Working Paper 15: Strengthening Democratic Morality to Undo Moral Breakdown

South Africa’s overarching societal good moral values, whether set by democracy, culture, or religion, which govern individuals’ behaviour, intimate spaces, day-to-day interaction with others, or the conduct of politics, business and government, have in many instances been corrupted. Moral values define what people see as acceptable behaviour for themselves, what they believe behaviours they exhibit others will approve of or not and what society collectively accepts or reject as acceptable behaviour by individuals. The system governing our behaviour, actions, and decisions to not harm others, abuse and steal public resources is called morality (Nygren 1996). Because many of the overarching societal good moral values that are supposed to regulate behaviour are broken in South Africa, individuals engage in everyday corruption or look the other way when it happens.

Morals determine what we believe is right or wrong and “whether we do whatever we can get away with” (Nygren 1996). A person’s conscience is the “moral sense of right and wrong”, which guides a person’s behaviour, decision-making and actions. Integral to conscience is the consciousness of having “a feeling of obligation to do right or be good.” Ethics is a system of moral principles regulating the conduct of an individual or community, and values are the standards of behaviour or “one’s judgement of what is important” behaviour, based on beliefs and attitudes (Churchill 1982; UNESCO 1991; Rennie 2007).

Morals are also determined by how one’s fellow citizens, community and society hold one accountable for behaviour, decisions, and judgements (Gumede 2012). There is, therefore, an accountability dimension to moral values. A breakdown in accountability structures within communities, businesses, and government also erodes moral values (Gumede 2012). There appears to be a normalisation or “socialisation” of corruption of moral frameworks and values in South Africa because moral corruption has become embedded in the governing ANC, the public service, traditions, religions, businesses, and communities. The corrupt, like former President Jacob Zuma, hero-worshipped. Individuals “self-rationalise” wrong behaviour that would “otherwise violate their internal moral framework” (Taylor 2016: 4). In such “self-rationalisation” – everyone is doing it, there is a “denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of the victims” of corruption (Taylor 2016: 3; Heffernan 2011). Those that do wrong do not see themselves as doing anything wrong because wrongdoing is normalised.


The moral corruption of the ANC contributes to a moral breakdown in all areas of society

Many of the country’s overarching societal good moral value systems have been broken for several reasons. The governing ANC is systemically corrupt – many of its leaders, values and organisational culture have been deeply compromised. Systemic corruption within the governing ANC has also corrupted good moral values across broader society. A governing party sets the tone for the behaviour of its members and broader society. As far back as 2015, Gwede Mantashe, when he was ANC general secretary, said in his organisational report that corruption is a “critical” challenge for the ANC, which “diminish the standing and dent the image of the organisation” (ANC 2015).

The ANC governs the country as a party-state, where the party and the state have become almost one and the same, causing the South African state to become systemically corrupt (Gumede 2005). The corruption of the ANC party culture has also infused the state, which the party controls. In a country with a monopoly liberation movement such as the ANC, which has been in power for a long time, the governing party’s culture also dominates the state, business, and market culture of the country.

Power, termed “having the discretion and the means to enforce one’s will over others asymmetrically” (Sturm & Antonakis, 2015, p. 139), has transformed many ANC leaders into acting for party and self-interest rather than in the widest public interest. Power appears to have corrupted many ANC leaders’ moral reasoning, doing the wrong thing for self-interest rather than the right thing in the public interest.

Many ANC leaders appear to make moral decisions based on what the psychologist of moral development, Lawrence Kohlberg (1982), described as “what’s in it for me or through “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, or that their fellow party members will find acceptable. The moral corruption appears to be so systemic that corrupt decisions by ANC leaders or peers are found acceptable by significant numbers of fellow party members, leaders, and supporters.

ANC leadership elections are increasingly manipulated, bought, or secured through violence, often killing competitors. The ANC has investment arms that tender for government contracts, partner with private and state-owned companies in public and private deals and the ANC, in many cases, compels white-owned companies, particularly those contracting with the state, to strike black economic empowerment deals with only ANC connected black individuals.

Some structures and leaders of the ANC are alleged to be in partnership with criminal gangs to capture parts of the state, whether policing, crime intelligence or tenders. Some individual ANC leaders are alleged to have business partnerships with criminal gang leaders – whereby gang leaders appear to be protected from prosecution in return for paying-off key ANC leaders. In some cases, it is alleged that criminal gangs in collusion with ANC members control government procurement contracts.

Because the ANC as a governing party is so dominant in society, the party’s corrupt values, culture and behaviours are also replicated across society. The country’s political, business and market culture may also become corrupt, with companies, professionals and ordinary citizens seeing nothing wrong in engaging in corrupt activities because it is how things are done. Because the ANC and the state are systemically corrupt, many of the country’s private companies, professional firms, and professionals, particularly those having to engage with the corrupt state, may themselves mimic the corrupt culture of the ANC and the state – or at least uncritically accept it, to fit in secure state contracts and positions. Because the ANC and government leadership behave corruptly, lower-ranking public and elected officials and ordinary citizens see corruption as the only acceptable behaviour.


The collapse of moral frameworks of traditions

African traditions, authorities and “customs” have in many areas allowed them to become thoroughly corrupted, manipulated for self-interests and used to oppress “subjects”. A typical case is that of Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, the traditional king of the AbaThembu, who between 1995 and 1996 assaulted, kidnapped, and burned the homes of villagers in his jurisdiction who refused to defer to him. In 2009, Dalindyebo was found guilty of culpable homicide, kidnapping, assault, and arson for these despicable actions. Dalindyebo was sentenced to 12 years in jail for kidnapping, assault, and arson. Incredibly, Dalinyebo only served four years of his sentence after he was granted early parole by presidential decree in 2019.

In 2020, Dalindyebo was at it again, when he went on an attacking spree with an axe trying to assault his son, who had been appointed acting regent while he was in prison. Dalindyebo, like many traditional kings, chiefs and leaders, treat their “subjects” as if they own them, control “communal” land and set their laws under the pretence of African “tradition” and “culture”. The areas under their control are virtual no-go zones, with their own “moral” governance systems which compete with the Constitution, democratic institutions, and laws.

