The frivolous invasion of an air force base is a wake-up call for SA to take deeper responsibility for the survival of their country, writes Njabulo S Ndebele in part 2 of his series on . . .
If you are looking for Number 1 in a person, you might miss the mark.
Number 1 has now come to represent South Africa’s generalised condition of corruption. The condition displays some, or all, of the following:
» Number 1 is a known unknown. It’s there, but doesn’t have a body.
» Like theoretical physicists, we can determine the nature and location of Number 1 only from the gravitational pull it exerts.
It was there in the entire AirForceBase Waterkloof incident, but remained frustratingly invisible.
» Number 1 is like a Wi-Fi signal, an invisible force with visible effects.
While it might entertain user names (the various officers of government, the military, and security agencies through which it works), it won’t allow access to anyone who doesn’t have the network password.
» Number 1 is unnamable. When Ambassador VB Koloane referred to Number 1 as the source of his instructions, he expressed his fear of naming him.
He was afraid to lose his job, afraid of betraying inner-group confidences and of being left out in the cold.
He might also have been afraid of naming a person who holds an office normally associated with people of only the highest calibre.
He could not face giving a name to what he knew, as doing this could violate the sanctity of the office and the good it’s meant to represent.
People caught in Koloane’s situation, no matter how high- or low-ranking they might be, know when they are being asked to perform undesirable tasks and play along.
Number 1, by leaving no paper trail, breeds a sense of shared conspiracy among those caught in carrying out its instructions.
By leaving evidence, while getting what it wants, it makes those acting on Number 1’s behalf almost believe it is possible, by using the law, to make something as obvious as Nkandla invisible.
Number 1 devalues what it once valued. Once a force fighting for freedom, it now corrupts that freedom.
Even President Jacob Zuma, by his own admission, does not know who or what Number 1 might be; he does not know this force that seems to wield more power than he does.
If he is as baffled as he says he is, why not use the full resources of the state to identity this forcethat is capable of causing major dysfunction in the governance of his country?
The power of Number 1, because it can withhold, dispense, or withdraw favours and privileges for those in its thrall, has a deep disrespect for the dignity of those who serve it and who may be loyal to it.
As they knowingly give in to actions that make them incompetent and untrustworthy, in submission to Number 1, their self-respect is eroded.
Their morality dies when, finally, they submit completely without a tinge of bad conscience.
At that point, they no longer feel any moral or professional anguish.
They only want to serve Number 1.
This is happening here. Countries around the world that have submitted to the power of Number 1 offer us numerous examples of the moral and ethical ruin caused by giving Number 1 too much power.
The regime of Number 1 has no code of honour and is always looking for immediate gratification.
We once had fellow citizens who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the noble cause of freedom.
Today, some seem prepared to sacrifice their reputations for the corruption of their leaders.
Maintaining Number 1 is a highmaintenance operation.
It is costly to the government.
By its very nature, Number 1 sees well-constituted public order, with social discipline, as an encumbrance.
And it attacks it without being seen to do so.
The political party or government loyal to Number 1 has to spend a lot of energy managing the fallout from the inevitable conflict that comes from the public wanting an accountable government, while Number 1 secretly attacks government structures that allow transparency.
Ministers and party members end up having to “manage” embarrassment.
In time, both party and government, because they are doing so much crisis management instead of maintaining systems of order and discipline, slide into decay.
As government and the party change to adapt to the working ethos of Number 1, they lose their social moorings and become alienated from the social order.
Even institutions such as the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) might not be spared from decay.
Military personnel are trained to be meticulous. They are proud of their military knowledge and skill, proud of the exacting demands of command and of the culture of rigorous training in pursuit of readiness and perfection in the execution of military duty.
How does it feel, after Number 1 has intervened, to be an officer at an airforcebase that has been invaded by a force no more powerful than wedding guests?
South Africa’s military establishment, the police and the intelligence services, tainted by the power of Number 1, do have an obligation, in the wake of the Waterkloof incident, to assure the South African people that they deserve public confidence, trust and respect.
The story of a military ambulance dispatched to rush Nelson Mandela to hospital, and which broke down along the way, suggests strongly there was no procedural rigour in the deployment of a military ambulance in the service of a former head of state.
The standard anticipation of something going wrong appears not to have been in place.
The loss of standards
In the same way, no procedural rigour was in place to avert the invasion of an airforcebase by wedding guests.
A question is then inevitable: Just how easily could the SANDF lose a war?
It is in the smallest things that discipline matters most.
By the time you get to submarines, frigates and fighter jets, if there was a weak foundation of military rigour and discipline at the basic levels, you’d have to be delusional to expect disciplined proficiency at the highest levels.
The regime of Number 1 cannot allow for such proficiency.
Military precision permits no weaknesses in the execution of military tasks.
Otherwise, the theatre of war becomes only the space of “death and destruction”, not of “life and survival”, as Sun Tzu asserts in The Art of War.
The highest military proficiency and preparedness are not only needed to fight a war, but to prevent one. No one, not even Number 1, should be able to go anywhere near an airforcebase with a crass demand.
They could take their chances only if they knew that the governance of the airforcebase, being less than perfect, was penetrable and could succumb to their undocumented civilian demands.
Foreign governments, with military attachés in Pretoria, can be guaranteed to have formed a pretty good assessment of the state of governance in our armed forces.
They will know that our armed forces are susceptible to a single, ill-defined, civilian command uncontested by the logic of military consequences.
Such armies can be subject to civilian abuse.
In the worst-case scenario, Number 1 has the potential to be a foreign force, in any guise, including that of wedding guests, which has the capability to compromise the highest civilian and military officers of the land by getting them to submit to it in the invasion of their own country: a scenario “too ghastly to contemplate”, to quote former prime minister John Vorster.
The ultimate threat of the regime of Number 1 to any nation lies precisely there: loss of freedom, loss of state capability and eventual dependence on other nations.
Military officers of the highest ranks know that, at a certain point in a democracy, relationships with politicians in authority must cease to be about friendship; about old loyalties in the trenches of a liberation struggle; about loyalties to political parties, or religious, cultural and ethnic affiliation.
Neither should they be about obligations to powerful individuals who seek to satisfy their appetites for material gain, and who can send soldiers to war in pursuit of more possessions.
Instead, and centrally, relationships between political and military officers are about constitutional obligations, on the part of both, but particularly on the part of the armed forces, to protect and secure the lives of 50 million South Africans.
Political or civilian authority that wants to deploy the military must be made to earn the military’s compliance.
The power of Number 1, the known unknown, an unnamable force, is no joke. It must be fully
understood for what it is: the grounds of death and destruction.
The future we imagine requires citizen energy, creativity, meticulousness and discipline to create.
These requirements, I believe, are at the heart of the next stage in the progress of our democracy: to make each and every South African a person of the highest competence,
capability and moral stature who, in community with others, seeks to build a democracy the power of Number 1 cannot subvert.
» Ndebele is a research fellow in the archive and public culture research initiative at the University of Cape Town, and is a fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study
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