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On the 23rd of August, Dr Pali Lehohla had the distinct honour of delivering the Sixth Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Annual Lecture at the University of Fort Hare in East London

The University of Fort Hare is a well of change. For this is where many a leader that formed the African anti-colonial movement and anti- apartheid struggle were schooled and tooled into a formidable front. As we gather today on the occasion of the Sixth Annual Lecture of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, we are reminded of the possibilities of the greatness of South Africa as one amongst nations. The BRICS 2023 Summit hosted by our President, Honourable Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa, reminds us of the greatness of our country amongst nations. The BRICS Summit in South Africa will go down in history as one of the gatherings of the global south, which represents the theme that Fort Hare led in the representative voice of Africa in President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle of Lesotho, and Robert Mangolisswe Sobukwe, amongst many an anti-colonial and anti-apartheid political luminary.

This moment captures perhaps the best foot forward of President Ramaphosa’s leadership in global affairs. The initial India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA) in which President Thabo Mbeki led and played a crucial part was bolstered by President Jacob Zuma as he pushed for South Africa to be a member of BRICS. This BRICS summit held in South Africa constitutes continuity of change and holds promise for nations of the South in the making of a multipolar world, a new civilization that President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China asks that we invest in for the betterment of people and planet.

This, the sixth lecture of Archbishop Makgoba, comes at an opportune time, therefore. It sits at the nexus of hope and hopelessness. I am humbled to be the one who has been chosen to present on this greater than life occasion. This lecture also happens not only at a critical time but on a critical date in our calendar of our record of a charade of debilitating disappointments in our latter half of the three decades of post-apartheid South Africa experience. We are sadly reminded that on this very day, the 23rd of August in 2021, Babita Deokaran, our martyr against corruption, was assassinated. She had barely dropped her daughter at school that morning when she met her fatal day at the hands of bloodthirsty, gun toting tenderpreneurs. Her daughter was scheduled to write her matric exams two months later—which she did and got As against a callous act by the hand of the government that over two years kept some of the fingered officials in office. It is only yesterday that her assassins have been sentenced and one of these has entered into a plea bargain that will possibly reveal the kingpins behind the heinous acts that terminated Deokaran’s life and left an orphan amongst us. Only then did our hapless government decided to suspend some of the officials traced in this connivance. A constant reminder of the greed we have immersed ourselves in. A reminder of the life of danger that ordinary civil servants dedicated to do their work and pursue the project of greatness the South Africa of the Robben Island Treason trialists dedicated their entire life to. It is the dangerous life that Steve Biko, Tsietsi Mashinini, Onkgopotse Tiro, Griffith Mxenge, Victoria Mxenge, Robert Mangoliswe Sobukwe, and Chris Hani dedicated their life to. It is in the same week that the South African Reserve Bank released a terse statement on the Phala Phala matter involving our President. This important summit occurs in the midst of deepened loadshedding and economic performance of the worst kind in our country. Be it in terms of growth, unemployment, inequality, and poverty, all indicators are heading south in South Africa. The deepening crisis of energy, hunger, and poverty has a direct effect on the future. The education of South African children remains on an ever-precarious thread and path with this menacing self-created crisis of a cold rush of blood to the brain to Egypt COP 27.

Our memory of this moment, the summit, glorious and full of promise as it might be, including illusions of grandeur in the mix, should be reality assessed against not the scepticism, but the harsh reality through which South Africa is living today, three decades after independence. One such reflection was the UDF summit last Saturday.

What would have Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said three decades ago in 1994? Such is not difficult to find, because we have the benefit of his reflections on the struggle when he addressed the 40th anniversary of the UDF. He said, “Yes, we have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights which are the envy of the world. Yes, we have democratically-elected Parliament, and we are led by our fifth democratically-elected president. In the language of my predecessors, like Moses and the children of Israel in the Christian Bible, we have escaped the bondage of Egypt. We have achieved much, in housing, in health, and in education. We are a beautiful country. We have accomplished these achievements through the efforts of organisations and individuals who risked everything, even life and limb, to let freedom ring.”

