Corruption, generally defined as the ‘abuse of public office for private gain’, is becoming so widespread in South Africa, that unless it is decisively tackled in this presidential term, there is a real danger that it will become entrenched as a ‘normal’ aspect of life in our country. Once it becomes normalised within our society, it will be almost impossible to uproot.
1.1 Forms of corruption
Corruption generally takes three forms. The first, so-called ‘big-time’ corruption, takes place when public officials bend the rules to channel patronage to relatives, friends and cronies, or accept bribes, as well when private agents bribe public officials to give them exclusive advantages or rights.
The second form of corruption is characterised as ‘quiet’ corruption, when public servants deliberately neglect their duties to provide public services or goods that have been paid for by government. ‘Quiet’ corruption may not involve an exchange of money but involves providers of public services such as teachers, nurses or other officials bending the rules for their own private interests. This includes, for example, public servants such as teachers or nurses not being present at work when they should be.
Finally, ’rent-seeking’ is demonstrated when politically connected individuals and groups undeservedly receive government and private sector contracts and mining rights and benefit from favourable policies owing to their closeness to the governing party, political leaders and government.
While rent-seeking may for many appear not constitute corruption, it is in fact a pervasive form of corruption. The entrenchment of a rent-seeking culture – which is currently taking place in South Africa – undermines the productive capacity of the economy, innovation and new investment.
Rent-seeking discourages job creation as well as efforts to reduce poverty and inequality. It ultimately stymies economic growth. A very obvious form of rent-seeking is narrow black economic empowerment (BEE), whereby shares of established white companies are allocated to a few politically connected blacks, their families and associates. They become fabulously wealthy overnight through a BEE deal received by virtue of their political connections rather than the provision of skill.
Rent-seeking also includes appointing politically connected cadres to the public and private sectors, or giving cadres government or private contracts, without any merit, or without them having the ability or competence to perform. Such rent-seeking does not add, but diminishes value.
Rent-seeking may also involve lobbying for policies that enriches one group, company or political faction, rather than a whole society.
The less action is taken against those engaged in and/or benefiting from corruption, the more people will be attracted to corruption, until corruption become systemic.
1.1 Corruption in South Africa is reaching systemic levels
The rise of corruption in South Africa has registered on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, an international survey of public corruption. According to the index, South Africa ranked 54 out of 178 countries listed. South Africa is ranked the most corrupt in Africa by respondents in the Global Corruption Barometer on Africa, which is conducted by Transparency International in partnership with Afrobarometer. The survey covered 43 143 respondents across 28 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, who were asked about their experiences and perceptions of corruption in their countries.
A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that South African companies experience more fraud and bribery than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. There are higher incidents of every economic crime category, except mortgage fraud and property infringement. It states corruption and bribery were the fastest growing economic crime category in South Africa since 2011.
Former Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi recently stated that South Africa was in danger of becoming a “predator state” where a new tier of leaders believed it was their turn to “feed”. “There is an order in a predatory state – and I’m not saying that is what is happening – but in an ordinary predatory state there is an order in the feeding trough. The first family must feed first, and then the Cabinet must come, and its family, and then the provincial leadership and council”, Vavi said.
Why has the cancer of corruption spread so quickly, and can anything be done about it?
2. How can we stop the pervasive culture of corruption?
2.1 Declare corruption a national emergency
Corruption should be declared a national emergency. This would mean also ending the dangerous defensiveness, and in some cases denialism, prevalent in some government and political circles over the high levels of corruption.
2.2 Clean up the ANC and demonstrate the power of setting an example
The ANC itself must legally, socially and politically punish the bad behavior of its leaders and members and reward good behavior. Senior party leaders, ministers and public servants who are corrupt, even if they are powerful in the party, must be sacked. Only if that is done publicly, will government restore the moral authority to deal credibly with transgressions from ordinary citizens and compel citizens to follow the rules.
The ANC (and other political parties) must bring in more competent, more honest and more decent leadership at all levels. A system of merit must be brought into the internal party elections. Candidates must be judged on the basis of competence, moral character and genuine commitment to public service. The active encouragement of new leaders, with better value systems, rather than good struggle credentials may help develop a societal change in values.
2.3 Tackle corruption in business
Corruption in business is often not taken seriously by business leaders, globally or locally. For instance, collusion practices, where prices are fixed between companies to the detriment of poor consumers, are rarely seen by companies to comprise corruption. The global financial crisis was essentially caused by corrupt and greedy businessmen and women. However, many of these business leaders and companies now continue post-global financial crisis as if they were not responsible.
