The furore that is currently making headlines over South African president, Jacob Zuma’s autonomous and shocking decision to fire Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister and replace him with an unknown, David van Rooyen, has made me do some thinking. Linked to that fiasco is the public outrage that has been unleashed on Zuma, namely the #ZumaMustFall campaign and that too, got me thinking hard.
What is there to think about, one might wonder? This is an obvious case of the evil forces of cronyism and favouritism taking centre stage in government and an indication of clear abuse of presidential power. It is therefore no wonder that many folk are hot and bothered in the collar. Well the thoughts that are churning in my head have to do with wondering just how much of cronyism, favouritism, nepotism, racism, tribalism and other “ -isms” are out there. We often attribute these undesirable practices to government departments and government officials.
Do not be hoodwinked though to think for a minute that the private sector is clean of such ills. It is not a lie to state that some of the most corrupt and underhanded dealings and deeds are found in the private sector, in small companies, large corporations, as well as NGOs (who on paper are the embodiment of transparency). What Zuma did to Nene, is what scores of corrupt and power hungry managers and employers do every day in the corporate and non-governmental worlds. They hire and fire willy-nilly, based on discriminatory “-isms” without considering qualifications, competence, experience and other factors that are in the interests of the organisation.
Huge sums are diverted to the personal coffers of company administrators at the expense of shareholder’s dividends. Other millions are rerouted away from the tax man through complex tax evasion tricks masterminded by accounting wizards. Price fixing cartels are created by industrial giants to eat away at the consumer’s pocket. Workers are exploited and abused and yet they continue to toil in silence for fear of losing their jobs.
Why then is it that we hear mostly about the incompetence and mismanagement of President Zuma and his government officials and very little of what happens in the private sector? The answer lies in the number of stakeholders. A company manager probably has to account only to the board of the company and to a lesser extent, the shareholders and unions. This number is very small in comparison to the millions that have a say in the affairs of government by virtue of being tax payers. If a company is headed by its owner, accountability can be close to non-existent. Unlike the voting populace that has strength in numbers and can easily march to the Union Buildings, employees of private concerns are often overcome by the fear that they can be easily replaced or victimised if they dare voice any dissent publicly.
Unions are not always able to expose and fight against these evil practices. Perpetrators of unethical “-isms” often go scot free as a result of these challenges. This should not be the case, and I personally believe that anyone who heads an entity, be it a charity, an NGO, a government department or country for that matter, should always be made to account for his or her actions of governance. Even where it may seem as if there are few or no available options of redress, remember that there are always options. At times just exposing bad governance is enough to keep it in check. The practice of “-isms” must fall and everyone has a duty to stand up and play their part in this noble and necessary fight.