There is no doubt he bubbled like his predecessor Archbishop Desmond Tutu who coined for us the ‘Rainbow Nation’. A rainbow is captured in Biblical terms as that solemn feature that represents the Covenant of God and His Creation after the forty days and forty nights of rain. Archbishop Makgoba’s predecessor departed the world of the living a disappointed man as he observed the deep flaws and failures of our democracy. To this end, in 2016 he warned President Zuma of the fundamental follies of our democracy. He said, “I am warning you, the ANC, I am warning you, Mr Zuma. One day we will pray for the downfall of the African National Congress just as we prayed for the downfall of the National Party.”

In this period of twenty-nine years since attaining our freedom we have seen the nation crumble and the rainbow fading like vapour in the atmosphere chased after rain by the blistering sun that mops up the moisture. With this high-density heat, the rainbow fades and disappears. In the same breath of speaking, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s warning out of love for life and limb, kith and kin, nation and country, and out of concern he has directed his concerns to President Ramaphosa both on COVID-19 corruption and theft that saw the assassination of Deokaran, and, more recently, the lifting of the lid in June 2022 on the best kept Phala Phala presidential secret. The Archbishop accosted the President to take the nation into confidence on this matter of Phala Phala.

On the eve of our democracy was our twin Rwanda which was on a cusp of disaster after almost a million people perished by blade of machetes as brothers, sisters, and neighbours mowed down each other in a frenzy of hatred. A genocide occurred in the same month of our liberation and joy. Rwanda emerged out of this human-caused crisis with nothing but memories of hatred. What President Paul Kagame emerged with was but a miracle. He only had a broom and his people. A broom represents cleanliness. He mobilised his nation towards cleanliness, making Rwanda clean. Today, Rwanda’s memories of genocide cannot be wished away, but their success in physical cleanliness and cleanliness of mind from ethnicity and race inspired hatred has given them respite to think about development and act on it and they have successfully pursued this as a crucial chapter in their life journey towards building a nation.

In contradistinction, South Africa continues to mire itself in what in his address to the UDF Archbishop Makgoba said, “Services we built for our people have collapsed in some areas, and too many public servants have forgotten they are servants of the public. We need to marshal all that we are into hearing and answering the cries of the poor, completing half-finished tasks and responding to the new obstacles that have emerged.”

He said that the country does not need to ask again what is good for the women and children who are battered daily, for the poor who can only dream of going to bed with a full stomach, for the unemployed who stand along the streets of our cities, and the rural poor whom the formal economy does not reach.

“We need to ask again what is good for those who are deprived by the unending spiral of corruption that robs our people of the hard-won victories of our Struggle. Every act of corruption is an act of theft from the poor. We need to ask urgently what is good for the whistle-blowers who are so vulnerable, exposed and in real danger as they seek to put an end to acts of wanton corruption. We need to ask what is good for the foreigner who lives with insecurity as the dark clouds of xenophobia continue to hang low over those look for hope in SA.”

Our Rainbow Nation that we so prided ourselves in has become a stranger of its former self. President Mandela receiving Census 96 results from Statistics South Africa had a lot to say about the stature of South Africa and how not to disappoint those who brought us to power. He lectured us on the matter of remaining true to the nation and the world. He said, “South Africans are feted in the world wherever they go. They receive treatment often accorded to heads of state and kings.” He too cautioned that we should not gamble what worth the world has placed on us as South Africans, “Let us not disappoint the world which has placed so much on South Africa.”