Locally, sometimes business figures critical of corruption in government circles abet corruption by colluding in corrupt practices, whether by giving a kickback for securing a contract or by appointing a token black or black politician to a board or a senior position in order to secure access to government contracts. We have seen how private companies scramble to get the ‘right’ people with suitable connections to ANC leadership on their boards, in senior management or as their BEE partners.
We should compel companies trading on government contracts to adhere to a set of ‘integrity’ standards, in which they foreswear corrupt activities. Civil society could monitor whether such companies adhere to these standards.
2.4 Foster constitutional values that reject corruption
South Africans must actively cultivate a value system that rewards honesty and discourages dishonesty. Importantly, public and political leaders must be measured against such a value system. Civil society will have to play a role in shaming those leaders who demonstrate corrupt values and encouraging those who behave with integrity.
In the long term the best antidote to corruption is to foster the values of the South African Constitution across society. Firstly, the Constitution must be widely accepted as the supreme governance framework for all laws, values and cultures. Cultural practices that undermine the core constitutional values cannot and should not be defended. This means that traditional law, justice and norms must be subject to the Constitution. There cannot be a parallel system of governance to that of the Constitution.
Days after the Constitutional Court judgement on Nkandla, President Jacob Zuma, responding to the debate in the National House of Traditional Leaders which sat in Pretoria (7 April 2016), asked “what are the values” that drive us. He then responded to his own question saying “African problems should be solved in the African way”, rather than through the courts. “I would be very happy that we resolve the African problems in the African way. Because if we solve them only legally they become complicated. Law looks at one side only and doesn’t look at any other thing. It deals with cold facts and I was complaining about that but they are dealing with warm bodies – that’s a contradiction.”
Similarly, in Zuma’s representations to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in 2009, he stated that corruption was a “Western paradigm”. Even though corruption is legally a crime in South Africa, he claimed wrongly that there are “no victims” of corruption. Such a statement not only directly implies that South Africa’s Constitution and the Constitutional Court are not the African way, but also perpetuates the idea that in African indigenous cultures the act of corruption is not wrong, which is off course patently untrue.
2.5 Introduce merit into the political system
Merit-based appointments to jobs in the public service and in politics will come a long way to reduce the patronage system of jobs for pals, which fosters corruption. It would be important to professionalise South Africa’s public service. Performance agreements across government must be enforced. More transparent methods for appointments should be introduced, including making outcomes of decisions publicly available. Those who are politically appointed must have the necessary qualifications and skills. The CV’s of those who have applied for key public positions but who have not been shortlisted, must be publicly made available, so that the public can see how those who appointed compared to those who were not – and so combat patronage appointments and the sidelining and marginalization of competent, but critical voices to crucial public positions.
2.6 Improve the institutional capacity to fight corruption
This would mean strengthening the corruption-fighting capacity of existing institutions dealing with corruption. This would include improving coordination and integration of anti-corruption work across government. In 2004, the National Anti-Corruption Hotline was set up. However, the Public Service Commission reported in October 2010, that the government has “no knowledge” of what has happened to at least two thirds of cases reported to the National Anti-Corruption Hotline.
One important law to combat corruption was the enactment of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Activities Act of 2004. The passing of the Act strengthened the legislative base for fighting corruption. A set of guidelines on the implementation of the Act was subsequently published to simplify the content of the Act which had previously been rather complicated. Too few civil servants and members of the public are sufficiently informed about the Act. Furthermore, there appear to be little political will to enforce the Act.
2.7 Improve the enforcement of internal anti-corruption controls within the state
This would include managing conflicts of interests better, improved screening of personnel, better performance evaluation and making procurement systems more transparent. Sadly, enforcement and compliance in the public sector has often been low, thereby opening up the system to corruption.
In October 2010 the Public Service Commission reported that almost half of government department head of departments had not had their performance evaluated in the 2009/10 financial year, even though they oversee more than R1 trillion of taxpayers’ money annually. Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu said most corruption goes unpunished encouraging further corruption. Similarly, Claudelle von Eck, the CEO of the Institute of Internal Auditors SA said there appear to be few consequences for corruption. “Not enough was being done to bring the corrupt to account and those often charged with corruption are not the leaders. We have to get to the point where leaders are held responsible”.
