Let's Think

Corruption has become South Africa’s biggest danger

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In the now final stretch of the Zuma-presidency, the biggest threat yet to its political- and social stability post-1994 South Africa has arrived, and the danger is likely to intensify.

This assessment by many serious commentators, while the blatant power plays by President Jacob Zuma – notably in his battle with, and then firing of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan – absolutely dominated the domestic news scene, is no doubt a true reflection of what has become the reality in the country.

However, to get fixated on Mr Zuma and his henchmen in, and surrounding, the cabinet, we run the risk of missing the deeper problem which allowed Zuma and co to act the way they do.

For me, the bigger and more fundamental problem was best captivated by ex-president Kgalema Motlanthe, at the funeral of struggle stalwart, Ahmed Kathrada: “Comrade Kathy took exception to the current culture of feeding frenzy, moral corruption, societal depravity, political dissolution, the gross and sleaze enveloping human mind that would put to shame even some of the vilest political orders known to human history,"


The South African state has become so deeply immersed in a culture of corruption at all levels and most spheres of the national household that the removal of Mr. Zuma from the leadership of the country and the governing ANC, or even the whole sale defeat of the so-called Zuma-faction in the party will not be enough to turn things around.

How deep and wide the problem lies, is illustrated by just looking at some of the news items last week surrounding one of the frontline institutions that is supposed to protect the public, The South African Police Service (SAPS).

  • At the very top of the SAPS there was a deep shadow over the acting National Commissioner of the SAPS, General Khomotso Phahlane, after it came to light how he reduced his personal debt by millions of rands - in just five years; and
  • At the other end of the organisation, ten police officers and eight home affairs officials were arrested in the Free State allegedly extorting money from foreigners,and two Johannesburg metro police officers were arrested after they were caught on camera allegedly taking a bribe.

And, while the country has just experience the spectical of the Constitutional Court having to allow an irregular, controversial contract to stretch past its expiry-date to facilitate the payment of social grants, eight officials of the responsible state institution – the South African Social Services Agency – appeared in court on charges of social grant fraud amounting to R5.5m.

Besides news that the stepdaughter of Eskom’s acting CEO were involved in tenders of R1bn with the corporation, the Public Protector revealed details of a probe into financial irregularities amounting to R400 million at a North West tribal authority.

The sample list to here is just the tip of the iceberg of corruption in the country.

Cause of the problem

Probably no country in the world is totally corruption free, but South Africa finds itself in a special league on this front.

It is not a problem that is, in the first instance, onnly caused by Mr Zuma and his cronies or faction in the ANC – they are rather the result of a deeper problem: the capture of state power at all levels and institution of state by the ANC as political party.

Last week we wrote how the ANC in power has moulded itself in the image of the Communist Party of Russia, where Mr Zuma himself spent some time in training during the struggle days. We related how almost from the word go, after 1994, the ANC set out to monopolise power via its policy of “cadre deployment.”

It is a model that has proven also in other parts of the world that it is prone to the entrenchment of corruption. It has by now seeped so deep into the state’s administration and it structures, that it will take a concerted effort over many years to rid the country from this scourge.

We think

Whatever faction of the ANC hopes to take over control in December this year, at the party’s elective conference, it  will do well to take note of what is presently happening in Russia, where thousands of protesters against corruption is taking to the streets.

And, unlike in Russia, under the South African constitution they will not be able to block the leaders of the opposition to run for office.

But, in the streets of South Africa, social stability could become seriously and very destructively challenged.

by Piet Coetzer

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