I recall vividly how I experienced the Rainbow Nation magic about sixteen years ago. Allow me to indulge and bore you with the details to illustrate this reality. On a mission to Cote D’Ivoire, I was accompanied by my deputy. As the Statistician-General, I travelled on a Diplomatic Passport and my deputy not. We could not connect in Dakar to Abidjan, so we had to detour through Ouoagadougou where we arrived at eleven o’clock at night. So, we were forced to overnight. I had cleared emigration and my deputy had not because he did needed a visa. The immigration officer looked at the passport more intensely and went into a war cry, “Afrique D’Sud, Bafana Bafana, Mandela Mandela.” A visa appeared through the war cry and the passport was stamped and we went to sleep in Ougoudougou. But we had to be back at the airport by six o’clock in the morning. The immigration official told us that he was on leave, but he will ensure that he will be at the immigration desk to ensure safe passage. And by six o’clock he was there, and we secured safe passage.

We have failed to heed Madiba’s words of “you need to only say you are from South Africa”. We have lost all that respect that our struggle had earned us as a country.

What are the damning statistics about our country? We are fighting and retaining first position or second for the wrong reasons and thus we hold the record of bad practice too often. On the subject of inequality, we hold first position at 0,63 Gini followed by our sibling Namibia.

In unemployment, we hold the world’s record as of 2022 at 33%. Femicide, we hold position six in the world. In Africa, South Africa has the highest Price Level Index at 72% compared to Nigeria at 57% and Egypt at 27%. This implies that we can never compete with Egypt on a number of economic fronts. With the bartered infrastructure, it may even be difficult to compete with Nigeria with its congested infrastructure. The economic implications of this for a high Price Level Index is that South Africa is more expensive on a Purchasing Power Parity Basis.

This makes South Africa prohibitively expensive.

We are not learning from ourselves by experimenting through imitation and scaling. The four-race classification of the population is both a curse and a benefit. As a laboratory from which we can experiment, learn, and bring policies to scale, this would be an ideal infrastructure. For instance, black people today are largely in the same economic space whites were in 1933 when the Carnegie poverty studies were undertaken for whites. Out of the reports, whites resolved to eliminate white poverty. They succeeded in doing so by following all forms of policy and primarily by introducing the apartheid policy. No one would advocate an apartheid policy today, but there is a lot to learn from the Afrikaner when they addressed the national question of the poor Afrikaner. They followed through with a battery of policy and set Afrikaners free from poverty.

Whilst from 2001 to 2011, all 252 municipalities monotonically reduced poverty, by 2011 to 2016 and counting, 82 municipalities had drifted to poverty levels that were higher than they were in those municipalities by 2011. The years post 2016 have had worsening outcomes and the expectation is that the 2022 Census results will certainly bring outcomes of poverty that are higher.

On education outcomes, the country has literally stagnated on a bad plateau and there is no sense of urgency nor direction. For the last twenty years of our democracy, only ten percent of our children reach higher education amongst the blacks and the coloureds. The ten percent that manages to enrol for university as at an appropriate age, a good number will stay longer at university beyond prescribed three-to-four-year time if not thrown out of the system altogether. For every black person enrolled in university as a proportion within their population in the eighties, the proportion amongst whites will be 1.2 times more. By 2016, that proportion had become for every one black person as a proportion within his population there would be six whites within their population group. That did not mean whites were performing better than black people which of course was happening, but the figures reflect deteriorating black performance. Education amongst black people is wasteful not that it is not deserved, but it hardly will take the black population to that destination over which they have a mission critical responsibility to South Africa and the world. Education is priority sixteen according to the survey of 2016 that South Africa mounted amongst the citizens. Priorities is on employment, with water, housing, and electricity hot on the employment heels. With such as our priorities, politicians are not likely to seek votes on the basis of this priority of education but on the basis of what the populace wants and not on their need.

I have on several occasions reported on the question of disappearing fathers in the life of mothers and their children. Whilst I have observed this as an artefact in the statistics I gathered, the implications of these in the reality of mothers and children of the disappeared fathers are dire. Little by way of policy discourse not policy action are these matters addressed. They are attended to glibly as though the lawmakers and bureaucrats of our country are not a product of these broken families. They blindly walk over this broken path and hope for miracles. These conditions are a cause and course for a festering sore that plays out in gender-based violence and the new phenomena of an underperforming boy child.

