NEWS & ANALYSIS

SA’s corruption anger

Douglas Gibson asks when the country will stop talking about the problem and take real action

SA’s corruption anger

2 September 2020

The good news is that South Africa is not the most corrupt country in the world. On the Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International, of 180 countries, from the best to the worst, SA ranks at number 70, worse than Cuba’s number 60 but better than other ANC favourites: China at 80, Russia at 137, Zimbabwe at 158 and Venezuela at 173.

In 1996 SA stood at a creditable 23. As we have talked and talked about corruption, we have steadily sunk into the corruption swamp. The question is: when will SA stop talking about corruption and take real action to detect, try and punish the corrupt? Because there are seldom consequences for corrupt public officials, politicians or private sector business, the crooks just carry on, benefitting from the misery of the poor. Taxpayers’ funds are not used for good purposes; they get diverted into crooked pockets.

The talking is endless. Gareth van Onselen pointed out recently that in 2014 Mr Ramaphosa, then deputy president of the ANC said, “The ANC is concerned about corruption and that is why we have taken it up in a big way…people who are charged and found guilty of corruption must get out of those positions – the positions of leadership. And if they don’t the ANC itself will take steps against them… one of the sources of corruption is our tender system…people have been able to dish out patronage and they have been able to find ways of being very corrupt …we are going to centralise the tender system…we are going to the source of corruption.”

Does this sound awfully familiar? Ramaphosa said it 6 years ago while supporting the election of the venal President Zuma and promoting the electoral prospects of the most corrupt government in our democratic history in which he served quietly as deputy-president for nearly 5 years.

Now the president says the same thing, admittedly a little louder. The convicted criminals and those who should/will be convicted are the loudest in their hysterical denunciations and their unprecedented calls for him to “step down.” Over the weekend a crucial meeting of the ANC saw angry and hostile exchanges. Will the ANC, torn between factions, survive? Will we have a change of president soon? Nothing is clear as I write.

Let’s see what the new cabinet committee investigating corruption achieves. Reviving the Scorpions is great, but why do the SAPS, the NPA and the courts not do their jobs? Why do they need additional powers? Corruption is crime. The public must report it. Honest officials, politicians and the media must report it. The police must investigate and build decent cases. The prosecutors must prosecute properly and the courts must pass stiff sentences on the guilty. Before you know it, corruption will become less attractive; the ANC might even rid itself of the corrupt politicians and cadre deployees who have had such a good time for a generation.

When even Cosatu states that SA is sinking under the weight of corruption and the president himself says that he is ashamed of the ANC, “Accused No.1,” South African hearts beat faster. Perhaps this time there will be action instead of endless talk. The public is angry about corruption. Maybe the ANC and state organs will recognise the anger and tackle this national scourge. Failure to do so could end the Ramaphosa presidency and ANC rule.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand. His website is: douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com