credibility, and legitimacy, in the light of reports of widespread pillage. There has been a state of panic and unpreparedness in the Eastern Cape over Covid-19 infections in the province. This has manifested itself through poor planning, indecisive ANC leadership, and a failure to be proactive in the quarantine process to combat further local infections. The ruling party has become anti-poor.
The current looting raises questions about the ANC’s present, past, and future. The way many people relate to the current looting bears to some extent on how they view the ANC, what it has meant to them in the past and what they hope for or expect to happen in the future.
We can only hope that Ms. Gomba doesn’t get redeployed as possibly “Minister of Social Development”, seeing that she is still a member of parliament & allegedly planning to expose others within the EC government *sic*
Aphiwe Ntlemeza is an Academic writer, Feminist, Researcher, Columnist, and Political commentator. She holds a Masters Degree in Sociology from the University of Fort Hare.