There are still decent people who run our civil service

Acting government communications spokesperson Phumla Williams testified at the state capture inquiry. Nokuthula Mbatha African News Agency (ANA)

Acting director general at the Government Communications and Information Service (GCIS) and government spokesperson Phumla Williams this week gave a personal account of her dealings with state capture.  

While her testimony may not have been as explosive as that former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, it equally offered us an intriguing glimpse into the civil service that was run between the Union Buildings and the Gupta family compound in Saxonworld. In front of Judge Raymond Zondo stood a decorated anti-apartheid activist who wanted to protect the republic from the claws of the Gupta until one Faith Muthambi hounded her to near madness.

In an emotional testimony, which also featured a lot of tears, Williams recounted how she became a nervous wreck because Muthambi – who sulked every time people failed to call her honourable minister – fought her over supply chain management at the GCIS. Williams said Muthambi wanted to steal for the Guptas at all costs. Her graphic recollection was underpinned by her absolute belief in good governance.

Days before, Themba Maseko, a man who once held Williams’ position, also emphasised  the two little words – good  governance – as key to serving a nation. It does not require nuclear physics to understand what good governance means to a country. It is the window that the outside world uses to determine its attitude towards that country and an instrument investors use to decide on where their monies should be ploughed. It is through good governance that governments in particular are able to ascertain what their budgets should look like and how much revenue would be generated to fund what expenditure.

It is something that sensible people such as Judge Mervyn King take so serious that they spend years to craft to guide good corporate behaviour in South Africa. For a country that is struggling to balance its revenues and expenditure – a high school basic requirement to pass accounting and economics – good governance is key to success. It is a principle that has governed the idea behind revenue collection the world over because while citizens feel that that paying taxes is an irritation, it is a necessary to fund state programmes that make a country attractive enough to call home.

Now you would expect a qualified lawyer like Muthambi to understand the importance of such a principle and why it is important to protect it. Yet Williams’ testimony confirmed what we have always suspected – that good governance is as alien to Muthambi as a virus to a body. After all she once ran down a rural municipality and bungled the country’s digital migration process without batting an eyelid.

People who have worked with her tell of a petulant bully that made the ignorance official positions a pastime. Parliamentarians say she bunked meetings and told those who wanted her to account that she was only answerable to former president Jacob Zuma. And so as the commission continues, we will hear more of how the capturing of the republic was largely helped by people like her, Des van Rooyen and Mosebenzi Zwane by leaking confidential cabinet information such as departmental budgets, government strategy and procurement spending plans to Saxonworld even before the executive had seen it. 

Jonas has already told us how the Guptas wanted to increase their loot from R6 billion to R8bn through him and were willing to pay him in advance for his co-operation on the matter. Former public protector Thuli Madonsela has also told us how, for example, funds that were meant to empower black farmers in Vrede ended up funding a laving wedding for one of the Gupta children. 

We will hear how Gupta acolytes such as Brian Molefe, Anoj Singh, Mzwanele Manyi and Andile Mngxitama reap huge benefits such from such dereliction of duty. And how they became regulars at the compound so much so that they got to known the Gupta brothers on first name basis.

We will feel justified in our despair at we see them standing by Zuma’s side during his court appearances on corruption charges. We will be angry that Muthambi has suddenly become the modern day version of the biblical Mary Magdalene who refused to shun the Son of Man in his hour of need.
And we will cry out at how someone like Maseko could be fired for refusing to help the Guptas land the government’s lucrative R600 million advertising spend. 

We will take heart that while there are many charlatans like Muthambi in our midst, and that it will take South Africa years to disentangle itself from the claws of the Gupta vultures, all is not lost as there are still decent people who run our civil service. And we will forever be grateful to them for remaining faithful to the constitution.

Sechaba ka’Nkosi is the Business Report’s deputy editor.