Sadly, many of Dalindyebo’s “subjects” still supported him fiercely despite the fact that he assaulted fellow community members. Many Dalyndyebo supporters twice marched to the West Bank prison in East London, calling for his release (SABC 2018). After his release, the Economic Freedom Fighters endorsed him. The EFF gifted Dalindyebo with a brand-new Mercedes Benz SUV (Eyewitness News 2021).

Over the years, African traditional kings, chiefs, and leaders have often come up with new “cultures”, “traditions”, and “customs”, which in most cases are created to strengthen their own powers over the lives of subjected peoples. It has been difficult to challenge autocratic traditional kings, chiefs, and leaders; because it is often seen as challenging African “identity”, “culture”, and “community”.  Being perceived to be at variance with African “culture”, “identity”, and “community”; even if such “culture”, “identity”, and “community” is harmful to oneself and others – are often seen as shameful.

In 2006, Zuma was acquitted of raping an HIV/Aids positive activist, a close family friend half his age, who said during the trial that she saw him as a surrogate father. During the rape trial, he appallingly claimed he could tell by the way a woman sat or the dress she wore that she was ‘looking for sex’ and Zulu “culture” and traditions compelled him to oblige. A few weeks after his rape acquittal, Zuma made derogatory statements about gays and lesbians, implying it was against African “culture” and “traditions” (Gumede 2012). Sadly, the naïve, the well-meaning and the ignorant, in many instances, fall for the cynical manipulation of traditional customs by corrupt “leaders.”

Many ANC and opposition leaders often use African “traditions” selectively – fallaciously arguing when it suits them that they cannot be held accountable by the Constitution because they supposedly adhere to African “laws,” to escape being held accountable for wrongdoing, incompetence, and incompetence. Some government ministers blame the Constitution for poor public services when the government itself is responsible because of incompetence, mismanagement and corruption.

More recently, Lindiwe Sisulu, the Tourism Minister, as part of her campaign to contest the presidency of the ANC at the party’s upcoming December 2022 national elective conference, dismissed the Constitution as “a neo-liberal constitution with foreign inspiration, but who are the interpreters? Furthermore, where is the African value system of this Constitution and the rule of law? If the law does not work for Africans in Africa, then what is the use of the rule of law?” (Sisulu 2022).

Sisulu (2022) blamed the “sea of African poverty” on the Constitution, questioning the “agency” of the country’s overarching document, asking: “What has this beautiful Constitution done for the victims [of colonialism] except as a palliative (Panadol)?”. Sisulu called judges upholding the Constitution “house negroes” and “mentally colonised” who are “settled with the view and mindset of those who have dispossessed their ancestors”.

The moral collapse in African traditional customs, structures and authorities is clearly seen in the tradition of circumcision, which in some African communities (of course in many other non-African communities also) is seen as a rite of passage into manhood (Gumede 2015). There is very little moral outrage and intervention from “traditional leaders” when every year, hundreds of young men and boys die at initiation schools from botched circumcisions, assault, or dehydration. The lack of outrage – and immediate action – from government and traditional and cultural officialdom over these needless annual deaths is itself disturbing. The traditional initiation schools system in many areas has been corrupted – and should be abolished or handed over to civil society or the government to oversee.

Many of the “traditional surgeons” (iincibi) are often untrained to carry out circumcisions, are not registered with health authorities and are not held to basic standards. Corrupt traditional leaders are exploiting the fact that young men are culturally “obliged” to undergo the custom of circumcision to enrich themselves handsomely. African cultural practices which undermine individual human dignity, value and rights must either abolished immediately or reformed.

The Department of Traditional Affairs must properly regulate initiation schools, formalise them, and set appropriate standards. Government, communities, and civil society must properly monitor the schools. Teachers at these schools must be adequately qualified.

The curriculum of initiation schools needs to be urgently transformed. Manhood must be based on the democratic, moral, and behavioural values enshrined in our Constitution. The curriculum for initiation schools should be adapted to grapple with the new moral challenges of our time: including the notion of gender equality, safe sexual behaviour, the notion of ‘public’ service and discouraging the dominant ‘macho’ perception of maleness.

The moral debate over what constitutes appropriate African “traditions” for our times must be wrested away from those who argue culture for purely opportunistic reasons, such as self-enrichment and to shore up their own influence and bank balances.


The moral collapse of many religious institutions and frameworks

Almost 80% of South Africans say they are members of Christian denominations of one or the other. Many of the country’s religious institutions’ moral governance systems have also been corrupted.

In November 2020, self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd “Major 1” Bushiri and his wife Mary fled South Africa for his homeland of Malawi after accusations against them of fraud and money laundering worth R102million (Enca 2020). Before they fled, the couple was granted bail R200 000 bail by the Pretoria Central Magistrate’s Court.

Many Bushiri’s Enlightened Christian Gathering Church members came out in support of Bushiri during his court appearances in the Pretoria Magistrate’s court, despite his legions of alleged transgressions (Enca 2020). At Bushiri’s bail hearing in November 2020, supporters of his congregation dropped to their knees, singing and praying outside the Pretoria Magistrate’s court, singing in Zulu, “bring our parents” (Tshikalange 2020).

Televangelist Timothy Omotoso and co-accused Lusanda Sulani and Zukiswa Sitho in 2020 stood accused in the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth of 97 charges, including rape, human trafficking, and racketeering, with 47 witnesses testifying against them (Manona 2021). Omotoso led the Jesus Dominion International Church. Supporters packed the courtroom during his court appearances. One of the victims, Hlubikazi “Vicky” Faleni, testified in court that Omotoso had asked her: ‘What would like me to be to you, to which she responded, ‘I’d like you to mentor me, be a father figure to me because my father passed away a long time ago (Manona 2021). However, Omotoso allegedly insisted she should be his girlfriend and went on to abuse her. Some of Omotoso’s supporters shouted abuse at Hlubikazi “Vicky” Faleni, one of the victims.

