Corruption spreading like a wild fire in the veld - Vavi

COSATU GS says the launch of Corruption Watch is a dream come true

COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi's Speech at the Launch of Corruption Watch, Constitution Hill, January 26 2012

Programme Director, Xolani Gwala, Mphephethwa
Honourable Minister Jeff Radebe
The steadfast Public Protector Thuli Madonsela
Distinguished members of the Corruption Watch Board
President of COSATU and members of the COSATU CEC
Ladies and Gentlemen
All Corruption-Hating South Africans

Members of the Media

In this historic year when we celebrate the centenary of the oldest liberation movement in Africa, in the 18th year of our democracy and after 26 years of COSATU's existence, we gather at this historic Constitutional Court - a court which is vested with the responsibility to ensure that our Constitution is upheld at all times and that all South Africans benefit from the rights enshrined in it.

We are extremely honoured to witness the successful implementation of another critical resolution of COSATU and civil society, the official launch of the long awaited Corruption Watch (see here). A dream has come true - a dream to empower our people so that they may play a more meaningful role in a battle to combat the scourge of corruption.

Unless we can successfully mobilise and empower ordinary people, strengthen and build a people-centred developmental state, led by honest men and women, build independent state institutions that battle against corruption daily and transform the judiciary and media, we will not succeed in our quest to defeat this fast advancing enemy. Corruption is growing like a wild fire in the veld, threatening to engulf and destroy the future of a country that has so much potential. 

The launch of Corruption Watch is a critical intervention. There is not a single day without newspapers exposing corruption of a government worker who extorts money out of the poor, driving schools and traffic police who collude to extort money out of our working class children who are desperate to acquire a driving license - which has become a principal requirement for getting a job in this country, how government officials collude with business to inflate the price of tenders and provide substandard housing to the poor.

We know only too well the devastating impact of corruption and on the lives of thousands and thousands of poor black South Africans.

The revolving door between public representatives and business has normalised a picture of public representatives living in mansions behind high-wall and electric fences whilst the surrounding townships they are supposed to serve reel under the misery of neoliberalism, poverty and unemployment.

Workers' pension funds being gambled away, leaving some workers to retire with only a pittance. We must leave no stone unturned to bring those who squandered R100 million of clothing and textile workers' pension funds to justice.

We congratulate SACTWU for the sterling job they continue to do in exposing this rot. Yesterday for the first time a commission investigating this scandal was held in a prison and offered an opportunity to one of those arrested on suspicion of embezzling the workers' pensions. Regrettably Mr Sam Buthelezi did not cooperate.

As trade unionists, we also know that unions are not paragons of virtue, immune from this contagious disease. Some workers complain that their leaders have been corrupted and that trade union officials are paid off by employers to turn a blind eye to their abuse. This type of corruption results in a situation whereby we have agents of the capitalist class within the workers' movement who labour day and night as conveyor belts for capitalist interests.

Ailing patients in public hospitals are subjected to eating biscuits because private companies providing hospital meals have not been paid; school children have to walk for painstaking kilometres to schools - negotiating their way through dangerous velds and deadly highways -  because  service providers have not been paid on time; or young children are hungry because some corrupt officials collude with greedy business people to halt the crucial schools nutrition programme. All these stories have one common message - corruption is daylight theft from the poor.

These are the human stories behind the crisis of good governance plaguing the Limpopo Provincial Government, Gauteng Health department, Free State Roads and Transport department and the Eastern Cape Education department. They highlight colossal problem of mismanagement of public money, fraud, and corruption.

The crisis in Limpopo is not unique to that province. Auditor General, Terence Nombembe uncovered R20bn in unauthorised expenditure in 2010-11. Only three out of 39 government departments (down from six three years ago), and 106 out of 272 state-owned enterprises, had clean audits for 2011 and only seven municipalities out of 237 received a clean audit for 2009/10. The former head of the Special Investigating Unit, Willie Hofmeyr, has estimated that the government loses up to R30bn to corruption every year.

The loss of such huge sums of money has a devastating impact on the economy. Billions of rands which could and should have been spent on improving our healthcare and education systems, promoting economic growth and creating jobs and providing basic services to our poorest communities are being squandered.

This points to an appalling tolerance of mediocrity and incompetence, for which divisions and factions provide a perfect cover. The full cost of these divisions has still to be counted. The perfect cover that such factions and divisions provide is that even those caught with their hands in the cookie jar refuse to resign from their post as they enjoy immunity and guaranteed indemnity provided by their factions.

All this is wreaking untold damage on the moral fibre of the nation. We are moving towards a society in which the morality of our revolutionary movement - selflessness, service to the people and caring for the poor and vulnerable - is being threatened. If we do nothing it will be swept away by tidal wave of a culture of individualism, ‘me-first' attitude and to hell with everyone else. Some argue that we are already a society where only the fittest survive and dog eats dog.

It is a culture which grows within the system of capitalism, but which is spreading fast from the private sector into the public service, as businesses are set up to corruptly obtain tenders from the state, some of them run by public representatives themselves or members of their families. That is why COSATU is insisting that people have to choose whether they want to pursue their business interests or serve the public. They cannot do both at the same time.

Our political life is also getting polluted; some corrupt politicians and officials build political support by bribing people to back their factions, which are no longer based on ideological differences but on who has the biggest treasure chest to dole out favours.

Leadership contestation is changing from being about the battle of ideas into battles for control of the public purse-strings. This will destroy the democratic traditions of our movement and lead to paralysis and disunity. Worst of all is the growing evidence that corruption is becoming literally a matter of life and death, as people are being intimidated or even killed for exposing and preventing corruption.

COSATU urges all its members and all South Africans to work closely with Corruption Watch to help to get rid of this fatal cancer within our society.

The idea of this institution can be summed up in the words of one famous musician - that "money and corruption are ruining the land, crooked politicians betray the working man, pocketing the profits and treating us like sheep, and we're tired of hearing promises that we know they'll never keep."[1]

We appeal to all freedom and justice loving South Africans to join those of us who repudiate the notion that the poor must continue to feed off the discards of the rich and powerful. Let us together end this belief amongst some of our representatives that they are entitled to eat on behalf of the masses.

Viva Corruption Watch Viva 

Issued by COSATU, January 26 2012

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