EU-SA Inspiring Thinkers Debate Series: #Corruption and #HumanRights

Democracy Works Foundation recently partnered with the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR), the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ) and the Delegation of the European Union to South Africa as part of the “EU-SA Inspiring Thinkers Series”. Held on 16 March at IAJ the dialogue focused on the theme of, ‘#Corruption and #Human Rights… one or the other.’

The “EU Inspiring Thinkers Series” is composed of dialogues and discussions on critical and challenging themes that respond to the interests of South African civil society.

Facilitated by Dr Khulekani Moyo, the panel consisted of Amina Frense, Chairperson, Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, Hennie van Vuuren, Director of Open Secrets, Bonang Mohale, Deputy Chairperson of Business Leadership South Africa and Ivor Chipkin, Director of the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI), Wits University with respondents including Jay Naidoo, former Minister and social activist and Errol Holland of the Foundation for Human Rights.

The dialogue focused on the impact of corruption on human rights, and increased awareness of the need for civil society, business, government and other societal formations to collaborate and work towards a common purpose in the interest of “better life for all.”

Hennie van Vuuren set the tone for the discussion by saying that “corruption is a crime that massively undermines human rights”. The fight against corruption is central to the struggle for human rights. Corruption has always greased the wheels of the exploitation and injustice which characterise our world.

Corruption is not, as claimed even by President Zuma, a crime without victims. Errol Holland pointed out that “corruption is a crime that violates the rights of all those affected by it, with a disproportionate impact on groups that are exposed to particular risks” (such as minorities, migrant workers, disabled people, HIV/AIDS, refugees, prisoners and the poor).

Regarding the country’s historical background and the South African specific characteristics of Corruption, Naidoo asked “Where did we go wrong? How do we get out this mess?” Naidoo and Chipkin concurred that South Africa now faces the “legacy of a highly corrupt apartheid-regime” while Bonang Mohale saw great potential in fighting corruption by involving the private and business sector.

In response to the connection between corruption and human rights within South Africa, Naidoo still considered that “every crisis is an opportunity”.

By connecting acts of corruption to violations of human rights, Democracy Works and other civil society actors should take the new opportunities for action to challenge corruption at the different national, regional and international levels that exist to monitor compliance with human rights.

Comments from panellists

This dialogue was a success in terms of content, attendance and feedback. Shell Chairman Bonang Mohale made references to the ‘Nene-Gate and Nkandla-Gate’ sagas, examples of corruption in the government sector. He implored the people to take up a stance, and say “enough is enough”, and “not in our name”.  PARI director Ivor Chipkin advised that he does not see these as corruption, but rather failed policies, politics and governance. IAJ Chair Amina Frense highlighted the critical role of the media in exposing corruption and informing the nation. Henie van Vuuren summarised that corruption, as a crime undermines the human rights framework of our constitution.

Former Minister Jay Naidoo asked what is democracy and human rights if people cannot feed their families, and spoke about his experience on the farm in the free state, where a white farmer had cut off the water supply to farm workers for 3 years. It was the ANC-led government that restored the water. Naidoo highlighted the shame of such behaviour given SA’s colonial and apartheid history. He also noted that SA remains one of the most unequal nations in the world.

Naidoo, who led the RDP during Nelson Mandela’s cabinet of 1994, shared his disappointment of the RDP being aborted by the Mbeki Government. He pointed out that the crisis of inequality has worsened since then.  He implored Mohale to work closer with the labour community in reducing this inequality. As a social activist, and leader of the formation of COSATU in the mid 80’s, he mobilised people for an active citizenry, to fight against corruption, that is undermining the human rights ethos underpinned in SA’s constitution. Jay advised that we must not despair as every crisis provides an opportunity.  We must understand how we got to where we are, and how to fix the mess. His newly launched book on “CHANGE” addresses these questions.

Consultant for the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR), Errol Holland, spoke about the role of NGOs in supporting government to promote and uphold the human rights-based constitution. He noted that efforts could be frustrated by key institutions, such as the judiciary and criminal justice system, that are rife with corruption.

Audience Comments & Feedback

The audience appreciated the dialogue platform to engage on such a controversial topic. In particular on corruption that has the potential to derail any progress to peace, stability and social cohesion and to harm our freedom and democracy.

Key questions were noted from different sectors of society. David Lewis, Head of the NGO ‘Corruption Watch,’ noted that business and the private sector are crucial to the conversation on corruption. A Turkish citizen pointed to the lessons from Turkey today. Willie Hofmeyer, former Head of the SIU, a chapter 10 institution in terms of the Constitution of South Africa, spoke about promoting the independence of the Chapter 9 and 10 institutions. Zane Dangor, the recent DG in the department of Department of Social Development, also advocated for strong support for institutions such as the judiciary.

Surveys indicated that audiences appreciated the dialogue platform and the focus on controversial topics such as corruption.

An international conference on corruption, to continue to raise the awareness of this threat to humanity, peace and stability.

Outcomes of Dialogue

The overall objectives of the action were to:

  1. Foster exchange between the European Union (EU) and South Africa (SA) on various approaches and policies to challenge corruption
  2. To stimulate links between EU and SA anti‐corruption structures.
  3. To underpin the SA‐EU Strategic Partnership by
    • Creating platforms of SA‐EU exchange to share experiences/challenges across a range of sectors;
    • Fostering understanding and trust on a range of issues, with a focus on engaging Civil Society and policy‐makers and thought‐leaders;
    • Showing how the EU is SA’s leading and most reliable international partner, and a constructive contributor to their political partnership.

In addition to small steps towards the above, SA civil society actors gained a stronger voice, with the potential to increase cooperation with the SA government. For example:

  • The discussion increased the awareness of the need for the various sectors, viz. civil society, government, business and labour to work and collaborate together to confront and address the threat corruption poses to society and Vision 2030 of the National Development Plan.
  • Former minister Naidoo encouraged Shell Chairman Mohale to work closer with labour in narrowing the huge inequality crisis in SA.
  • PARI Director Chipkin’s postulation that the present perceptions of corruption are a failure of policies, politics and governance needs to be interrogated and unpacked further, perhaps a separate dialogue.
  • The author of the concept note and Chairperson of Democracy Works, William Gumede suggests the following ways to stop the pervasive culture and cancer of corruption:
    1. Declare corruption a national emergency
    2. Clean up the ANC and demonstrate the power of setting an example
    3. Tackle corruption in business
    4. Foster constitutional values that reject corruption
    5. Introduce merit into the political system
    6. Improve the institutional capacity to fight corruption
    7. Improve the enforcement of internal anti-corruption controls within the state
    8. Set up an independent institution that can follow up on reports of corruption
    9. Bar corrupt officials and businesses
    10. The importance of lifestyle audits increase transparency and access to information
    11. Protect whistle-blowers, witnesses and anti-corruption fighters
    12. Increase citizen activism
    13. Deracialise the corruption debate
    14. Stop blaming apartheid for current corruption


Democracy Works Foundation's Chief Editor can be one of our communication team members, a director or a Reference Group member.

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