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A Cat Has 9 Lives, But A Big Lie Can Live Forever


A Cat Has 9 Lives, But A Big Lie Can Live Forever

“The truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Joseph Goebbels.

There’s no doubt Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was good at his job (as despicable and heinous as that job undoubtedly was). Attributed with creating the very definition of the “Big Lie,” he is quoted as saying:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

It makes me feel sick just reading that, and not for the reasons you might think.

Because although Goebbels uttered his chilling words over 80 years ago, South Africans today are living with a very similar reality.

It’s impossible, for example, to keep up with the lies, and the lies about the lies, we’ve been told about Eskom. The spin doctors are always hard at work, telling us that everything is under control and that Eskom, like its beleaguered engineers during power station breakdowns, is working on the problem.

But you only have to look back five years to the Gupta saga to know that things have not been under control for a long time and that no one is really working on the problem.

In fact, 2017 saw two of Eskom’s biggest lies come to the surface like bloated corpses.

First was the revelation of a much-denied payment to the Gupta-owned Trillian company of about half a billion Rand in so-called consultancy fees.

No one was ever able to ascertain what consulting had ever taken place. I for one, have a few choice suggestions which I will wisely keep to myself.

The second monstrous porkie concerned Eskom’s active assistance in helping another Gupta-owned company, Tegeta, buy the Optimum coal mine. Eskom’s chief financial officer at the time, Anoj Singh, admitted later to signing a R1.6-billion guarantee to Absa so the purchase could take place.

These acts were covered up and lied about for months before the results of dogged investigative journalism and reports from courageous whistle-blowers forced the truth to the surface.

Of course, an article on lies and cover-ups wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Department of Health, more specifically, its Covid-19 PPE saga.

The department could never be mistaken for the poster child of good state-run healthcare, but the true extent of the incompetence and blatant corruption that had taken hold over the years really came to the fore in the months following the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The very sector that should have been supported, strengthened, and improved to better handle Covid-19 was instead shown to be utterly fraught with corruption and malpractice – especially when it came to the procurement and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

President Ramaphosa said at the time when the extent of the PPE scandal was revealed, “More so [now] than at any other time, corruption puts lives at risk. We have therefore established a collaborative and coordinating centre to strengthen the collective efforts among law enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate, and prosecute Covid-related corruption.”

This new “centre” brought together nine state institutions—the Financial Intelligence Centre, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks, Crime Intelligence, the SA Police Service detective service, the South African Revenue Service, the Special Investigating Unit, and the State Security Agency.

It sounded impressive, but it wasn’t.

Dr Benni K Lekubu, a seasoned former Forensic Investigator from the Auditor General South Africa and the Department of Internal Audit, an anti-corruption specialist and senior lecturer in Unisa’s Department of Police Practice in the College of Law, argued at the time that the fight against corruption does not require a “cobbled together hydra-headed monster of dubious skills, capacity, resources and lack of independence as we have seen with the unconstitutional puny attempts to establish an anti-corruption task team during the Zuma era.”

He was undoubtedly right – and it took the bravery of ordinary citizens, employed in positions within the Department of Health, to expose much of what was truly going on.

Some paid the ultimate price for their patriotism and courage.

One such victim was 53-year-old whistle-blower Babita Deokaran. Minutes after dropping off her child at school a year ago, Babita was shot outside her home in Johannesburg in what police revealed to the Daily Maverick was likely to have been a hit.

She died in hospital a few hours later.

At the time, special Investigating Unit spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago confirmed she had been a witness in the investigation into the R332-million corrupt PPE deals in the Department of Health.

Before her tragic killing, Deokaran wrote to Shan Bolton, director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, saying:

“Every few years, we have a different team of people who come in and loot, and the funds seem to be a bottomless pit. My biggest issue, though, is the Provincial Treasury. How do all these things happen under their watch? This is not the first instance. It’s as if they are a silent partner and will start acting when the damage is done.”

There is, unfortunately, no shortage of additional instances of lies and coverups I could share with you.

The catastrophic effects of the floods in KwaZulu Natal earlier this year, for example, were blamed almost entirely on climate change. And while I’ve never professed to be a meteorological expert, I feel pretty confident that poor infrastructure, a stark lack of town planning, and utter neglect over prolonged periods of time also played a significant part in the utter devastation.

In addressing traumatised communities affected by the floods, President Ramaphosa once again repeated his promise of rebuilding infrastructure, announced various relief packages, and reiterated his commitment to “zero tolerance” for corruption.

But as the Daily Maverick asked at the time, “After the Covid-19 pillaging of relief funds and personal protective equipment, who actually believes that the relief will reach those who need it most? And who has faith in a government that, by its very actions, declares war on the poor every single day?”

Ultimately, the real tragedy behind the valiant efforts of countless people like Babita Deokaran is that it barely makes the slightest dent in all the deeply compacted layers of systemic BS.

So many huge lies have been told so consistently over so many years that even when strong evidence to the contrary is presented, it perishes quickly, like a moth incinerating itself on a flame.

In South Africa, as in Nazi Germany, it seems the lies always outlive the truth.