2.8 Set up an independent institution that can follow up on reports of corruption
Although cases of corruption are exposed on a daily basis there is currently no mechanism in the constitutional architecture that compels the state to act against public corruption, particularly in cases where the perpetrators are protected by powerful political and business leaders. A case must be laid at a police station, or lodged with the Public Protector. Citizens should be encouraged to alert the Police, the Public Protector or the relevant public watchdog when they witness corruption.
However, South Africa needs an independent structure, either private or civil society led, which not only follows up whether or not corrupt officials have been brought to book, but can also force police and public watchdogs to bring cases of corruption exposed in the media and by whistleblowers to book. Many of the Public Protector’s successful investigation into corruption are often not taken further by police and prosecuting authorities.
2.9 Bar corrupt officials and businesses
Corrupt officials and politicians should be prohibited from employment in the public sector. Corrupt businesses and individuals should also be barred from doing business with the public sector. Civil society, trade unions, social movements and NGOs should shame and put pressure on corrupt business, so that they can feel the reputational effects of corrupt activities. It would be worthwhile for organised business in South Africa to spearhead a collective effort to force major companies to forego corrupt practices.
2.10 The importance of lifestyle audits
Lifestyle audits of all party leaders and public servants are absolutely crucial and would also serve to boost public confidence. Lifestyle audits should be compulsory for elected and public appointments and should be open to public scrutiny.
2.11 Increase transparency and access to information
The solution to corruption is increased transparency. “Open access to information provides a basis for government accountability and raises the barriers against capricious, self-serving intervention. Without accurate and detailed information it is difficult to assess company and board performance, set targets and allocate capital efficiently”.
Government departments, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and other agencies need to make tender recipient information publicly available. Payments to elected representatives, public servants, political parties and government departments by private companies and SOEs should also be made public as in the US where an amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act, compels oil, gas and mining companies listed on an American stock exchange to disclose details of payments to governments.
The media, particularly investigative journalism, has a key role to play in the exposure of corruption and should not be curtailed. The proposal for a media tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill will prevent information about official corruption reaching the masses. The chairperson of the Public Service Commission, Ralph Mgijima, said as much when he released the State of the Public Service Report in October 2010. He said the proposed bill would pose challenges to monitoring government performance, compliance and public corruption. The challenge is how to bring the extent of corruption to the masses and how to explain on a mass-scale that impact of corruption on service delivery, so that ordinary citizens can hold their elected leaders and public servants more vigorously accountable.
2.12 Protect whistle-blowers, witnesses and anti-corruption fighters
To be a whistle-blower, whether in the public or private sector, in South Africa is potentially life-threatening. Anti-corruption crusaders in South Africa and in other developing countries are vulnerable to attack from powerful corrupt politicians, business and criminals. At present, public perception is that whistle-blowers are more likely to be prosecuted than the corrupt individuals. It is imperative that this changes, even if this means enacting a whistleblower protection law. South Africa also needs to foster a better environment in which to report wrong-doing in which more official action is taken on the information of whistle-blowers and they whistle-blowers themselves are protected.
2.13 Increase citizen activism
Courageous people are needed within and outside of the ANC to support corruption fighters and become corruption fighters themselves if we are to prevent corruption from crippling the attainment of a better life for the majority of our people, and not just the elite.
One mechanism to encourage activism could be the establishment of citizen or community forums directly corresponding to government departments which monitor service delivery and the progress of complaints. In Kenya for example, the Muslims for Human Rights (Muhari), a community-based organisation, monitors the use of the budgets given to members of parliament to distribute as grants to their constituencies.
A grassroots campaign against corruption is necessary so that the masses come to know the extent of corruption, the impact it has on public service delivery, how to monitor and report it, and the importance of holding their elected leaders and public servants more vigorously accountable.
2.14 Deracialise the corruption debate
The debate on corruption is often racialised, thereby undermining the fight against it. On some occasions leading public figures, if black, have accused critics, if white, of being racists, if they point to wrong-doing. However, playing the racism card for self-enrichment at the expense of the public good, or to deflect attention from individual wrongdoing constitutes aiding corruption. Similarly, for some white South Africans to broadly view corruption or incompetence by individual leaders, if black, as a general failure of all blacks rather than seeing it in the context of a specific corrupt individual, whatever the colour, politics or class, is also wrong. What we should not do in our bid to debunk outrageous racial generalisations is defend individual incompetence, wrong-doing and even corruption, just because the person is black or white.