In 2014 Lesego Daniel, a self-proclaimed pastor who started the Rabboni Ministries in Ga-Rankuwa in Pretoria, told his church members to eat grass – which they did. In social media images, Daniel was seen standing on top of congregants, feeding them grass and slapping women church members as part of a supposed religious ritual (ENCA 2014a). Interviewed about it later by Metro FM radio station, he claimed the grass “was like food” to his church members.

Soon after that, Daniel was at it again, this time instructing his church members to drink petrol. In youtube images, his church members are seen drinking petrol at the church, while Daniel encourages them to do so (ENCA 2014b). Several of his followers who drank the petrol could be seen collapsing and writhing on the church floor (ENCA 2014b). His church members defended him when he was publicly criticised (ENCA 2014).

Ray McCauley, the leader of the Rhema Bible Church, told a hearing organised by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities to propose

a code of conduct to regulate churches, said there are over 140 000 non-registered churches in South Africa, that are not paying taxes, are unregulated and conducting illegal activities. These churches do not account for their finances, and how they are governed and are not accountable for what they do (McCauley 2018).

“We want to be in a position where if people are (operating dens of) prostitution in their places of worship and selling drugs, taking money and (putting) it in a trunk and getting it flown out of the country, we need to able to deal with that” (McCauley 2018). Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, the CRL Commission chairperson at the same 2018 hearing in the management of churches said the “moral fibre” of the religious sector is seriously compromised and called for a code of conduct for churches to ensure religious leaders conduct themselves “ethically and effectively”.

Church pulpits are increasingly used by politicians not only to campaign for the votes of parishioners ahead of elections but also by corrupt politicians seeking the blessing of the church after they have been implicated in wrongdoing.

Former President Jacob Zuma, used populism to secure votes used the church, especially the Pentecostal and charismatic churches, to secure endorsement for his presidency, despite this tsunami of moral transgressions. Very arrogantly, Zuma tried to show his supporters that the ANC had been given a “divine right to rule”. Addressing the ANC’s 105th-anniversary celebrations in Soweto, Zuma made an analogy between the incarnation of Christ and that of the ANC (Zuma 2017).

“We believers never forget that, just like the Son of Man who came to wash away all of our sins, the birth of the ANC happened to free the people who were oppressed. We will never forget that, just like we don’t forget Christmas,” Zuma said (2017). On another occasion, Zuma predicted that “we [the ANC] will rule until Jesus comes back”.

In an editorial in the Southern Cross, the Catholic newspaper argued rightly that: “When Mr Zuma invokes his party’s divine right to rule, he is proposing that voting against the ANC represents an act of defiance against God. That is an affront to South Africa’s believers and to our democracy”. The Southern Cross editorial said that if Zuma really believes that the ANC was ruling by God’s mandate, the ANC will have difficulty explaining “how the looting of public funds … by ANC appointees complies with the Seventh Commandment” (Southern Cross 2017).


SA’s Constitution – the overarching moral framework is not recognised by many disadvantaged communities

The Constitution, which integrates the good elements of all the different moral frameworks of South Africa – whether religious, traditional, or civil, has been rejected by many ANC leaders, members, and supporters.

During apartheid, the oppressed communities saw laws as illegitimate, to be defied. These include laws governing anything from littering and queue jumping to taxi drivers ignoring traffic laws. However, in the new democracy, some formerly disadvantaged communities defy the Constitution, laws, and social norms as if they are still illegitimate, like during the apartheid era (Gumede 2020). During protests against government corruption, incompetence, and indifference, many formerly disadvantaged communities often destroy public and communal assets (ISS 2021). During the apartheid era, township residents protesting against apartheid authorities often destroyed government and white-owned infrastructure – which they argued only served whites and excluded blacks. In the post-apartheid era there is the misplaced idea that the destruction of public and communal resources and breaking the law during political protests are “militant” and “revolutionary” acts and akin to acts against the apartheid regime (Gumede 2020). Destruction, vandalisation and burning buildings, libraries, and laboratories during the Fees Must Fall protests cost universities R786million between 2015 and 2018 (Gumede 2020). This was the equivalent of the yearly government subsidy to one of the smaller universities. The Mafikeng campus of the University of North-West sustained R198m in damage after it was set alight.

Similarly, strikes by trade unions for increased wages and against retrenchments, which turn violent, are often excused supposedly on the basis that the action was for a “good” cause. In 2018, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and the Metal and Electrical Union of SA (MEUSA) members embarked on a strike at manufacturing, moulding, and packaging companies across the country when wage talks deadlocked (Mahlakoana 2018).

The 2018 NUMSA strike saw the burning of property, destruction of infrastructure and violence against non-strikers at plastics companies in Ekurhuleni, where the strikes took place. A security officer, Lesley Mphahlele, who was employed at Herber Plastic, died after he was doused with petrol and set alight, allegedly by the strikers (Mahlakoana 2018).

In the platinum belt of North-West and Limpopo provinces, violent protests almost every second day by community members against local mines over retrenchments, lack of community development and sharing of mining income have led to the closures of many mines over the past few years (Stoddard 2018).

Often mine infrastructure is destroyed, and employees are killed, as in the case in 2016 when six workers were burnt to death when the bus they were on was set alight by a petrol bomb when they travelled to their shifts at the Modikwa platinum mine operated by African Rainbow Minerals and Amplats (Stoddard 2018). Many mines have been forced to close down for long periods, with some abandoned – causing job losses and a lack of development and income for local communities. Many political, community and civil organisations hesitate to condemn individuals and organisations destroying public property, resources, and institutions during public service protests. Many corrupt politicians used apartheid as an excuse to cover up wrongdoing. They enrich themselves through corrupt means, saying the apartheid leaders did the same. In fact, corruption, lawlessness, and social disorder have also become entrenched because many formerly disadvantaged communities use apartheid to excuse their own corrupt, wrong, and disorderly behaviour.