As regards service delivery, the extent of dispersion in the level of user satisfaction of services tell the tale glaringly. A human settlement as an intended outcome of what a place of abode and community would enjoy is the direct opposite. From housing quality, water to electricity and sanitation, citizens have a terribly dispersed level of satisfaction which rejects any concept or notion of human settlement. With raw sewerage decorating our streets, there is no cohesive plan. Cholera is a disease of the present, absence of electricity is inconceivable, and hunger translates into poor education outcome. To think of human settlements in this our country is inconceivable as a concept. At the heart of our edifice and the essence of the problem of our land is the utter absence of design thinking and system design which is the bedrock of planning. Many want to argue that there is planning. I argue the umpteenth time that there is none. For if there was any, we would not pride ourselves with almost fourteen plans in thirty years, a Christmas box for the nation every two years. Now translate this comedy of the puppeteers’ caravans from national to provincial to district to municipality and further then complicate it with coalition politics and corruption—raw sewerage becomes the product of this effort, qualified audits and corruption is and can only be the product. A failed leadership and a failed state.

On Monday, the scathing critique by the South African Council of Churches (SACC) on the South African Reserve Bank report in its evasive nature on the Phala Phala dollars matter summarises the issues quite appropriately. It is a question Archbishop Makgoba asked the President of the Republic directly in his Easter message this year. He asked that the President take South Africans in his confidence. South Africa is in a space that requires truth and only the truth. Looking back to the detail of Phala Phala, one cannot but admire the comical nature of our state and how far we have fallen from the heights of struggle to the pig stye of greed and conceit.

News24 reported that a mystery Sudanese businessman paid $580 000 to Ramaphosa’s farmhand 45 days before theft. The SARB report following on the Public Protector’s White Wash product and SARS report make for comical reading. Children who will be born in the next hundred years will wonder what this South Africa we are experiencing looked like and if its inhabitants and institutions were of thinkers or of cheerleaders. They will not relate to Madiba, Biko, Sobukwe, Mashinini, and many other stalwarts. They will not relate to the ‘I am an African’ speech by Thabo Mbeki, nor will they relate to Ka Isaka Seme in his seminal ‘Regeneration of Africa’ rendition at Columbia University in 1906. They will wonder what the BRICS Summit was all about when they reflect on the death of Babita, the UDF at 40, and the Sixth Annual Lecture of Archbishop Makgoba. Their contrast of the reports from SARS, the Public Protector, and lately the SARB on the Phala Phala United States Dollars mystery will leave them asking the question whether there ever was a national purpose in the country in practice and in law. To illustrate what I am talking about, there are three essential reports and unfortunately none of them draw from Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s seminal judgement on President Zuma in the matter of Nkandla. This defined in no ambiguous terms who is the person of the president—a constitutional being.

In their report, SARS says the President reported on the income he received and was transparent about this. The Public Protector in her report confines herself to whether the President violated oath of office by performing duties other than those of the president. Yet the Public Protector has powers of investigation as initiated by herself and need not confine herself to what is brought to her by the complainants, which, given the gravity of the matter of a constitutional being, she should have done so. SARB says the dollars in the possession of the president did not represent a transaction over which they can make a finding. This is ludicrous. The SARB document titled, ‘SARB Currency and Exchanges Guidelines for Individuals 2023-04-04’, is an especially important document and Section 3.11 is quite instructive and discusses steps to be taken in the matter of export of goods, receipt of foreign exchange, and how all that should be treated:

3.11 Export of goods

3.11.1 Individuals exporting goods must comply with the following conditions:

(a) complete a SARS Customs Declaration;

