We’re in power yet powerless

We’re in power yet powerless

THIS past week alone three incidents of a seemingly unrelated nature, but of profound importance in analysing how our government fails to wield the immense power in its hands, took place within a space of a few days from one another.
One involved a serving minister and his principal secretary; the other also a serving minister and her bitter political rival in the constituency; and the threatened court case by the DC and the four senior lawyers challenging the impending appointment of former Chief Justice Judge Mahapela Lehohla as acting judge president of the Court of Appeal following the aborted appointment of retired South African constitutional judge Yvonne Mokgoro.

Let me start with the story of the battle for supremacy between the Minister of Trade and his principal secretary. This sad story paints a picture of a complete breakdown of working relations between the two men. So severe is the breakdown that the principal secretary has since stopped consulting and cooperating with the minister on almost everything related to the running of the ministry.

In one incident, if the minister’s version is to be believed, the principal secretary took a trip to Israel without even bothering to seek permission from the minister. Although the issue of the misuse of the ministry’s vehicle ended being central to the story, the truth is that it was only a symptom of the malaise affecting the ministry leading to the irretrievable breakdown of trust between the minister and his PS.

Just a week prior to this incident, another incident, also involving a minister from the ABC which is the main coalition partner in government boasting of fifty one (51) seats in parliament, and her bitter rival from the same constituency were involved in an ugly public spat which saw the constituency elections there postponed for the third time in a row.

According to the information gathered it appears the issue at the heart of the endless postponements is the power tussle between the two protagonists namely, the minister and Lithabaneng MP Matebatso Doti and highly influential ABC activist and former NUM union organiser Montoeli Masoetsa.
Allegations on both sides of the divide point towards one intractable problem: the inability to manage relations. One who is holding the reins of power in the constituency is accused by one who is “outside looking in” of dictatorial tendencies, paranoia, intolerance, sowing the seeds of division in the constituency etc.

The one holding power equally accuses her opponent of being a sore loser after she walloped him in the constituency primaries just a few months ago. So intense has the acrimony been between the two leaders that Doti’s supporters have been accused of orchestrating a smear campaign against Masoetsa by falsely linking him with a move to Mojapela’s party, the Socialist Revolutionaries.
The move appears to have backfired as Mojapela’s party has vehemently denied the allegations of Masoetsa’s membership and instead blamed the internal fights within the ABC for the smears.

Now back to the Minister of Trade. In less than twenty four hours later, the same Minister of Trade, still brimming with confidence from public support following the publicisation of the spats between him and his principal secretary, launched a vitriolic verbal attack during a Harvest FM programme.

The minister lashed out at a radio presenter, Puseletso Mphana, accusing her of provoking a fight within the ABC. What had happened is that two well-known and highly respected ABC activists, Katiso Phasumane and Rapholo Serobanyane had requested the station to invite them as guests to discuss matters of national importance.

This was not the first time the two activists had been on air as guests; they are regularly in the media to defend their party and to engage in a wide range of issues affecting the government.

When the minister interrupted the programme asking to be given time to clarify the government’s position on one of the points raised by the two activists, shocked listeners could not have imagined what was to follow next.
Instead of “clarifying” the government’s position the minister hurled accusations on the presenter accusing her and the station of attacking his party. He did not stop there; he dared the presenter to openly come out and say so if “what you are declaring is a war against ABC”.

Despite the calm protestations from the presenter the irate minister called the respected activists “those ordinary men there in the studio.” This was uncalled for and the minister knew it. To date no apology has been received. It’s unlikely it will come anytime soon.
In yet another unrelated but equally significant incident a judge from South Africa who was touted for the position of acting judge president of the Court of Appeal to preside over Prof Mositio’s appeal had her purported appointment terminated by government. The judge’s name is retired former constitutional judge Yvonne Mokgoro.

The information gathered for the premature termination of appointment is that there was an initial list, approved by government, of judges identified to sit on Prof. Mosito’s appeal case. The approved names were Judges Mokgoro, Musonda, Musi, Chinhengo and serving high court judge Mahlajoane.
What we came to learn this very past week, is that the proposed acting judge, allegedly without any prior consultation with the Attorney General replaced the agreed list with one of her own comprising mostly white Afrikaans male judges.

This was a straw that broke the camel’s back. The reputational damage done by white South African Afrikaans judges in this country’s judicial system will take years to fix. White South African judges never hid their intentions on why they accepted appointments to sit on appeal cases in this country.
In line with internationally acceptable standards, Judge Mokgoro was removed in the dignified manner that has come to be associated with the 4×4 government. Prof Mosito’s fate could not be decided by “red lipped” judges who almost nearly ruined his judicial career two years ago when they found him guilty in the tribunal.

According to the then attorney general’s memo to the then PM, the AG boasted that he had found what he called “top notch judges” from South Africa to find Prof Mosito guilty of tax evasion no matter what. Fortunately, the gazette appointing Justice Mokgoro was withdrawn before publication. In her place the government has resolved to appoint former High Court Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla.

Justice Lehohla is a judge of high moral and professional standing who currently serves as a chairman of the IEC. We have already established that the predictable four senior lawyers are planning to block his appointment. The cite comments once made by the current prime minister two years ago which they argue make Justice Lehohla unfit to hold office.

As usual they are confident of a resounding victory. What really irks me is that their prediction is almost possibly true. Never once have these four senior lawyers lodged a case in the High Court against the government and Prof Mosito and lost.

Is this a government that is in power that is tossed around like a toy by these four lawyers? Are we really in control of the immense power in our hands when we cannot win even a single court case whenever these four lawyers are involved?
Please do not leave out the opposition as confirmed by DC’s spokesman Serialong Qoo last Sunday on MoAfrika FM. He said they too plan to approach the court to block Justice Lehohla’s appointment. The oozing confidence of assured victory by your opponents is indicative of a government that is paralysed by inability to use the power in its hands. Power is all about perception.

The two earlier examples of the minister and his principal secretary and the power tussle at Lithabaneng constituency also fall within the same classification. We have power in our hands, as a government and by extension through our ruling parties that make up the composition of the 4×4 government.

Yet surprisingly we seem overwhelmed by the threat posed by the people who have lost power in elections and we are trapped by our own self-doubts. Our inability to understand how power is effectively utilised to one’s advantage is our Achille’s Heel.
The public spats between the minister and his PS should not even have spilled into the public domain. Equally speaking the ABC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) should not have allowed the Lithabaneng crisis to degenerate into the farce it now appears to be. It’s time we started using the enormous power in our hands effectively.

 By Thato Damane

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