Former President Jacob Zuma spent R280million of public money on his private compound, Nkandla, then claimed National Party leader PW Botha also had his private house refurbished when he was president. Many political, community and civil organisations are hesitant to condemn individuals and organisations destroying public property, resources and institutions during public service protests or using apartheid, like Zuma did, to excuse wrongdoing.

To restore the Constitutional moral framework, such behaviour, actions, and decisions should be made criminal, and prosecuted based on criminality, human rights abuses and destruction of public resources. Those who destroy public infrastructure and property and injure others during protests should also be personally held accountable. Organisations organising such violent protests should also be liable for damages, injuries, and deaths – to foster accountability.


Competing governance systems to the moral values of the Constitution

South Africa’s overarching moral framework, the Constitution,, faces competing for “moral” governance systems such as the ANC’s party “laws”, customary law, and gang laws. This means South Africa has a fragmented moral universe rather than a common, unifying one.

The ANC is a liberation movement with its own Constitution, values, and culture that many leaders, members, and supporters see as above the country’s Constitution. Many aspects of the ANC’s Constitution contradict the Constitution. When he was president, former South African President Jacob Zuma warned ANC leaders and members that the ANC’s law was above that of the Constitution. Zuma warned that ANC MPs should serve the ANC first before the Constitution (Makinana, Stone and Nhlabathi 2016). Zuma said: ANC leaders in government should not regard South Africa’s Constitution as ‘more important than the ANC because this would land them in trouble”.

Customary law is a competing moral framework to the Constitution. The large majority of South Africans in the former Bantustans are not under the jurisdiction of the democratic Constitution but the jurisdiction of customary law, the so-called African traditional “law”. Although customary law is recognised in democratic South Africa, it is meant to be subject to the Constitution, democratic institutions, and laws; however, it has been operating above the Constitution.

South Africa’s former homelands, where customary law is the norm, have been entrenched as it was during the apartheid era, with unelected kings, chiefs and traditional leaders and their councils controlling communal land, negotiating mineral rights and prospective business deals on behalf of the community, without any consultation with the community required (Gumede 2012; Mnisi Weeks 2015).

Any community member objecting is likely to be banned from using the communal land, excluded from any other communal income, and violently punished by traditional kings, chiefs, and leaders, who threaten their “subjects” as if they own them, control “communal” land and set their own laws under the pretence of African “tradition”, “laws” and “culture”.

The governance system of traditional chiefs, leaders and structures, and its guiding ideology of patriarchy, directly challenges and competes with South Africa’s democratic Constitution, laws, and values.

Some ANC leaders take cover under “traditional law” when they want to escape accountability for wrongdoing under the Constitution. There have been many calls from some ANC leaders, specifically former ANC and South African President Jacob Zuma, for supposedly “African” law to be arbitrary of their actions and not South Africa’s Democratic Constitution. A case in point was when former President Zuma said he needed to be judged by African’ law’ when he built a R2480m private home with taxpayers’ money while his supporters lived and died in grinding poverty.

In many cases, organised criminal groups and gangs control townships where they implement their own gang governance systems. These gang governance systems are above the Constitution. Organised criminal groups are, in some cases, also operating as parallel states, handing their own justice, providing “services” and employment. In many townships, gangs form parallel states, controlling resources, setting “laws”, and forcing ordinary citizens to pay “taxes” to them in their “jurisdictions” (Kinnes 2017; Imray 2020; Cruywagen 2021). In these areas, the Constitutional rules, values and laws do not apply.

South Africa’s Constitution must become the overarching moral framework to guide every citizen’s daily lives. Unless the Constitution trumps all competing “moral” governance systems such as the ANC’s party “laws”, customary law and gang laws, the country’s moral universe will remain fractured.


The collapse of ethics of trusted professionals

The phenomenal rise in corruption by trusted professionals, such as auditors, medical doctors, and the legal profession, shows that professional integrity oversight systems and institutions have, in many cases, failed. Society generally views auditors, medical professionals, and the legal profession with higher regard because they hold positions that exercise public trust. They are expected to perform their duties with the highest ethical, personal, and professional standards – and act in the best interests of those they serve, whether it is shareholders, customers, or patients.

One of the reasons why these professions have entry examinations, professional associations and formal standards of conduct is to set basic principles of good behaviour. Society, therefore, views these respected professions’ ethical failures, corruption, and indifference with more alarm. A forensic investigation by PWC in 2019 revealed that 130-year-old household sugar giant Tongaat Huletts’ profits were overstated between 2011 and 2018. It showed that Tongaat’s 2018 profits were overstated by 239%. The company’s assets were overstated by 34% when executives overvalued sugar cane and backdated land sales (Gumede 2022).

The executives scored millions of rands in bonuses based on inflated company profits, with Peter Staude, the former CEO, receiving R94m in bonuses based on fraudulent sales. The company’s external auditors were stunningly silent about the unethical conduct of company executives over the years. Their case will be heard in the Durban High Court. The auditors were silent for all these years when the fraud happened. Deloitte auditor Gavin Kruger was charged with Tongaat’s implicated executives (Gumede 2022).

Similarly, in December 2017, one of South Africa’s largest companies, Steinhoff, revealed “accounting irregularities”, in which the company overstated profits over several years in a $7.4 billion accounting fraud. The scandal wiped out about $13.5billion, or 90% of its market valuation (Reuters 2019). The fraud happened between 2009 and 2017. Although Deloitte refused to sign off on Steinhoff’s financials for the year through September 2017, it later emerged that Deloitte had signed off previously similarly flawed audits.

Fourteen people, including Limpopo provincial ANC Treasurer Danny Msiza, VBS Chairperson Tshifhiwa Matodzi and bank and municipal officials, have been accused of looting VBS Mutual Bank to face more than one hundred charges (Sadike 2021). Fourteen municipalities in Gauteng, NorthWest and Limpopo lost more than R1.6bn unlawfully investing public money with the bank, contravening the Municipal Finance Management Act. In 2019, advocate Terry Motau released a report implicating ANC politicians, VBS Mutual board and management and municipal officials in wide-scale corruption, which led to the bank’s collapse.