(b) sell goods exported within a reasonable time, but no later than six months from the date of shipment;

(c) receive the full foreign currency proceeds in South Africa not later than six months from the date of shipment;

(d) receive payment in foreign currency or Rand from a Rand from a Non-resident Rand account in the name of the non-resident and/or Rand from a vostro account held in the books of the Authorised Dealer;

(e) offer for sale to an Authorised Dealer the full foreign currency proceeds within 30 days after becoming entitled thereto; and

(f) report in writing to an Authorised Dealer the non-receipt of the full foreign currency proceeds, within the prescribed period, as well as the failure to sell the goods exported within six months from the date of shipment.

The question that remains unanswered is whether or not then the financial statements that the President submitted to and accepted by SARS are valid given that SARB finds the transaction to have been incomplete? What has SARB made of the financial statements and have they invalidated the conclusion that SARS made? Why has the Public Protector not extended the mandate she has over the questions that SARB says are beyond their mandate? The Public Protector by law is so empowered to deal with matters in her own right. By doing so, we would be left with no contradictions in this matter and Archbishop Makgoba, the SACC, and the nation would not be left with a circumlocutous argument that runs through the Public Protector, SARS, and SARB.

When those who are empowered to act ethically, legally, judiciously without fear or favour, fail to do so, they steal the dream of the nation. They eat at its moral fibre. Many in the UDF need to look at the dirt poverty and massive reversals in progress as a true mirror.

In the words of Archbishop Magoba, this mirror says “We need to ask again what is good for those who are deprived by the seemingly unending spiral of corruption that robs our people of the hard-won victories of our Struggle. Every act of corruption is an act of theft from the poor. We need to ask urgently what is good for the whistle-blowers who are so vulnerable, exposed and in real danger as they seek to put an end to acts of wanton corruption. We need to ask what is good for the foreigner who lives with insecurity as the dark clouds of xenophobia continue to hang low over those look for hope in SA.”

Makgoba said that the Struggle was not over and that South Africans cannot simply revel in past victories. Too much remains to be changed.

“I know that for myself I will only be able to hold my identity as a child of the UDF with pride, if in the here and now we resolve to end the blight that still mars the landscape of our country. Yes, we won our rights, but like Moses and the children of Israel, we have escaped the bondage of Egypt only to go astray, wandering in the wilderness. Now, are we, like them, condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years? No, I say, No! That cannot be so!”

He wanted to tell young South Africans that they were (in their present predicament) because the promises of democracy were not being realised.

“We can understand your disillusionment, we understand why you are opting out of politics and public life. But that is not the answer to our crisis. That will not secure you and your children’s future. No, the answer to our crisis is for you to roll up your sleeves and make the New Struggle a new struggle for a new generation,” he said.

He added that the young people in the country should dig deep into the radical roots of the old Struggle against apartheid, and dare to dream and work for a country in which there is justice, equity, and equality of opportunity.

“And the older cadres among us need to use our resources to help young people in this struggle. In faith communities, religious leaders need to make our houses of worship ‘voting sanctuaries’, where young people can receive guidance on how to register. We can host workshops on voter education and provide instruction on our electoral system. Civil society needs to partner with business to raise funds for an historic effort to revitalise our democracy and get us moving again, so that we can realise the promises of our Constitution,” he said.

As the 23rd of August is etched in our development calendar as the BRICS moment in South Africa, it will be entombed in the blood of Babita Deokaran. This is the spike that should keep our conscience alive and act on the words of Chief Albert Luthuli in his ten Commandments. His first is the most appropriate: “It is so easy to admire a person, to admire what he or she stood for or stands for, and yet shrink from cutting off the mission of the present.”

This is the call to the nation.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the director of the Economic Modelling Academy, a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, a Research Associate at Oxford University, a board member of Institute for Economic Justice at Wits, and a distinguished Alumni of the University of Ghana. He is the former Statistician-General of South Africa.