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The release of the Corruption Watch report on corruption within the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department gives rise to a need to draw parallels between SA and other African countries on how they addressed corruption after emancipation.
Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born depicts a protagonist known as “the man” who refuses to indulge in corruption in Ghana. Everyone else around him had succumbed to greed and rot following the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president.
The protagonist (the man) strives to remain focused, clean and innocent in a country characterised by gluttony, rot or corruption.
Corruption and greed are the central themes of Armah’s book. This cancer was eating away the fibre of Ghanaian society between 1965’s Passion Week and February 25, 1966. Accordingly, the man was trying to deconstruct and comprehend the reality of post-independence in his country owing to the debilitating sway corruption had on Ghana.
The novel highlights the frustration many societies have had to contend with in Africa after achieving political independence. The two fundamental questions that need to be posed and honestly responded to are: is SA’s contemporary state a carbon copy of The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born? How far apart is SA’s anatomy from Armah’s novel?
The notion of corruption could be open to different interpretation. It could be (mis)read as a trope for a society that legitimises sheer public robbery. Such an idea is tellingly expressed by the current state of SA society. The elephant in the room is venality, instant gratification and conspicuous consumption. It creates a possibility for helplessness, vulnerability and hopelessness.
In such an environment, indecorous demeanour defines the nature, seriousness, emptiness and warped missive directed at reasonable people. Corruption flouts openness, accountability, responsibility and governance.
Corruption, at its wickedest, provides an epic moment of group morality and group think devoid of integrity and sincerity. It is a touchstone of venality, vice and has become a byword for deception.
On a more prosaic note, corruption could trigger political and economic volatility. Corruption has robbed us of a cardinal element of legitimacy. It can lead to widespread social unrest and discourage foreign direct investment. Menacingly, it facilitates the pilfering of financial resources from the downtrodden into the pockets of the political leadership. It is lamentable that infrastructure from the erstwhile homeland system was not reconfigured to address the challenges of the democratic moment. Revealingly, the system of separate development characterised by the homeland system was in keeping with sustaining the divisive apartheid juggernaut. There were belongings that deserved to be done away with. Other programmes could have been refocused or remodelled in sync with the central challenges of the moment.
An objective observation (in the post-apartheid system) of the degradation and dilapidation of former capital cities such as Mmabatho, Bisho, Umtata, Giyani, Thohoyandou, Lebowakgomo and KaNgwane, among others, leaves a lump in the throat.
For instance, Paul Maylam contends that the “stress on the discontinuity between the segregation era and apartheid is part of the South African liberal mythology”. In the current context, Mamphela Ramphele pointed out at the launch of Round 2 of the Open Society Monitoring Index that “many of the contracts were secured by companies experienced in the art of lubricating tender processes”.
This is one of the pervasive public corruptions. Compounding that, corruption has become a magnet for quick-rich schemes for entrepreneurs, thus becoming an acceptable part of the SA liberal mythology. SA may soon gain notoriety as a Mafia state where corruption has been institutionalised. Taken further, the Arab Spring that played itself out in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya may even gravitate to SA. That would be the mark of SA’s folklore. That would be the bane of corruption on the soul and reputation of the country.
It militates against the national economic interest to remove binding constraints on sustainable socio-economic development.
The phenomenon of corruption does not create a possibility to improve policy certainty and predictability. It is by far one of the institutional hurdles in socio-economic transformation. The release of the Corruption Watch report on corruption within the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department is a living testimony to the corrosive effect. Unsurprisingly, the rating agency Standard and Poor’s has cut SA’s outlook from stable to negative.
On the positive is an active, knowledgeable and engaging citizenship call for ethical and responsible leadership for the sustenance of constitutional democracy.
The orientation, consciousness and paradigm of thinking of citizens determine the altitude or legitimacy of human development at the centre of societal discourse. Misguided populism and vague notions of liberation will not help in the realisation of the material conditions and maturity of political economy and business. These are some of the issues that Michela Wrong warned about in her profound magnum opus It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower. John Githongo’s determination to root out corruption in Kenya without warming up to ethnic affinity helped to restore decorum and the integrity of the government’s commitment to good governance.
Further, the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission intends, through the government’s recently adopted infrastructure plan, to transform the economic landscape of SA and strengthen the delivery of basic services to the people. The realisation of projected economic growth and areas of the country based on the myriad Strategic Integrated Projects offer policy makers, organised labour and business leaders the fulcrum to increased integration into the world economy.
This, for instance, supports the 2011-2012 The Global Competitiveness Report’s recognition of the qualitative as well as the quantitative aspects of growth, integrating such concepts as inclusiveness and environmental sustainability to provide a fuller picture of what is needed and what works. In essence, this provides primary thoughts on how to understand and measure value through investor confidence by defining sustainable competitiveness in socio-economic, geo-political, social and environmental terms. These constitute the job drivers and enablers that could create a circle for inclusiveness, competitiveness and improved economic growth. It is about contributing towards the founding of a national consensus through the integration, co-ordination and alignment of sectoral strategies against corruption.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of State, remarked at Transparency International-USA’s Annual Integrity Award Dinner on March 22 that there are many dedicated people who serve by waking up every single morning trying to figure out what more we can do to reduce corruption, to create transparency, accountability, and better governance. She added that these people never receive awards and their names are not likely to be known. But they are fighting the fight day in and day out.
Undoubtedly, Clinton’s reflection on the people’s fight is the personification of The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’s protagonist (the man) who strives to remain attentive, unsoiled and guiltless in a country characterised by voraciousness, rot or corruption. It is by far not a representation of the icon of purity and cleanliness. Money-making, modernity and plenitude of material goods must not merely amount to whimsical fantasising of future possibilities.
The central lessons for SA’s experience is that it is about time we get our priorities right. This is proceeding from the premise that we must get back to basics in the improvement of the human condition and development. It is principally about contributing towards the establishment of a national consensus through the alignment of sectoral orientations or strategies against corruption. This will have to include strategic orientation for the separation between state and party, thus ushering in active, knowledgeable and engaging citizenship. That is crucial to a society’s welfare and soundness. That is, we need to avoid the collective underestimation of the critical work needed to cure the socio-political schizophrenia that blights the competitiveness and growth of the country.
We all are integral parts of a bigger stake in society and inextricably linked to the South African liberal mythology. We must not be caught eating forbidden fruits or securing our livelihoods by “lubricating tender processes”. This will usher in a new possibility of experience where greediness and putrefaction are left far behind and tranquillity or innocence is the watchword.
Ultimately, corruption shall not become a timeless phenomenon.
l Sibuyi is a PHD student at the University of the Witwatersrand