By: Lindiwe Sisulu
When a journalist writes an article and a newspaper publishes it, it is presented as truth, at least in a democracy where freedom of the press fundamentally means the freedom to inform the public. To truthfully inform the public and not manipulate them; to deepen public discourse by raising the level of debate and discussion, not by cheapening it with speculation and sensationalism. Investigative journalism aims at getting to the truth, not piling up lie upon lie and presenting that putrid hodgepodge as “truth”.
When this happens, that journalist is either lazy, or works with some nefarious hidden agenda. And in doing that shows their utter disdain for the public they pretend to “inform”. Such is the case with an article published in City Press on Sunday 8 August 2021 titled “Sisulu’s Water Wars”.
“Fresh allegations have emerged …” So begins this article cut from whole cloth. The rest is based on “allegations,” not even facts by a whistle blower given to a journalist dedicated to uncovering corruption in high places. In that case anonymity is appreciated, because it tells the truth about the nefarious dealings of someone in power, and presses for transparency and accountability, all for the common good.
That one I would respect. But an article based on “anonymous” letters, written to cover-up rather than expose corruption, serves the opposite purpose. That is not a search for truth and transparency to edify the public. That is serving a political agenda. That much is already clear. The real question is whose agenda, and why, and why at this time?
Fighting, exposing, and rooting out corruption should be one of the top priorities in government, because it is one of the most effective, if most scandalous ways to cripple service to the people, paralyze government, and undermine public trust in our democratic institutions and the workings of our society. In every portfolio I served, fighting corruption was and still remains exactly what I did and continue doing.
It was no different with Human Settlements, Water, and Sanitation. And I did so from the get-go. If Poloko Tau, who penned the article in question had not been lazy and dug just a little bit deeper, he would have known.
He would have known that the moment I discovered that illegalities were taking place, I began investigations. I had worked with Special Investigating Unit (SIU) who discovered procurement irregularities, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, irregular expenditure, fraud and theft, all depicting high levels of corruption.
The journalist would have discovered that when I became aware of irregularities at the Amatola Water Board, I did the same, immediately. He would have known that anonymous letter was anonymous, not because that person had been threatened and was bravely fighting for the truth, but because that person was under investigation. He would have known that I immediately appointed a reputable, independent entity to investigate that matter, and all other matters related to it.
The journalist would have known that the report was already in my hands and I was on the verge of making it public, presenting it to the relevant authorities for arrest and prosecution of certain individuals. He would have discovered that those were highly placed individuals, and that I was determined to see it through, because I do not believe that “high position” should be a cover for corruption, that “connections in high places” should present one with impunity, or give one the right to steal from the people, corrupt others in your wake, undermine the authority of government.
I do not believe that anyone, no matter how “high” you are, how “prestigious” you consider yourself to be, or how “untouchable” some have declared you and you believe yourself to be, has the right to self-enrichment at the cost of the integrity of our democracy, or worse, the rights, hopes, and legitimate expectations of our people. That is the kind of arrogance and entitlement that have already cost this country too much.
It is because I believe this that I have not sought to seal anything: not my accounts or bank records, nor my ministerial records. Transparency should be what it purports to be, in our every action, not merely words on paper or in speeches for public consumption on the occasion we think they might play well. I do not believe in making deals to secure political support from those who profit from theft, corruption and the concealment thereof.
I want no part of the politics of corruption nor the politics of concealment of that corruption. That is the kind of “you-scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours” politics that has brought our country, so early in our democratic experiment still, to the brink of destruction. It is the kind of politics I despise. Hence my determination at my department to bring those guilty of corruption publicly to book.
But that raises the even more important question. Knowing that those guilty of corruption, either having been found out or on the verge of being found out, always have the tendency to destroy as much of the evidence as possible, I was ready to move as soon as the evidence before me was beyond doubt. At that point I was removed from my portfolio and sent to Tourism.
So, one of the serious questions on my mind is not only my responsibilities at the new portfolio, but what happens to the results of all that hard work? Will that report and its recommended actions ever see the light now? Will those persons guilty of corruption be arrested and put on trial, as I fully intended? Or will their privileged status and connections to power protect them, as had been happening with such sickening regularity?
But that begs the inevitable question I raised in the beginning. Is this why this scurrilous article with its unconscionable accusations based on the pure fabrications of a person under investigation and found guilty, is being published now? If I had my way and had still been in my previous position, those implicated in corruption would be facing prison right now. So this article is not written to say, “I deny, deny, deny.” There is nothing to deny. It is simply to say that I believe in what is good in our people and our democracy.
I want to preserve as much of that good as I can. I am determined to serve our people and to be worthy of their trust. That is why I will never rest until those implicated in corruption at Amatola Water Board face the full might of the law. It is worth that much, not just for me, but for the country I have been fighting for, for so long.
So, anyone who believes that I am corrupt must go to Zondo Commission and report the matter, And anyone with evidence of my misdeeds against the law must urgently approach law enforcement agencies, anyone who still has questions about me, I am ready to open myself up to scrutiny and be subjected to a lifestyle audit. This means, those who proclaim to be fighting corruption while we know they are hired guns for malice and character assassination, to them; a possibility for them to change their ways still exists.