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Shahan Ramkissoon Did His Job, Kiren Thathiah Reflects

The recent controversy around eNCA news journalist Shahan Ramkissoon and Premier Sihle Zikalala has had the South African Indian community debating the issue.

Author Kiru Naidoo slammed Ramkissoon for his conduct alluding his behaviour as racist while Professor Kiren Thathiah disagrees.

Read opinion piece below,

Shahan Ramkissoon Kiru Naidoo Open Letter Sihle Zikalala

Before I reflect on the public response to the interview between eNCA’s Shehan Ramkissoon and the Premier of KZN Sihle Zikalala, I thought I would first provide some global context. I also want to disclose that I don’t support the DA or the EFF even though I criticise the ANC in this opinion piece.

On the one hand, we have US President Harry S Truman who famously had a small sign on his desk that read “The Buck Stops Here.” The words signified that he, as President, had to make decisions and that he took ultimate responsibility for those decisions. On the other hand we have President Trump who famously announced that he took no responsibility for what was happening with the Covid-19 pandemic. These two examples show us that the same position could be interpreted very differently by the holders of that office.

We can dig a little deeper and find other examples of how, for example, the scourge of corruption has been handled by politicians around the world. Singapore, for example, took action against a high-ranking politician for accepting a paid holiday from a donor. This firm action sent a powerful message that no one is beyond the law and that public officials, who hold the public trust, are held to a higher standard.

Last year, two Japanese cabinet ministers resigned, yes RESIGNED, because he paid $160 as a funeral condolence gift to a voter and the other resigned because he had re-gifted some potatoes that he received from a fellow politician to some of his constituents. Just think about that for a moment; they both did something that you and I would say was generous and caring.

After all, if I took some potatoes that my neighbour gave me and gave it to my other neighbours or if I gave someone money to help with funeral expenses there would be no reason for anyone to raise an eyebrow. But, and this is a big but, these people were public officials and they must be held to a higher standard. Accountability, as we know, is a requirement of government that is enshrined in our Constitution.

The actions that saw the resignation of cabinet ministers in Japan could hardly be compared with the death of a citizen and, although the interview just focused on one death, there were two deaths in the makeshift tent facility outside the Northdale hospital. One patient, who was diagnosed with bronchopnemonia the day before, phoned her son to ask him to bring her blankets because it was so cold in the tent. Another patient also died of hypoxia after complaining of chest pains and having to wait in the cold tent for treatment.

Now, if this was Japan, the political heads would have taken responsibility because, even though they were not personally involved, they betrayed the trust of the people. They ought to have done whatever was necessary to prevent such an incident from happening and certainly prevent it from happening twice.

In the light of this human tragedy it was surprising, to say the least, that one political commentator chose to castigate interviewer Ramkissoon for his handling of the interview with the Premier. In my view, Ramkissoon pressed the Premier on just one issue: political accountability.

It’s all very well for low-level personnel to take the blame while the political class carries on untouched by its own decisions.

Political accountability should be a beacon of hope for the electorate but it has become a shifting target with the ANC. At one stage, they argued that their deployees are only responsible to the party. This was a major bone of contention with the vote of no confidence for former president Jacob Zuma. It seems that this is a closed circle with the party being responsible to its members and the deployees being responsible to the party. It has become a law unto itself.

And that is how the Premier behaved. He behaved as though he was entitled to special treatment. I suppose he expected the interviewer to say something like, “Yes, my Premier. You are the best Premier ever. Please tell us who will be disciplined for this tragedy which is definitely not your fault!”

Of course, it is the Premier’s fault. He and his party were voted in to serve and protect the public and uphold their trust. Any idiot could predict that the budget for the protection and support of the people during the Covid-19 pandemic would be abused by politically-connected people and their friends, associates and families. So, if any idiot could predict this, why couldn’t the Premier?

Ramkissoon pressed him on this issue and the Premier’s response was that not every official is corrupt. That is like saying that corruption exists out there somewhere and not within the midst of government.

The political commentator argued that we should have an honest discussion about racism but I disagree. There was no racism here and, even if such a discussion is needed, it isn’t about this incident. The real issues that ought to be discussed are political accountability and leadership.

What exactly do we expect of leaders? The best definition of leadership that I came across is embedded in this observation: A manager is a person who tells his or her workers that they are making good progress in cutting down the trees but a leader is the person who climbs the ladder, surveys the environment and says, “Whoa guys, we are in the wrong forest!”

The Premier is not supposed to be a manager who boasts, “look at all the good work that we are doing.” He is supposed to be a leader who ought to realise that they may be making good progress in the wrong forest.

Well, not only are they in the wrong forest, they are also planting the wrong trees! The deployment of Zandile Gumede to the KZN Provincial Legislature spits in the face of all fair-minded South Africans. How can you appoint a person who has been criminally charged to a position of public trust? We all know that any institution is supposed to suspend any person accused of sexual harassment because that institution becomes vicariously responsible if that person commits any act after they were made aware. It is done not only to protect the institution but also the people who work there. It’s about creating an environment of trust.

The buck must stop somewhere!

* Professor Kiren Thathiah is an academic, artist and author.

Disclaimer: The views & comments expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Indian Spice.

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