ANC's mantra of 'collective responsibility' is to pass the buck
Or, as some would have it, South Africans must take “collective responsibility” for the failures of their leaders. That’s the latest refrain from within President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration, presumably because blaming everything on apartheid is beginning to wear thin.
The ANC has for a while been casting about for a more persuasive target than the 1652 arrival of Jan van Riebeeck. It seems that the preferred solution is to spread the blame more evenly and more widely than just targeting whities. Niftiest of all, if it works, is that it would mean ordinary citizens would voluntarily be taking on the crippling responsibilities that their leaders are shrugging off.
Fikile Mbalula - who variously styles himself on social media as Mr Fix, Mr FearF*** All and Razzmatazz, while publishing a daily stream of selfies - is very keen on collective guilt, um, responsibility.
One of the loads that Mbalula would like to drop is culpability for the failure of his government to control the lawless minibus taxi sector. Last week, outlining what’s to be done about the festive season’s road carnage, he said, “We must all appreciate that safety on our roads is a collective responsibility that we must all shoulder.”
No doubt already feeling wonderfully lighter, Mr Fix then turned to the problem of torched commuter trains, which have cost the Passenger Rail Agency R636 million in the past three years. Last year, 1496 rail coaches were destroyed and passenger numbers halved, yet not a single person has been successfully prosecuted.
Not my problem, says Razzmatazz. “The duty to improve our rail service is a collective one,” he tweeted last week. The “organs of civil society must champion the fight against criminality”.
Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Public Enterprises, has been quick to pick up the baton and lighten his own load. This past Sunday, he issued a statement saying that it is our “collective responsibility” as South Africans to support SAA in its efforts to restore sales confidence among its customers and rebuild revenues in the shortest possible time.
He neglects to mention that our collective responsibility may come with a substantial cost and despite the warnings of the unions that the planes are safety risks, having been patched with pirate parts, as well as that several travel groups and insurers will no longer guarantee the tickets.
Gordhan is unperturbed. While the government won’t actually step in to underwrite your dodgy purchase - it is, however, willing in the short term to toss in a few billion towards a business rescue - but “we reassure customers and encourage them to buy tickets with confidence”.
The DA’s Geordin Hill-Lewis, the party’s finance spokesperson, has rejected the idea of an act of nationwide clenched-jaw endurance. Rather, he said: “The public could force SAA into closure in a matter of days, by simply refusing to fly on it, so that it can be wound up and sold off.”
The only kind of collective responsibility that the ANC is not prattling on about is the traditional kind.
In other words, the Ramaphosa faction is not eager to take collective responsibility for turning a blind eye to state capture. And the Cabinet slithers away from collective responsibility for its non-performing ministers. And the ANC itself won’t ever take collective responsibility for allowing its thieving and incompetent cadres to be deployed to the top jobs in critical national institutions.
But it’s not only an ANC problem. There is unfortunately also the electorate’s collective responsibility for letting them get away with such behaviour.
What’s to be done about the ANC’s inclination towards collective irresponsibility?
In the spirit of New Year resolutions peeping coyly at us from just a few weeks down the road, may I recommend to Ramaphosa and his crew a daring alternative to the “collective responsibility” of SA’s citizenry.
It comes from a US president, Harry S Truman, who had the sign on his desk: “The buck stops here.”
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