Farewell to Kimi Makwetu my friend and hero in the struggle against corruption.
Sipho M Pityana
Programme Director, the Makwetu & Makhasi Families, Friends, and comrades. Miranda, Mafungwashe and the boys thank you for the singular honour of inviting me to bid farewell to a valued friend and a great patriot.
Destined for a future of hardship, pain and marginalisation that he was born into by his street vendor mother and labourer father. He conquered the world and came on top. Importantly, his roots shaped his mission in life, and he carried the burden of fending for the downtrodden with tremendous pride, ease, and commitment.
Kimi was what the Italian social scientist Antonio Gramsci referred to as the organic intellectual. He brought to bear his academic training and education to champion the cause of his people, who to this very day yearn for the fruits of a society free from poverty and inequality.
We are here to celebrate a life of that cohort of the black intelligentsia who appreciate their rural and township backgrounds as what shapes their purpose in life. Always looking for an opportunity to make a difference in circumstances of those who remain trapped in the life he was born into.
Thank you Zikhali, butsolo bentonga, for a life example that shows society that not all black intelligentsia are corrupt, greedy, and seeking every opportunity for self-aggrandizement. You gave many like you a place to hide and hold their heads high and remind society that there’s something like a patriotic black intelligentsia.
After all this is what drew Kimi to student activism at UCT where somebody else would have turned a blind eye to the struggles of the day and enjoy the privilege and status of being part of the new elite and the prospects that came with it. He didn’t play safe. He chose sides in the fight for freedom. Deploying his intellectual curiosity to great effect. Accessing underground literature and sharing ideas and shaping ideology.
Today, we are joined in spirit, to pay tribute to a gentle and unwavering giant in the fight against corruption and maladministration. As we celebrate his life, we must use this occasion to also pay tribute to the many public servants like him whose mission in life is to serve our people with honour, integrity and dignity.
Kimi Makwetu was a South African hero. His piercing mind focussed our attention not only on the symptoms of the scourge of corruption, but on its foundation and root causes. His consistent and reliable findings offered clear answers to the questions of what is to be done to restore our nation to good governance and ethical leadership.
As we grapple with the most suitable pathway out of the current COVID-19 induced depressed economic activity, it is noteworthy that the government has earmarked infrastructure investment as crucial to South Africa’s economic recovery. However, from Kimi’s audit findings to recent development, an ethical recovery is non-negotiable.
Efficient and effective use of the country’s resources is pivotal to not only rehabilitate our economy, but also to eliminate inequalities and poverty. In effect, we have a daunting task of reigniting growth and steering the economy on to a greener, ethical, and fairer track.
But we must do more than talk about corruption; and do more than just mourn. We must mobilise, as a tribute to Kimi, to ensure that the red flags that he waved at our society – and in particular, at the people in power of public expenditure – are taken seriously.
His message – the critical importance of good governance and ethical leadership – must resound across our country as the law enforcement agencies continue to identify, pursue and prosecute all those implicated in his reports.
The criticality of the Office of the Auditor General in our public affairs is beyond debate.
The Supreme law of our land, the Constitution, calls for the Office of the Auditor-General to “audit and report on the accounts, financial statements and financial management” of the government at all levels. It is the only institution that, by law, has to audit and report on how government is spending taxpayers’ money.
Kimi today rests truly in peace in the knowledge that he honoured the dreams of the founding mothers and fathers of our great nation by taking the work of this important office to new heights. As a result, his life and that of his colleagues was in danger necessitating security measures be in place. He was as fearless as he was determined.
It is encouraging to see the recent steps that have been taken by the National Prosecuting Authority, the Special Investigating Unit and the Hawks to begin to bring the crooks to book, often acting on the basis of Auditor-General reports compiled by Kimi and his team. These institutions, which were ripped apart during the state capture era, are slowly recovering and approaching their crucial task with renewed vigour. Long may it last.
While it is refreshing to see the growing list of accused who are having their day in court, we can’t wait to see the big fish in orange overalls.
Slowly but surely, the law enforcement agencies are tightening their grip on those who pillaged the public purse during the state capture era.
But there are still far too many people who have been implicated in large-scale wrongdoing that are free to roam, people who made regular appearances in the reports put together by Kimi and his team.
Kimi’s passion was never in public display. He offered his brains and energies to action, towards defeating the demon of corruption.
He fervently believed in ethical behaviour.
He believed that ethical behavior by those entrusted with power could heal a nation mired in a history of racial prejudice and all its excesses.
Corruption is defined by Transparency International and several other organisations as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”.
I’m sharing this definition because there are also the lesser-known state-related crooks who are slowly being brought to trial, and whose misdeeds were often exposed during Kimi’s time as Auditor-General:
- lawyers who fleeced money from the Road Accident Fund;
- municipal managers who blew money on KFC, luxury cars and wasteful trips overseas when they should have been fixing roads, water leaks and sanitation, and providing proper housing for their ratepayers;
- callous public servants who stole, or facilitated the theft of, public money during the COVID-19 lockdown. They must still explain, and he held accountable for taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to line their own pockets and fill their garages with luxury cars.
