OPINION | Dear President Ramaphosa, let’s be clear...

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As I look ahead to your second State of the Nation (Sona) address, I wonder what words you will have for us, that will set out for our country in this next year a vision which is honest, unequivocal, meaningful, resonant. You and your speech writer(s) have certainly shown yourselves to be adept at turning over a word or two.
Take “thuma mina”. That was a class moment, linking your vision for your presidency to the great Hugh Masekela’s song “Send me”. Few would quibble with your appropriation of the pre-freedom sentiments expressed in those inspirational lyrics, and bringing them into a new era, especially the hope for a better future.
“Thuma mina” stuck in our collective consciousness, a call to each of us to act in support of our country, in whatever capacity we can and in whatever corner of the country or globe we happen to be.
The result was a fresh paroxysm of adulation for party and nation from vast numbers of South Africans – not all, but enough; who, up to that point, might have eschewed any thought of ever again acting on the word of a sitting ANC and country president.
I’m wondering if Sona 2019 will give us a word or a phrase that, similarly, will galvanise people into trusting you and your colleagues enough to vote for the ANC, to vote for any party in our democratically flawed country.
I don’t want to hear more of the fictionalised nonsense which has come from leadership podiums for so long, words which have no bearing on the grotesque reality.
Your demeanour suggests one who considers each word carefully, whose utterances are deliberate and intentional. Your words have a huge significance as an expression of your mission.
I take more than a passing interest in your choice of words. I have taken note especially of a word which seems to have caught your fancy in-between the two Sonas.
“Malfeasance.”
It’s an interesting word, taking its root from “feasance” (from Old French faisance), which refers to an activity of any sort, an action or the act of doing something. Feasance can stand for any act – whether lovemaking, farming the land or teaching a child. The word itself has no value connotation.
As I understand “malfeasance”, it simply refers to a badly committed or wrong act. An act constituting “malfeasance” is not necessarily an inherently bad act. In our present South African context, it is any act done or any job performed badly, for whatever reason.
Yet, you’ve used “malfeasance” repeatedly to describe the challenges of corruption and maladministration in government and the state, to label the actions of all the people who have abused us over the past. You used it as recently as this month, in a tweet about how those involved in “malfeasance, wrongdoing and corruption” must be accountable to the nation.
Malfeasance, my dictionaries tell me, is distinguishable from other sorts of “feasance”, like “nonfeasance” which refers to the failure of someone to act when there is an official duty or a social imperative to act.
It is also demonstrably different from “misfeasance”, which refers to inappropriate conduct by someone which is not essentially illegal.
In some jurisdictions, it seems the common law crime of malfeasance has been properly defined over many centuries. But, as far as I know, there is no criminal crime of malfeasance in our law, either through promulgated legislation or common law.
Both public and private entities are often accused of acts of malfeasance, but it is unlikely that someone could be prosecuted as a result of such action. It is difficult to hold an individual accountable for the actions of a collective and there are firm provisions in our law to keep safe individuals in public office reasonably acting in execution of their legally mandated duties.
I wonder then why you would repeat in public, statements about the malfeasance that abounds in our public institutions.
It is not a true word. It does not express exactly what we have experienced as people living under a democratic state in South Africa for almost 25 years but especially in the past 10 years.
It certainly does not properly state the actions of so many individuals and large groups of people.
These men and women who have set out to destroy our country – many from your ANC - are not malfeasant. They are abhorrent criminals, crooks, thugs, thieves, fraudsters, corruptors and corruptees, abusers, intimidators, gratifiers, boetie-boeties.
The legally-defined actions they have performed or participated in are theft, fraud, corruption, inducement, intimidation, gratification, abuse of trust or authority, interference, aiding and abetting, favouring, diverting, exerting, conspiring, among many definitions of crime in our law.
They may even be treasonous. That is why we have a commission of inquiry into state capture.
Let’s not obfuscate, but use our words effectively, clearly.
I am hoping that in your Sona tomorrow and in the weeks and months ahead, however long your term of office will last and into the next phase of your leadership, you might give us words that ring true, that express exactly what you mean and what we expect from the president of our country at any time in our national discourse, and especially when we continue to face such stark crises as have been thrown up in recent years...

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