Consumer Watch

Wendy Knowler fights for your rights...

John Scott Masthead
August 2 2012 at 10:35

Yes, we all know that South Africa is riddled with corruption, but it could be worse.

As in our Bric partner India, for instance.

I have just been re-reading James Cameron’s wonderful memoir An Indian Summer. In 1972 he returned to the sub-continent, having spent 25 years revisiting the country countless times as a foreign correspondent and conducting with it, as so many of us who know it have, a love-hate relationship.

This time, however, it was as the newly-married husband of an Indian woman, which helped to give him more of a personal pride in India’s achievements, and disappointment in its shortcomings.

No shortcoming was more obvious, 25 years after independence, than the scale of its corruption. The totality and pervasiveness of Indian corruption was “almost a matter of national pride, sanctified by the oldest of traditions and denied by nobody”.

The process was acknowledged and ratified: “It is ordained that every official can be bribed, every commodity can be adulterated, every scarcity can be exploited, every contract can be fiddled, every privilege can be bought, every examination can be wangled, every bureaucrat must be paid not just to expedite the application-form but specifically not to obstruct it.”

Maybe we are not quite as bad as that, yet.

But there are other similarities. The Indian government then had 510 ministers – 55 in Delhi itself, and the others in the various state legislatures.

There are probably more now. They each earned 800 times more than the average Indian income and lived in opulent homes. Cameron writes: “One would mind less about their lifestyle did they not protest that they represented the destitute and needy.”

At its existing rate the government’s constitutional policy of equality and social justice “would take about 40 million years to achieve”.

Nearly 40 years after the book was written I found myself chatting to a couple of civil servants on an overnight train to Kolkata.

They wanted to know about corruption in South Africa’s then 14-year-old democratic administration. I said yes, we also suffered from it, but give us time. Time wouldn’t improve matters, they insisted.

“We’ve been independent for 60 years, enough time for corruption to be perfected.”

And if we think our education system is a disaster after 18 years, 25 years after independence 70 percent of Indians were still illiterate and “the college system was in such a calamitous mess that there were even illiterate graduates”.

So no need to worry too much, especially about corruption and the 20% of all government procurements totalling billions of rand reported missing each year, either stolen or unaccountable through negligence.

Or the Arms Deal which made politicians and their cronies hundreds of millions richer.

Or the fact that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela says endemic corruption is at tipping point.

Or that Archbishop Desmond Tutu believes President Zuma and his government no longer represent him – “you represent your own interests”.

We still have some way to go before we reach India’s state of corrupt perfection.

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