The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

STEPPED DOWN: Nhlanhla Nene

It has taken three weeks for the Saudi government to admit that a journalist was murdered inside its embassy in Turkey.  Yet we still do not know what happened. Rest in peace, Jamal Khashoggi.

But South Africa is in no position to criticize Saudi Arabia for hiding the truth. Its Finance Minister recently resigned after apologizing to South Africans for lying to them. He had denied ever visiting the Gupta mansion in Saxonwold, and finally came clean that he had been a frequent visitor there, during his first stint as Finance Minister.

This was shocking because he had been held in high esteem for taking the high road – refusing to sign off on the ill-conceived Nuclear deal when under duress, being sacked by a rogue president as Finance Minister who replaced him with a mere sycophant. Then for being called back as Finance Minister on Ramaphosa’s new dawn team. We watched the Rand climb back out of a hole during his second tenure.

Then came his awesome testimony before the State Capture commission.  And suddenly, an unexpected confession, although under pressure from the opposition parties.

He fell on his sword not because he colluded with the Guptas in any way, all his testimony stands as he told it.  Except he must have realized that either the Guptas or someone else might have been recording his conversations there.  A security guard had been calmly noting down all the vehicles that came and went, as a routine. He must have realized that Truth has a way of coming to light. Sooner or later.

And honestly, he set the gold standard for us – he finally blurted out the truth, and apologized to the nation. There has been too much denialism; too much blame-shifting; too much ducking and diving. The strategy of choice here is to threaten that you will sue for Defamation. Intimidation tactics.

It is time to get out the Lie Detector.  We need to start putting both whistle-blowers and defendants through Polygraph Testing. It is not enough on its own, but as a way of validating testimony, it can be very useful.

It is against the Constitution to compel a person to undergo a polygraph examination, unless she or he consents to it. The consent must be in writing. It is only a test used to verify a person’s truthfulness. But what does it tell you when a witness declines to give their consent?

There would be no such crime as Fraud if it were easy to tell a liar from an honest witness.  Especially with psychopaths, they feel no remorse to lie. And as many as one out of twenty-five people in the population has sociopathic tendencies.  They won’t all score high (40 is tops) on the checklist devised by Dr. Hare but some will score from 20 – 30 which will make them capable liars.  Only those above 30 could be called “pathological liars” but deception is at the root of cover-ups.

Perhaps the greatest American President of them all was Abraham Lincoln, who people called “Honest Abe”. He is so often quoted as saying that “honesty is the best policy”. Now voices are saying that South Africa needs a second TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission).  In short, an exchange of amnesty for honesty. Some bristle at this suggestion, demanding that those who have looted and plundered must face the consequences – time in jail.  “Correctional” services.

But the costs of law enforcement is high.  And the perpetrators of State Capture were very clever – they drove a wedge between investigating (SAPS) and prosecuting (NPA).  For example, they closed the Scorpions, which operated like anti-corruption units in most countries – with a dual capability. This has taken the teeth out of law enforcement and explains why so little gets done once people are exposed by ombudswomen or judicial commissions. And why it takes forever.  They were clever enough to blunt the instruments of justice in case they ever did get caught.

Someone has been recording the number of lies told by Donald Trump. So some now find it hard to believe anything that he says.

South Africa needs someone to catalogue the lies that have been told here.  Not just Nene’s confession but when people have been caught lying to the courts and to Parliament and its oversight committees.  There is only one thing worse than liars – that is, liars with bad memories.  They can’t even remember their own web of deception and end up contradicting themselves.  Or their testimony doesn’t line up with someone else’s so you know that one is lying and one is telling the truth.

Before we go to offering amnesty for honesty, let us go to Polygraph Testing.

Chuck Stephens is the Executive Director for the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership and writes in his personal capacity.