Imraan Buccus: There are good people in government doing good work

Imraan Buccus. Picture: Independent Newspapers

Imraan Buccus. Picture: Independent Newspapers

Published May 17, 2024


By Imraan Buccus

There is a massive crisis of corruption in our society, and when jobs are allocated on the basis of political and personal patronage things can only go wrong. Nobody can deny that the state and the state owned enterprises have been in crisis for years. Corruption and patronage is part of the problem and we need to be uncompromising in our rejection of corruption and patronage.

We need to celebrate and commemorate people like Babita Deokaran and others who have been killed for standing up to corruption as authentic national heroes.

However it is seldom acknowledged that these crises in the state and state owned enterprises are multi-factorial, and that a key cause is years of austerity, of deliberate underfunding. We have seen across the world that austerity is often a prelude to privatisation, which is exactly what we are now seeing in areas like aviation, rail, ports and electricity where private capital is increasingly taking over from the state.

As Noam Chomsky, the great American dissident, put it: the standard technique of privatisation is to “defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital”.

In the UK progressive academics have also shown that, along with austerity, another standard prelude to the surrender of the state to private capital are media campaigns demonising all government workers as lazy, corrupt and so on. Once this has been effective it is easy to say that the private capital should step in to ‘fix’ the situation.

In South Africa the hysterical and supercilious tone often adopted by the white liberal media when dealing with state corruption is not present when dealing with white corporate corruption. This crude racial double standard is a matter of deep concern, and we should be very concerned when the white dominated media assumes that it is a heroic actor battling against a mostly black state.

This attitude has also reared its ugly head in the way in which trade unionists opposing privatisation have had their reputations trashed and been presented as corrupt and without any actual evidence being produced to prove corruption. It has sometimes seemed as though the media assumes that anyone who believes in public ownership must automatically be corrupt.

The fact is that there are many excellent and committed civil servants working very hard, and sometimes in very difficult conditions, to render services to our people. As frustrated as we all are, across race and class, by our many bad experiences of government workers in police stations, hospitals and the like, we have all also experienced people working in government who are decent people doing their best in their jobs, and sometimes going far beyond what is expected.

One such person is DIRCO’s Director-General, Zane Dangor. He is a hugely impressive man. Speaking to older activists it is clear that since his involvement in civil society and activist circles in the 1980s he has been known to be a selfless servant of the people. It comes as no surprise that he comes from an activist family with an impressive pedigree.

He also has impressive international experience having worked with the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington, DC, focusing on transitional justice issues in West Africa.

Many talk about how dinner and lunch meetings with him are often consumed by talk involving making SA work, and the broader national interest.

Dangor is one of a number of principled people who have been smeared in our media as being patsies for Iran by the conspiracy theorising that has run amok in white liberal circles since the beginning of the Ukraine war. This is complete nonsense, of course. In reality Dangor’s quiet behind the scenes work around the ICJ case and the crisis in Gaza has deservedly won him deep respect from progressive activists around the world.

Dangor is just one instance of excellence and commitment in our civil service. There are many, many others. From the kind cleaner in home affairs making sure that there is a seat for an elderly person, to the police officer who risks her life in the course of her duty, to the teacher who gets super results in a neglected school and the nurse who goes the extra mile in an underfunded hospital to people much higher up in the system.

We need to acknowledge all the good people doing good work in government and offer them our gratitude, respect and support. Across the board condemnations are untrue and unhelpful and often function to open the way for profit seeking private capital to muscle into what should be publicly owned and focussed parts of our society.

We need a lot more nuance, and that is something that is in short supply around the braai fires, in newsrooms, and in boardrooms around South Africa.

* Dr Imraan Buccus is a political analyst.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.