In 2021, the liquidator of the now defunct VBS Mutual Bank, Anoosh Rooplal, sued KPMG SA for R863.6 million plus interest for signing off the bank’s 2017 financial statements as correct when there were material statements and fraud that should have been glaringly obvious to its auditors (Buthelezi 2021). KPMG is now rebuilding its reputation, led by a new CEO and Chairperson, after it audited the results of VBS Mutual Bank when close to R2billion was stolen at the lender.

Government figures show that almost R40bn is lost annually in the health sector through corruption (Gumede 2019). The Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) has warned that fraud, corruption, and waste cost the private healthcare system more than R22bn a year (Business Tech 2019). In 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the Health Sector Anti-Corruption Forum to tackle corruption in the public and private healthcare sectors.

In 2018, the ministries of justice, health and police announced a nationwide investigation into state attorneys and private practitioners accused of siphoning over R80bn from the government through collusion, fraud, and corruption (SA News 2018).

The corruption of supposedly respected professions points to multiple system failures. Professional associations for the legal professions, auditors and medical professions have spectacularly failed to uphold their members’ ethical, professional and behaviour standards. Many of these professions are self-regulated. However, in many cases, self-regulation has failed spectacularly.

Professional associations set basic principles of behaviour for their members. They generally have ethics codes, which provide a set of standards for conduct for members of the profession that issues the code. Off course, given the very corrupt state of government, regulation by the government of professions is unlikely to be better.

Corruption of regulatory authorities of professions’ have contributed to the spread of corruption in the professions. In many cases, supposedly independent regulatory authorities have been staffed by corrupt, incompetent, and uncaring ANC cadre deployees. Honest professionals in such regulatory authorities are often hounded out. The business cultures of many professional service companies – law firms, auditing firms and medical companies – have also begun to mirror the corrupt culture of the ANC and the state with whom they are doing business. Many professional firms, whether law, auditing or medical, argue that while government and everyone else behaves this way – corruptly, we better do the same; or face losing out on lucrative government contracts. There must be a change in professional firms’ focus on profits at all costs towards more balanced, ethical, and sustainable profit targets.

Given the systemic nature of corruption, professional associations must play a bigger role in holding their individual members and firms accountable for corrupt behaviour. They must also play a stronger role in ensuring the corporate cultures of professional firms are more ethical and the clients they take on are more balanced and caring. Civil society must play a more proactive role in ensuring public regulators are competently staffed and held publicly accountable for their lack of independent oversight over professions and firms.


Lack of merit, cadre deployment, and black economic empowerment for the ANC connected have undermined good moral values

The ANC government’s rejection of merit in appointments in the public sector, in its nomination of elected officials and distribution of government tenders, have poisoned society’s moral framework. Appointments to the public sector and SOEs are increasingly determined by the ANC deployment committees, who have only appointed ANC cadres who are deemed “loyal” to the party leadership or the dominant leading faction. In the public and SOE sector, ANC cadres can hardly be fired for incompetence, corruption, or wrongdoing if they are deemed loyal cadres.

This means that competency, talent, and honesty are not the overriding factors in appointments and tenders, but connectivity to the party, the leading party faction or the leadership are the most important criteria. The lack of merit in the public sector has not only led to mediocracy but has also undermined good moral values across society.

BEE companies owned by ANC cadres are often not appointed on merit either. In some cases, BEE companies are created by political capitalists, ANC leaders with no business experience whatsoever, but create companies specifically to bid for an upcoming government contract. These companies get critical government contracts to deliver public services like health, education, and infrastructure. They often inflate prices, buy the cheapest products, and cut corners – provide non-existing, shoddy services. This is one of the main reasons for the public service failures in government.

Alternatively, these politically connected “companies” partner with more established companies that have the capacity through the phenomenon of “fronting.” The politically connected BEE company would get the government contract and then outsource to the established local or international company. Increasingly, in the large BEE deals in the private sector, the ANC deployment committee have proposed that the “right” cadres or their politically connected BEE companies be empowered.

Private companies who do business with the government often also appoint connected ANC leaders or former leaders to the boards, not on merit but based on their networks in the ANC. Such ANC cadres on the board of private companies are often expected to “protect” the company’s contracts with the government, or mining licences.

ANC leaders have often sidelined anyone critical of party policies by not giving them public sector jobs or contracts. The private sector would also shun those deemed to be rejected by the ANC for fear of not getting government contracts if they appoint those blacklisted by the ANC. This means that a veil of silence has covered corruption – as no one wants to be seen speaking out or risk the ire of the ANC leadership. This is one of the reasons why state capture has taken place.


Misplaced racial, common past and ‘struggle’ solidarity undermines moral values

Misplaced racial, ethnic and ‘struggle’ solidarity to support individuals on solely on whether they are black or white, or from the same ethnic group, language or religion, no matter whether they are criminal, corrupt, or undemocratic, undermines a community or country’s good moral framework. Appeals to black (or white), ethnic, and struggle ‘authenticity’ often demand closing ranks behind very dubious and corrupt personalities, sometimes undemocratic politics and (black) government neglect of its (black) citizens.

For example, should the appointment of a black judge be applauded just because he or she is black, even though they act untransformed (Gumede 2019)? A case in point is the fact that in many rape judgements, and many black judges’ values were as conservative as some of their white colleagues. Many black and white judges and magistrates still astonishingly blame the victims of rapes for being responsible for being raped. Surely, in such cases, a black magistrate and judge cannot be supported merely based on their blackness, even if their judgements are blatantly against the letter of the Constitution.

It is crucial that we have the courage to point out when an unskilled or inexperienced black person is put in a position where they are not performing – rather than keep silent because at least they are black or white, are from the same ethnic background or have ‘struggle’ credentials. The poor ultimately pays the price for incompetence, corruption, and crime, whether it is white or black incompetence or corruption and crime.

