Mandla Sibeko.
Mandla Sibeko.
Image: Darryn Gwyn

It’s that time of year when all those early January resolutions — most likely influenced by reflection, dedication, and festive guilt — are either fading fast or starting to bear fruit. I won’t be sharing mine here, for all to see, mainly because I don’t want to be held publicly accountable.

For me, a New Year’s resolution is the private contract we make with a future self, who will, at some point, review it and demand justification for any breach. Looking back at 2018, I like to believe that present-day South Africa can indeed be proud of the year it had because it was, to a large extent, a period of profound accountability.

The Zondo commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture highlighted this attitude. I attended a hearing to listen to the testimony of a friend who had spent nine years on the board of one of our parastatals. Throughout the day the most often-repeated phrase was “being accountable to the people”. It was said with urgency. With conviction. It was suggested. It was pleaded. It was demanded. Above all, it was always uttered with the shared sense that accountability was in absentia.

If we expect accountability in our daily interactions, we should demand that our leaders are honest and prepared to face consequences humbly
Mandla Sibeko

Inviting one of democracy’s core pillars back into the fold — like a long-lost loved one or a missing part that had been found — was devastating. In any modern government, accountability is a given, a fulfilment of the contract between voters and elected officials. If we allow it to be forgotten, we can forget about a free and fair future.

The damning Nugent commission of inquiry, set up to investigate serious misconduct at Sars, was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it exposed how this arrogant, unanswerable culture had trickled down into the public and private sectors; on the other, it showed a real desire to uproot this behaviour on all levels. I’m under no illusion that either of these inquiries has resulted in fundamental change to our political status quo. To ensure that their legacy is more than a bit of smear ’n spin in the upcoming elections, their findings should advise both prosecuting those who have violated our Constitution in the past and paving the way for a more accountable future.

Over the past nine years we have been haunted by the absence of this very important value. If we expect accountability in our daily interactions — from our partners, children, associates, and ourselves — we should demand that our leaders are honest and prepared to face consequences humbly. This is the foundation upon which trust is built; something that our politicians — not us — have to work hard at regaining. The onus is on them to respect their side of the agreement because we, as citizens, have the ability to reshape the terms for our country’s future.

When we look back on 2019, it should be on a year when hope for a thriving nation became a concrete reality, when power was transferred back to the people, and when accountability was reinstated to its rightful, righteous position.

Sibeko is an entrepreneur and the director of the FNB Joburg Art Fair

- From the February edition of Wanted 2019.

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