• Mthatha Airport. Picture: GCIS

  • Transport Minister Ben Martins speaks at the official unveiling of the newly completed runway of Mthatha Airport, Eastern Cape, on Monday. Picture: GCIS

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SPLASHED across page four of Tuesday’s Star newspaper was the headline "Mthatha Airport revamp ‘not linked to Madiba’".

The story centred on a quote from Eastern Cape local government and traditional affairs MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane, who said of the recent airport upgrade: "We don’t know of any eventuality. What’s happening at the King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality is a part of a broader infrastructure investment." The "eventuality" refers to Nelson Mandela’s death and funeral.

That sentiment was mirrored by Freddy Pilusa, spokesman for Mandla Mandela who, speaking on behalf of the Mvezo chief, grandson of the former president, said: "What’s happening in the Eastern Cape has little to do with the old man and that eventuality."

It’s all palpably untrue, of course, disproved by a quick Google search that reveals, among other things, a May 2012 environmental management plan for the airport upgrade, commissioned for the Eastern Cape department of transport by Terreco Environmental. (http://www.sahra.org.za/sites/default/files/additionaldocs/Mthatha%20Airport_BPs%20EMPR.pdf) (Any industrious hard news reporters out there should put the management plan to the MEC.)

The introduction to that report contains the following: "This is a special circumstances project and it is understood that this project is being undertaken for the provision of infrastructure for the landing of aircraft at Mthatha Airport for a special circumstance which is of national importance and is related to the former president."

Later, on page eight, the report expands on this: "The primary objective is to provide a runway that will allow for air traffic of a more significant nature. That air traffic will be linked to the imminent high-visibility event and need for improved logistics and access to the final destination, Qunu. Significant numbers of heads of state and VIPs will arrive in a very narrow time slot due to this event and use Mthatha Airport as best alternative to the considerable logistical problems posed via road or rail to reach the destination. Mthatha Airport has clearly identified capacity restrictions that can be improved to overcome the risk of clear potential for an international embarrassment."

So, as Harry G Frankfurt would say to the MEC and the chief: bullsh*t. The renovations might serve a range of purposes but central to them is the ailing health of the former president and plans for his funeral.

Why is it that the government feels compelled to mislead South Africans about everything to do with Mandela? It seems incapable of being forthright about anything to do with him, be it his health or the necessary preparations for his death. Perhaps it is just incompetence.

It’s deeply patronising, as if the state sees the public as children who need to be coaxed in the right direction for fear they might break down in hysteria. And it’s ironic too, because those doing the manipulating have generally behaved like children themselves, squabbling and abusing Mandela’s condition for political and financial gain alike.

Here is a radical idea: just be honest. Everyone is desperately upset at Mandela’s condition but, likewise, everyone knows that death is one of the few unifying truths of life. The least Mandela’s political handlers can do is recognise that death, like life, must be embraced. And how you embrace it says everything about you.

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PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s fourth Cabinet reshuffle was presented to the media and the public on Tuesday with no explanation of the various firings and appointments. It is a fundamental failing on the president’s part that does further damage to the idea of accountability in South Africa.

For accountability to work, people need to understand why someone has been removed from office. On the one hand, it establishes a precedent, so that public representatives and the public alike know where exactly the line in the sand is drawn. That engenders better conduct.

On the other hand, it manages people’s expectations. If the public is made to understand that certain failings constitute a fireable offence, they can better gauge the conduct of others and, indeed, the values and judgment of the president himself. Both these things entrench and complement excellence.

Zuma, of course, refused to do either because he has no consistent criteria for removing people from public office — and what criteria he does have are more to do with politics than governance. So, best to keep quiet and let everyone guess. We are the poorer for it.

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I SEE Johannesburg, that "African world-class city", issued Luthuli House an erroneous R3.5m electricity bill, proof that the billing crisis is nowhere near resolved. Many will be glad the African National Congress got a taste of its own medicine, but what is more interesting is how quickly the problem was resolved.

No doubt one irate phone call was enough to make the City of Johannesburg jump. That stands in stark contrast to the experience of many others who have to deal with grossly overinflated bills as well as months of haggling with an unhelpful bureaucracy to have the situation rectified.

Someone should find out the average time it takes for an erroneous bill to be corrected and then phone the city and ask how long it took for the Luthuli House mistake to be resolved.