Another case in point was pressure under the Thabo Mbeki presidency that everyone must rally behind Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF because of their ‘blackness’ and shared victims of racial oppression, ditto their terrifying oppression of ordinary black Zimbabweans themselves, let alone their looting of their country, while their own black citizens starve (Gumede 2005).

Former President Jacob Zuma was and still is fanatically supported for purely ethnic reasons. Zuma has, in his internal leadership campaigns in the ANC and in his attempts to stay out of jail on serious corruption charges, mobilised support on ethnic lines, appealing to Zulu speakers to support him based on his Zuluness alone. This has fueled tribalism’s flames, destabilising the ANC and South Africa.

Like so many African leaders who have mismanaged their countries, Zuma is also dogmatically supported by the very people who are suffering the most from the colossal destruction he unleashed on South Africa, whether through causing the failure of part of the state, bringing the economy to near-collapse, and pushing the country into lawlessness. The corruption, mismanagement, and incompetence under the leadership of Zuma have increased the poverty, inequality, and unemployment legacies of apartheid.

Because many South African and voters in many African countries mostly vote for parties and candidates based on their role in the struggle against colonialism, apartheid and white-minority regimes, ethnicity or colour, which undermines service delivery, they will never get the delivery they deserve (Gumede 2021c). In almost all cases, voting based on colour, ethnicity and past struggle credentials means that competence, performance in government in government and honesty, as criteria, for leadership and party election, are set aside by many voters.

This means that candidates and parties get elected who are often corrupt, incompetent and lack moral values – but they appeal to voters solely based on their anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle credentials, shared ethnicity or colour. Candidates and parties are elected based on past struggle credentials, ethnicity and colour; once elected to power, they often appoint officials to public services, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and oversight agencies based on struggle credentials, ethnicity and colour, and not on merit.

Those who are appointed this way, again, have no incentive to be accountable for the effective delivery of public services to the public, as they know, that even if they fail in government, the voters will continue voting for governing party and leaders who are appointed, based solely on anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle credentials, shared ethnicity and colour, not on performance.

Unless voters change this anti-service delivery voting pattern, the cycle of non-delivery will continue. And corruption, poverty and social instability will continue to escalate. Continuing to vote for candidates and parties based on past struggle, credentials, ethnicity, and the colour is one of the main reasons why many African countries plunge into an ever-continuing downward spiral of lack of accountability that often ends in failed states, civil wars, and coups.

In many ethnically, language and colour diverse countries, with a historical past where one group dominated and others were subjected, both the former dominant voters and formerly oppressed voters often vote for candidates and parties that speak to their historically shared struggle, ethnicity and colour, rather than on their competence to deliver services.

Because of such voting, these countries also struggle to hold these governing parties and leaders accountable because they know that their traditional voters will continue to vote for them based on historically, ethnic or colour reasons – so they do not need to perform in government.

The World Bank, in its 2004 World Development Report, also pointed out that “where populations are polarised around nonservice issues—religious, ethnic, caste, or tribal background, for example—voters care more about what politicians promise on these polarising issues than on services, giving politicians incentives to pursue other goals at the cost of effective services”. The sad thing is, in such countries, where this is the case, after being elected, “politicians have neither the incentives nor the capacity to listen” (WDR 2004).

The American scholar of race Cornel West (1993), warns against the pitfalls of what he calls a resort to black ‘authenticity’ politics, whereby the issue is reduced to ‘racial reasoning’. He argues rightly that we must “replace racial reasoning with moral reasoning, to understand the black-freedom struggle not as an affair of skin pigmentation and racial phenotype but rather as a matter of ethical principles and wise politics”.

Failing African countries will only prosper on all fronts – better quality democracy, more efficient governments, booming economies, and more societal peace – when voters begin to elect and support candidates and parties based on merit, not based on colour, ethnicity or past struggle history. To get better service delivery outcomes, Africans will have to start voting more conscientiously, based on moral reasoning and on parties’ and leaders’ capability, performance, and honesty.


Lack of accountability at all levels

At the heart of the moral framework collapse is the stunning failure of democratic oversight institutions to hold the governing ANC, political and business leaders, and “trusted” professionals accountable. Lack of accountability at all levels of legislatures, government and oversight agencies is at the heart of persistent poor public services, financial mismanagement, and corruption. South Africa’s moral accountability system – all the institutions that are supposed to hold public, elected, and private leaders and organisations morally accountable are broken.

Accountability, in basic terms, means to accept and be held responsible for or to account for one’s actions (New Zealand Controller & Auditor-General 2016: 9). Enforcing accountability ensures that elected and public officials act in the interests of the country, not in their own or that of their parties.

Accountability lies at the heart of democratic government” (Guerin, McCrae, and Shepheard 2018: 10). The lack of accountability at all levels of legislatures, government and oversight agencies is at the heart of persistent poor public services, financial mismanagement, and corruption in South Africa.

Effective accountability requires a sound accountability ecosystem which involves legal reporting frameworks. These would include: effective internal government controls, processes and institutions; democratic oversight institutions, such as Parliament, the Auditor-General, the Public Protector and other Chapter 9 institutions; public access to information on state actions, decisions and use of public resources; non-state oversight institutions such as the media, civil society and ordinary citizens; and finally, consequences for wrongdoing. South Africa’s public accountability ecosystem is broken.

Year after year, the Auditor-General in audit reports bemoans the “lack of decisive leadership to address the lack of accountability by ensuring consequences against those who flouted basic processes.” ANC and government leaders have ignored the Auditor-General’s reports.

Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela similarly exposed malfeasance by elected and public officials. For that, she was often attacked by ANC leaders.

The media, civil society organisations and whistle-blowers have consistently pointed out corruption, mismanagement, and poor public services. They have similarly also been dismissed. When ANC and government leaders fail to heed other watchdogs’ calls for accountability, the judiciary has often become the last resort for ordinary citizens to hold elected and public officials accountable. Astonishingly, President Cyril Ramaphosa (2021) told the Zondo Commission that he and the ANC leadership “was unaware” of the scale of corruption during his time as deputy president of the ANC and the country.

