OPINION: Herman Mashaba and the 'crabs in a bucket' phenomenon

Luyanda Mfeka

There is nobody who supports the scrutiny of the media more than Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba. 

In fact, he welcomes it, embraces it and responds with nothing but the truth - warts and all. This is something I have come to learn in working with him. 

Under his leadership, the media actually receive outcomes of investigations; not exactly something they could claim in the past. 

However, over the past few months one has noticed a concerning trend. 

That is, a number of journalists have sought to write up stories, impugning Mayor Mashaba's reputation as a corruption buster. 

Often, one is called to comment on "information" peddled by so-called 'anonymous sources' who approach journalists so to get that week's salacious and hollow stories written up for public consumption.

All of these stories follow a common trend:
• No actual wrongdoing on the part of Mashaba is ever established; 
• The 'anonymous sources' in every story are either the ANC or the officials in the City still loyal to the ANC;
• The mayor's response has been to demonstrate absolute transparency and accountability. 

The burning question is, why would these 'anonymous sources' take this approach with Mashaba? Why does one get the subtle sense that, in the countless queries sent, that there is a degree of schadenfreude at work? 

Our understanding could be informed by the 'crabs in a bucket,' phenomenon. 

The phenomenon describes a bucket of live crabs, some of which could easily escape. As they try to, other crabs pull them back down to prevent any from getting out, thereby ensuring the group's collective demise. 

South Africans have learnt to grow disillusioned with government corruption, and for good reason. 

It has gone on, unabated, for decades. It takes place in an environment where people suffer from the failures of government. It is their money which is taken to enrich politicians, and their circles, while having to hear there is just not enough for this or that. 

Corruption has historically been responded to by nothing more than lip-service. To make my point, you won't battle to find a politician screaming their hatred for corruption. But finding a politician who does something about it – an altogether harder exercise. 

Enter Herman Mashaba on 23 August 2016 into public office. He is not a politician. In fact, he refuses the title. He is someone who takes a view that good men and women can no longer afford to sit back and watch the country unravel. 

He declares corruption public enemy number one, sets up an anti-corruption unit headed by one of South Africa's best and begins to hunt the corrupt in Johannesburg.  

You cannot even accuse him of taking the easy path, when he acts against his own as has been seen in the dismissal of two of his own MMCs found guilty of wrong doing.

He works with the media and NGOs, responds to allegations that arise by commissioning forensic investigations and communicating their contents, even when it is less unfavourable to do so. 

When even the slightest question of wrong doing is levelled against him, he refers himself to scrutiny and investigation, knowing he has nothing to hide. 

For the first time in Johannesburg's history, a politician backs the crime and corruption fighters with the political will to do what has to be done, without fear or favour. 

Yet, one sees the crabs in a bucket phenomenon seemingly playing itself out on overdrive. 

So now we finally have a head of government in Johannesburg who is climbing out of the primordial ooze of government corruption, taking a wrecking-ball to the stereotype. And now he must get dragged back into the bucket, into the company of the lip-servicing, anti-corruption crabs. 

After all, these were the same 'anonymous sources' that were nowhere to be found on the subject while favoured sons and daughters robbed the City blind. They were silent when challenges were responded to with nothing but obfuscation or spin. They never shouted from the rooftop that forensic reports be compiled; they never demanded accountability. 

Arising from the leadership of Mashaba, over 3500 cases are now under investigation in Johannesburg, involving a staggering R18bn. That R18bn of public funds would have been enough to build an RDP house for every single person on our housing waiting list. 

709 people have been arrested to date, in which 38 matters currently are serving before our courts of law. 

In another unprecedented move, Mayor Mashaba referred himself to the Council's Ethics Committee when a "storm" erupted over a call he placed to ask an industry expert he knew, from this past business life, to assist with a challenge that had to be overcome. No payment, no benefit, no contract, just advice - but he referred himself to Ethics for investigation anyway.

This is what political leaders do when they have nothing to hide. 

When the ANC leaked the Field Band Foundation story - an NGO the mayor suggested be looked at as a part of the broader strategy to combat drug addiction, another storm erupted. On the floor of Council, he asked the legislature to investigate the allegations against him. 

Again, no benefit, no self-enrichment, no role played in the organisation since he resigned from it in January 2016. 

One cannot help but think that it suits the interests of some to drag members of the 4th estate into their sinister agenda to brand all political leaders the same. 

Why not right? After all, it is easier than actually having to take a moral side in the debate. 

Besides this sinister agenda, it is especially worrying that members of the media are perhaps not paying proper attention to how they are utilised to further others' nefarious ends.

Mashaba is one of the few politicians who truly see the media as one of society's chief protectors – a trait to be admired. However, there is something to be said regarding how media practitioners examine some of the "information" provided to them by shadow men lurking in the City of Johannesburg's dark corners.

Above all, the question that should exercise all our minds is whether we ought to drag someone who has made anti-corruption his number one mission back into the proverbial bucket and where that will leave us? 

- Luyanda Mfeka is director of mayoral communications and spokesperson to Herman Mashaba.

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