- Employers who received UIF or TERS and did not pass on to workers; and
- The SANDF’s R200m Cuban COVID treatment which seems to have disappeared
And, of course, there are the super-criminals who are residing in Dubai – the Guptas, fugitives from the law to this day, complete with their crooked concierge Duduzane Zuma, who has the temerity to announce that he intends running for office.
They should be thinking of only one future destination: a prison cell.
The Kimi Law
One of the many legacies that Kimi has left us after 13 years in the leadership of the AG’s office is the Public Audit Act, which gave his office more teeth and increased the state’s ability to control public expenditure.
There have been suggestions that we should refer to this vital piece of legislation as “the Kimi Law” – and I could not think of a better way to remember Kimi’s sober, steadfast, and scrupulous voice. Every crook who is brought to book because of “the Kimi law” should know the name of the person who strengthened the AG’s preventive measures and ensured accountability, and in doing so paved their way to prison.
We owe it to Kimi to ensure that this legislation is used to full effect. We cannot fail him. We must protect public assets. We must hold politicians and public servants to account. Only then will we be able to ensure public funds are spent on the public and not pocketed by thieves.
Here, I am not only referring to the people in public office whose wrongdoing was exposed by the AG’s office. My comments apply equally to those in business who see nothing wrong in paying a bribe here, or manipulating a tender there, or generally contributing to the erosion of our society through corruption and theft. They, too, must feel the pinch and be brought to book.
On a broader level, the accounting and auditing profession must also live up to the legacy of Kimi Makwetu. It is no secret that he had deep misgivings about the sorry state of the profession and did not hesitate to express them. He also took the noble and highly significant step of blacklisting both KPMG and Nkonki over their relationships with the Guptas – sending a stern signal about the integrity of the AG’s office and its view on corporate audit failures.
Global Conventions Against Corruption
The World Economic Forum, rightly argues that it is not enough for companies to simply adhere to the norms and standards of today; it is critical that companies go beyond compliance and take proactive steps to diminish the risk of corruption in future.
It is against this global backdrop that as the business community in South Africa we need to put ourselves onto the transparency and anti-corruption test and ask hard questions about each other’s conduct and its impact on the country’s future.
The fact that South Africa is a signatory to global instruments including the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the African Union’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption provide a basis for business to develop transparency-enhancing standards.
Last year the World Economic Forum, working alongside like-minded stakeholders, established the Global Future Council on Transparency and Anti-Corruption, which has launched a programme that asks what the global business community can contribute by improving its own integrity. This work is focused on four pillars of action, enjoining business leaders to:
- Commit to ethics and integrity beyond mere compliance
- Strengthen corporate culture and incentives to drive continuous learning and improvement
- Leverage technologies to reduce the scope of corruption
- Support collective action to increase scale and impact
This intervention will also examine the role of companies in the financial, legal, and accounting sectors that can be pivotal in preventing corrupt practices in business.
The rise of stakeholder capitalism demands a more active participation from business in the fight against corruption. After all, we are enjoined to invest in ways that do not reward fraud, bribery, and other underhand practices.
As I reflect on my many conversations with Kimi, one memory is paramount: we must, as a nation, promote accountability. We must, as a nation, punish mismanagement, corruption, and greed, wherever it is found, and hold the wrongdoers to account.
Concrete and sustained action is now required to end the injustice of corruption.
Transparency in Political Party Funding
Injecting regulatory transparency into the funding for internal political party leadership campaigns and political parties during elections should be at the core of our efforts to cleanse ourselves of the toxic relationship between money and politics.
Transparency in political party funding by business is not only required for public interest purposes, but because while money is an important asset in politics, it can at the same time be a liability. It induces abuse by any governing party in control of public assets. As business we must respect and comply with the country’s anti-corruption legislation and adhere to global conventions advocating for business integrity.
Heavy reliance on undisclosed private funding can cause political parties to lose their engagement with the electorate, do the bidding for its private funders, and lose focus on service delivery.
We must, as a society, have zero tolerance for corruption. We must campaign, every day if necessary, to ensure that those who deserve orange overalls get to wear them, and we should support campaigns by civil society, business, faith-based organisations and others in this regard.
We must strengthen our ability to punish criminals, to seize the proceeds of crime and corruption, and to build a new society premised on honesty, decency, and integrity – the very qualities that Kimi embodied.
Of course, one of the tragedies around Kimi’s passing at such a young age is the fact that he was on the cusp of ascending to the world stage. His recent appointment to the United Nations Independent Audit Advisory Committee, I believe, was fitting and timely recognition of his global stature.
Kimi was a selfless and decorated public official whose example is worthy of emulation.
Please encourage and support each other in his memory as we attempt to figure out what life looks like without him and how we accelerate our efforts at isolating the corrupt in our midst.
The best memorial for Kimi would be to act on his findings and put all those who stole from us where they belong: prison cell.
Hamba Kahle, Kimi Makwetu. Son of the soil. Patriot. And friend.
Sipho M Pityana
President: Business Unity South Africa