Throughout the Presidency of Jacob Zuma, Parliament had been ineffective in holding elected and public officials accountable. The ANC, as the majority party, appoints the majority members of Parliament, the pinnacle oversight institution. South Africa’s electoral system allows ANC leaders to handpick candidates for Parliament – who, in turn, is accountable to the party and leadership, not to their constituencies. This means that a corrupt ANC leadership can appoint corrupt members of Parliament.

Furthermore, the ANC also appoint almost every head of democratic oversight institution through deployment policy. Party leaders often appoint pliable, compromised, and corrupt individuals who will account for the leaders and the party, rather than the Constitution or the public interest. The deployment of such compromised individuals weakens the accountability ecosystem and democratic oversight checks and balances.

Alternatively, ANC members of Parliament, fearing recall by party leaders, will often look the other way rather than holding corrupt peers in the party, government, and public agencies accountable. Because the ANC has been so dominant because of its liberation movement legacy, corruption of its leadership, morals, and culture has also infected all the accountability oversight institutions.

To ensure accountability, Parliament must also follow up on whether the recommendations of inquiries, task teams and investigations are implemented. Importantly, Parliament should track the recommendations of the Zondo Commission to ensure they are implemented. There have been many inquiries, investigations and task teams into poor performance, mismanagement, and corruption, but changes are never made based on their recommendations. Parliament should allow follow-up on civil society, media, and citizens’ exposure to lack of delivery, mismanagement and corruption.

One reason for the lack of accountability is the lack of consequences for wrongdoing. There are no “heads must roll” culture when there is wrongdoing in the public service or among elected officials. Even if they perform poorly, many public servants and elected representatives stay on, have proven to be incompetent and steal public money.

Civil society organisations should, like the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and SA Airways Pilots Association (Saapa) which lodged an application to the High Court in March 2017 to have former SAA chairwoman Dudu Myeni declared a delinquent director for her appallingly destructive mismanagement of the state airline, also hold other public officials accountable whom the ANC protects.

Of course, the ultimate accountability measure for a governing party is for citizens not to vote for it again if the party and leaders in government fail to deliver on their promises, become corrupt and are indifferent to the plight of ordinary citizens. Many South Africans still do not use their vote effectively to enforce accountability. Governing parties and leaders do not become more accountable, honest, or morally good unless they have a real prospect of losing power.


Corporate corruption is not seen as corruption

Business leaders are often critical of corruption in government circles; however, they abate corruption by colluding in corrupt practices: whether giving a kickback for securing a contract or appointing a token black or black politician to a board or senior position to secure access to government contracts.

A country’s political, business, and market culture also determine whether companies may be tempted to engage in corruption. In a country that is systemically corrupt, public and private sector companies will likely be more inclined to behave corruptly. In such countries behaving corruptly may be the norm. Companies may fear that if they do not pay bribes, for example, they lose their competitive advantage and will not get contracts. This is the so-called “prisoner’s dilemma”, in which the company that does not do bribery will lose out on contracts if every other company bribes in return for contracts (Poundstone 1992; Alexander and Plotkin 2013).

Business leaders often do not see corruption in a serious light. For one, collusion practices, where prices are fixed between companies to the detriment of poor consumers, are rarely seen by companies as corruption. Yet, corruption, as seen at Steinhoff, one of South Africa’s largest companies, which announced in December 2017 that it had committed “accounting irregularities”, is not an isolated incident but reflects a culture of systemic corruption within the private sector, similar to that of the public sector.

The rollcall of corruption in the private sector almost mimics that in the public sector. In 2017, three South African banks were implicated among 17 banking groups in collusion to price-fix the Rand after an investigation by the Competition Commission since 2015. In November 2017, the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation revealed that 36 mines operate without water licences, violating the National Water Act, as they use water, waste and pollute without being monitored.

In five case studies completed by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2018 on mines ranging from platinum to coal found that very little of the social and labour plans mining companies signed up for were implemented. The CALS study found that mining companies have spectacularly failed to build houses, provide childcare and bursaries and provide training. In most cases, mine companies did not tell employees and local communities about their promised social and labour plan commitments. In 2013, 15 constructions agreed to pay fines totalling R1.4bn for collusive tendering related to constructions related to the 2010 Football World Cup. The companies had to sign an “integrity commitment” to ensure they would not be involved in future collusive or corrupt practices. In 2012, the Competition Commission announced that several fishing companies had admitted to price fixing of pelagic fish, which includes the three species of fish anchovy, pilchards, and red eye. In 2007, a number of bread companies, including Tiger Brands, were found guilty of fixing the bread price and milling costs. Six of South Africa’s leading milk producers were accused in 2006 of price fixing in a case that went on until 2011.

Corruption, ethical breaches and behaviour inconsistent with declared organisational values undermine the credibility, trust in and public approval, and ultimately the social licence of business. Corporate democratic citizenship, in essence, means companies that behave – pursue growth, profit and engage with their environment, stakeholders and society – according to the values of South Africa’s democratic Constitution.

A start is that whistle-blowers must be protected from harassment by companies in similarly that the German company Siemens, after its corruption scandal, introduced a policy that all whistle-blowers would henceforth be protected. It is crucial that in countries that are systemically corrupt that private companies come together to make collective agreements not to act corruptly – and for companies to stick to such agreements (Ostrom 1990; UNODC 2013b; Van den Assem 2012). Companies trading on government contracts should be compelled to adhere to a set of ‘integrity’ standards, in which they would foreswear corrupt activities. Civil society could monitor whether such companies adhere to these standards.


“Bling” culture has become the norm

With the corruption, breakdown or dismissal of all the guiding moral systems – Constitution, the ANC’s liberation ideology, African traditions, religious, professional ethics and communal moral values, a new ‘bling’ culture has, in many cases, replaced the void. When the new ANC leaders came to power, they inherited the trappings of state power left by the apartheid government: the state cars with bodyguards, villas, being waited on, free schooling for their children, free healthcare, free luxury travel and so on.

