Our take: Build trust before rebuilding the country

South Africans are amazing in a crisis, aren’t we? We’re proving it again by banding together to help the tens of thousands of people affected by devastating floods that wrecked parts of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. Tragically, more than 400 people have been confirmed dead and 40,000 people were displaced.

One of the largest organisations helping to provide relief this time around is our national superhero, Gift of the Givers. Come hell or high water (quite literally), the disaster relief group provides support in the form of food packages, shelter and other essentials to help people get back on their feet. Kudos, too, to the University of Johannesburg for setting up a fund to help out: its council chair and vice-chancellor will personally donate a total of R120 000. SA-born actress Charlize Theron also launched a fundraiser via her foundation. But the social media reaction to her announcement was telling: South Africans begged her not to give the money to a “corrupt government”. (Theron says the money will go to partner organisations on the ground). UJ also plans to donate its funds to Gift of the Givers rather than to the government. 

It’s telling that the government itself isn’t confident that it can keep the billions of public funds earmarked for disaster relief in KZN safe from corruption. It’s looking at bringing in an independent agency to manage some of the funds, the Sunday Times reported. Finance minister Enoch Godongwana said on Saturday that the agency option was being discussed as a way to insulate the funds from corruption and ensure that they are used for their intended purpose.

It’s a tragedy that our public service cannot be trusted. We’re so sceptical that President Cyril Ramaphosa had to explicitly mention corruption when addressing his “fellow South Africans” on Monday night. (By the way, he placed us back under a national state of disaster, just two weeks after we exited a long Covid-induced state of disaster.) 

External stakeholders will oversee the expenditure, he promised, to ensure all the money is properly accounted for. Gee, thanks, Mr President. 😒 It seems clear from his comments and widespread cynicism that the government has more to rebuild than just flood-damaged areas – it needs to focus on gaining the public’s trust and confidence.

We, like you, will be watching the government’s “relief and recovery” strategy closely. Meanwhile, concerned patriots will be on hand to help. We just hope they won’t have to keep doing the government’s job. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 21 April  2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.

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