Walking the private-public tightrope

2011-07-31 10:00
Ralph Mathekga
The fiasco surrounding ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s trust fund raises important questions about the line between the public and private realms.

The main contention has been that the details regarding the trust fund need to be made public and that Malema must account for the source of funds in the trust.

Malema has retorted that there is nothing inappropriate about the trust fund and that matters relating to the fund fall strictly within the private realm.

This issue cannot be resolved by drawing a technical line between what is private and what should be available for public scrutiny.

Beyond the technicality of whether details of Malema’s private accumulation of wealth need to be made public is an important question, one that touches on how a post-liberation citizen relates to the state in South Africa, and perhaps across the continent.

The moral code that defines the private life of a post-liberation citizen is too divergent from the moral code that defines the citizen in a public realm.

The divergence in terms of the moral code is stark when one observes how a post-liberation citizen relates to the state or government institutions.

Looting from the state is not seen as morally unjustifiable because the state is still understood as a distant body that we walk into and walk out of, alternating the moral code accordingly.

If Malema had a good relationship with the state and applied a higher moral code in this realm, he would find it unacceptable to be involved in the alleged fee-for-tender scheme.

The idea that the media have a vendetta against a “young black boy enjoying a lavish life” is another way of saying that looting from the state seems to be a problem only when it is done by a certain group of people.

The undertone is that whites stole from the apartheid state, so why is it a problem when blacks steal from the state?

What this reveals for South Africa is that there is a need to rehabilitate the relationship between the post-liberation citizen and the state in South Africa.

The fight against corruption requires measures to bridge the gap and remove mistrust between the citizen and the state – a way to reconcile the moral code that applies in the private realm and the public realm.

» Mathekga is the founder and director of Clearcontent Research and Consulting (www.clearcontent.co.za). He is a political analyst and commentator