This ‘bling’ lifestyle appears to have become the new standard of achievement – a sign that one has made it. Individual worth is increasingly measured on whether one can afford the ‘bling’ lifestyle – not on one’s contribution to public service or doing the public good.

This is reinforced in the private sector, where the new black political elite looked to the lifestyles of the white business elite – which often mirrored that of the apartheid white political elite – as one to emulate to be ‘level’ with them. Also, for many, it does not matter how one achieves this lifestyle – whether through corruption, crime, cadre deployment or tenderpreneurs, as long as one acquires it. It appears that acquiring the means to live the ‘bling’ lifestyle gives one self-worth – and others bestow worth on one because of their ‘bling’ lifestyle.

The new emerging black business, who got rich through black economic empowerment, in reality, political capital,’ handed to them often not on merit, but on closeness to the ANC political leadership, have also emulated this ‘bling’ lifestyle behaviour. The peer pressure within black society to live up to this ‘bling’ lifestyle is immense, to show they have made it – Hollywood-style lavish weddings, parties, and bashes are now the currency.

Leaders drive cars worth millions. They wear watches and clothes worth as much as cars. They live in Beverly Hill-style mansions and drink expensive whiskies. The blue-light brigades, huge entourages and being treated as VIPs are an integral part of this bling culture. Ministers living in the most expensive hotels, holding conferences, and going on meaningless foreign junkets show precisely what this bling culture is about. This bling example set by the new black elite is sadly often seen as the new standard for many in the rest of society. The bonuses, perks and dizzy salaries state-owned companies pay their executives are part of this ‘bling’ culture. Leaders of breakaway parties from the ANC, such as the Economic Freedom Fighters, have mimicked the ‘bling’ live, with leader Julius Malema living it up in Ibiza, having champagne parties and driving expensive SUVs.

Some people who are not politically connected are prepared to circumvent the law and use shortcuts to ‘make’ it to a level where a bling lifestyle is possible. These shortcuts could mean attaching oneself to a sugar daddy or, in politics, to a political party boss or, in crime, to a crime boss. The more unfortunate who do not have the connections or looks try their luck, ‘tata ma chance’ style, by addictively playing the Lotto. They dream that one lucky draw will bring fabulous wealth. Others resort to crime to reach their dream of ‘bling’. Nobody has to work or study hard anymore. Everyone is looking for that shortcut.

Moreover, the idea of service is now a distant dream. Talent, skills, and hard work are no longer valued. This ‘bling’ culture encourages corruption and dishonesty and builds a society based mostly on patronage relationships. It corrupts our souls. In fact, it undermines all the values underpinning the liberation struggle. Gwede Mantashe, then the ANC general secretary, said: “the success of the liberation struggle was not to be measured ‘on how many billionaires we have produced, but rather how the poverty experienced by the majority of people was addressed.”

However, in July 2010, the ANC issued a statement saying those who criticise ministers spending millions on living at taxpayers’ expense in luxury hotels, while millions of those who elected them live in shacks, are unemployed and without food, were being “targeted”. “There is nothing immoral, illegal or unconstitutional in public representatives staying in (luxury) hotels, as this is not a breach of the Public Finance Management Act or the provisions of the Ministerial Handbook,” the late Jackson Mthembu, then ANC spokesperson, said.

The unintended consequences of the ANC’s deployment policy also help along this bling culture. Cosying up to the local ANC leadership can secure a lucrative ‘deployment’ to government, business or the party, a ticket to the ‘bling’ lifestyle. Praise-singing the leadership even if they are wrong, supporting actions that clearly go against prudent values, or self-censorship has now become the norm.

The consequences of this ‘bling’ lifestyle of the political elite for the state, society and individuals are devastating. Scarce finances and resources are being plundered. State capacity is being eroded – which means the ability to deliver essential services is declining. There is no room for entrepreneurship, innovation, and new ideas – absolutely necessary for economic prosperity.

This ‘bling’ culture has undermined South Africa’s productive capacity. We are ‘eating’, but we are not building any new factories or plants that can create jobs. This bling culture encouraged corruption and dishonesty and built a society based mostly on patronage relationships. It corrupts our souls.



Corruption has been normalised. The fragmentation of South Africa’s moral frameworks has helped to normalise corruption. Society will have to rebuild democratic moral values across all spheres. Merit has to be introduced in the public sector – rather than political connectedness, ‘struggle’ credentials and ethnic solidarity. Competency, talent, and honesty must become the overriding factors in public sector appointments and tenders. African traditions and religious traditions that undermine Constitutional moral values, individual dignity and rights must be abolished or reformed.

Racial, ethnic and ‘struggle’ solidarity to support individuals solely on whether they are black or white, or from the same ethnic group, language or religion, no matter whether they are criminal, corrupt, or undemocratic, should be replaced by moral solidarity – supporting leaders who are democratic, honest, and competent, no matter their colour, ethnic group, or faction.

South Africa will have to rid itself of the destructive bling culture, bling leadership and the hero-worship of bling. Corporate corruption must be taken more seriously. Companies must operate as democratic corporate citizens, which means that companies must pursue growth, profit and engage with their environment, stakeholders, and society – according to the values of South Africa’s democratic Constitution.

ANC members and supporters must hold their party accountable by not voting for corrupt leaders. If the ANC and its leaders continue to behave corruptly, ANC members and supporters must stop voting for the party and its leaders. All voters must stop voting for corrupt parties and leaders – which will bring the necessary accountability to tackle corruption. Crucially, the Constitution must be restored as the pinnacle moral system of the country.



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William Gumede is Associate Professor, School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works Foundation and former Deputy Editor of The Sowetan newspaper.

During the anti-apartheid struggle, Gumede held several leadership positions in South African student, civics and trade union movements. He was a political violence mediator and area coordinator for the National Peace Committee during the multiparty negotiations for a democratic South Africa and was seconded to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is the author of several number 1 bestsellers. His more recent books include: Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg); and South Africa in BRICS – Salvation or Ruination (Tafelberg).

To read publications by William Gumede on our website please click here.

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