Public officials often dismiss international organisations’ corruption reports on South Africa, saying these reports are infused with Western bias, which overlooks corruption in Western countries and focuses only developing countries. While this is true to some extent it deserves a separate debate and should not downplay the serious issue of corruption at home. Former President Thabo Mbeki accused those who criticised corruption in South Africa’s controversial arms procurement deal as perpetuating a stereotype which paints African governments as corrupt. Mbeki is wrong: It is African governments and leaders who partake in corrupt practices who are perpetuating the stereotype, not courageous critics who expose corruption.
2.15 Stop blaming apartheid for current corruption
While apartheid left a corrupt legacy, it cannot be blamed for current corruption. Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, in February 2010, rightly argued that “apartheid cannot be blamed every time” someone is involved in corruption. Blaming the legacy of apartheid – although certainly with us – has become an easy answer for not acting against corruption.
While the apartheid system was corrupt, in 1994 South Africa established a new democratic dispensation, which is supposed to hold public and elected representatives to higher standards, values and behavior, not the same as those of apartheid.
The myth that corruption has no victims is a dangerous fallacy. Corruption causes disastrously inefficient economic, social and political outcomes. It diverts public resources from critical development projects to less productive, less job-creation and less growth spurring ones.
It discourages long-term investment. It “misallocates” scarce talent, resources and energy to rent-seeking activities. It undermines democracy: shattering trust in democratic institutions, ultimately leading to political instability.
Unpunished corruption at the top leadership of a country leads to “self-replicating behavior” by ordinary citizens. Dominance of countries by corrupt leaders further fosters the acceptance of corruption as “normal”. South Africa is at a “tipping point” where corruption is in danger of becoming the accepted social norm. Making the democratic values of the constitution the accepted social norm at all levels of society is the only genuine anti-dote to pervasive corruption.
 See Raghavan Parthasarathy. 2010. Preventing public sector corruption. The Hindu. Business Line: September 23
 World Bank. 2010. Africa Development Indicators 2010. World Bank Publications: Washington DC, March
 Kevin M. Murphy, Andrei Shleifer and Robert W. Vishny (1993) Why Is Rent-Seeking So Costly to Growth? The American Economic Review, Vol. 83, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Hundred and Fifth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (May, 1993), pp. 409-414
 Transparency International. 2010. Corruption Perceptions Index 2010. New York: Transparency International. October
 The index’s survey of South Africa has its shortcomings. Its methodology is based on surveying business and experts on their perceptions of corruption. Civil society, community and ordinary citizens’ views are excluded in the index. Secondly, corruption takes many forms. However, the index only uses one tool: the perceptions of business. Thirdly, the index has also come under attack from developing countries because of perceptions that it singles out developing countries, and furthermore, it does not put the same emphasis on corruption from industrial country governments and companies as in developing countries [This is one of the reasons why Brazil’s former Transparency International chapter has withdrawn in 2007, and set up their own localised version]. Fourthly, the index methodology varies from country to country – it does make country comparisons difficult. Fifthly, it does not highlight which kind of corruption is more common or more serious. In South Africa, perceptions of corruption are also clouded by race. Furthermore, business views may not be the most representative. Nevertheless, it is still a useful barometer, since there is no national corruption survey, audit or public perceptions study of corruption in South Africa.
 Transparency International & Afrobarometer (2015) Global Corruption Barometer on Africa. Johannesburg, December 1
 PricewaterhouseCoopers. 2014. Global Economic Crime Survey 2014. New York
 Zwelinzima Vavi. 2010. Address to the political school of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. August 16, Johannesburg
 Public Service Commission. 2010. ‘State of the Public Service Report 2010. October, Government Printers: Pretoria
 Kimi Makwetu. 2014. Auditor-General Address to the Institute of Internal Auditors’ Forum. Johannesburg, February 10
 Claudelle von Eck. 2014. Address to the Institute of Internal Auditors’ Forum. Johannesburg, February 10
 Claudelle von Eck. 2014. Address to the Institute of Internal Auditors’ Forum. Johannesburg, February 10
 Simon C.Y. Wong. 2004. ‘Improving Corporate Governance in SOEs: An Integrated Approach. Corporate Governance International. Vol. 7. Issue 2. June, p. 10
 The Economist. 2010. ‘Naming and shaming: the fight against corruption’. International Section. P. 64
 See, The Economist. 2010. Naming and shaming: the fight against corruption. International Section. October 30, p. 65.
 Malusi Gigaba. 2010. “Stop blaming apartheid for corruption”. The Sunday Independent. February 21.