The Era Of McCarthyism Firmly Upon Us

By Akuba Mokoena

MINISTER Nhlanhla Nene finally confirmed in a letter of apology last week Friday that he had met the Guptas, not once but six times in his capacity as deputy finance minister and finance minister. And in the era where purely on suspicion one is guilty, he has been firmly lynched and his appointment as minister of finance or any position in cabinet now looks very slim. What started as a week in which the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) ignited a campaign that bayed for his blood, the week ended in a spectacular fall for the minister. The contradiction between his testimony at the Zondo Commission into state capture and a television interview earlier, and finally, an article in the Mail & Guardian about a conflict of interest in which the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) gave his son’s business partner a loan – all sealed his demise. Nene was on the board of the PIC at the time.

It is interesting that Nene is being criticised more for meeting the Guptas than for his possible influence in the deal between the PIC and his son’s business.

Did Nene do anything wrong when he met the Guptas? Is there evidence to that effect? There is no such evidence and on the contrary, his biggest mistake is lying about having met the Gupta family. And how do you blame him in an era in which by merely being in the company of people who have been branded with a certain label, you too stand accused of being part of them? In typical McCarthyism, the Gutpas have been branded corrupt and any association with them suggests corruption on the part of those who meet them and that is the only evidence required.

Nene and many others never challenged this notion of guilty by association without evidence.The establishment media had set the tone and their definitions of what constituted a corrupt relationship with the Guptas. And everybody had to follow. Those who followed without questioning this notion were portrayed in the media as the clean guys while the others were villains. And so the stage had been set. Those who faced the question of whether they had been to the Guptas house had to deny.

We see this McCarthyism being practiced at state owned entities (SOEs) where those linked to state capture through media reports are being hounded out of office, unlawfully. An instruction from the presidency at the beginning of the year  was for all Eskom employees implicated in state capture to be fired. The instruction was for these employees, even those who had been cleared through an internal disciplinary process as Matshela Koko had been, to be dismissed without following due process.

This is unheard of. But it happened.

The newly appointed acting CEO Phakamani Hadebe instructed the said employees to resign within 24 hours or face being dismissed.

Two Labour court judgements ruled that the employees be reinstated and ordered that the power utility should follow the terms and conditions of the employees contracts of employment. Only one of those employees affected accepted reinstatement as the others saw it a futile exercise to return to a company which was hell bent on firing them anyway.

Many are quiet as Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan runs through SOEs and “cleans up” without following due process. There’s no reasonable human being who wants to see corruption thrive in our institutions. We know corruption affects the poor more than anybody else and we all want it exposed and those guilty to be held to account.

There’s a cloud of silence that has engulfed the country in the face of what is clearly an abuse of power. And many are quiet. This abuse is meted out to those we dont like and we have, as a society turned a blind eye. We’re once again reminded of the post war words of prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany, Martin Niemoller: “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew”. He was an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler who spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

First They Came For The Jews – Poem by Martin Niemöller

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Nene and many others didnt speak out because the sword was facing those they disliked, and today it is him and tomorrow you and I.



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