Lorenzo A Davids writes that the ANC government’s biggest mistake has been that it failed to adequately analyse the decades of systemic corruption in the state-owned enterprises. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Lorenzo A Davids writes that the ANC government’s biggest mistake has been that it failed to adequately analyse the decades of systemic corruption in the state-owned enterprises. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

#changethestory: Correcting the SA corruption narrative

By Opinion Time of article published Mar 16, 2021

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by Lorenzo A Davids

The ANC government will have as its monuments to epic failure state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such as SAA, Prasa and Eskom.

Its biggest mistake has been that it failed to adequately analyse the decades of systemic corruption in these entities before they appointed people to lead it.

The ANC system of cadre deployment worsened its ability to lead these entities professionally and profitably. A very particular political and historical-moral skill was required to understand systemic corruption in apartheid SOEs.

There is a growing narrative that “blacks are corrupt and incompetent” fuelled by the “VoetsekANC mob.

However, it is clear from just cursory research that during apartheid, white people used SOEs such as Eskom as a piggy bank in the 1970s and 80s in the same way the then state used the Defence Fund as a slush fund to foster nefarious projects of global sympathy for the white man in South Africa.

At a conference on Public Sector Ethics in 1989, Judge Victor Hiemstra stated: “… people want to make as much money as possible… an atmosphere of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die (exists).

The media reported on these instances of state plunder. The electricity monopoly Eskom lost hundreds of millions of rand in secret overseas deals by the mid-1980s."

The dominant narrative that “blacks are corrupt and incompetent” is false. The narrative that there was no corruption pre-94 is false. The narrative that whites worked hard for their money is false.

Corruption, privilege and labour exploitation built significant parts of the wealth that whites possess today. How many black people can testify, like my mother, of her employer, not paying her “this week” or of dubious wage deductions that she cannot explain to her family?

If we do not correct the current corruption narratives, we will be saddled with a narrative of white saints and black villains – the endless apartheid song with a few new verses.

Corruption was there in 1910. It was there in 1948 when they manipulated an entire election machine. It was there in 1971 and 1985, and it is still within the system today.

Large parts of SOEs and parts of the public service functioned on large-scale corruption. It is this systemic corruption, developed over decades, which we must tackle and uproot.

Do not make this about race, because the white finger has no moral authority to be pointing at the black man. The white apartheid state was as enmeshed in corruption as the ANC is today.

We must deracialise the corruption narratives and deal with systemic corruption. The Eskom of 1985 that Judge Hiemstra spoke about was as corrupt as the Eskom of 2021.

The apartheid government could build an entire white middle class from its control of both the public service and the economy because of the relatively low number of whites (13% of the population).

This white middle class increasingly believed that their “hard-work-philosophy” was the reason that they prospered. In reality, it was the apartheid government’s policy to move all whites into the middle class, whether you worked hard or not.

The present government has failed to uproot systemic corruption and racism that has been within the DNA of the public service and state-owned enterprises pre-94.

It became enmeshed in a doomed-to-fail cadre deployment scheme when it should have designed, with the best minds in the land, a fundamental intellectual shift in the design and management of the state.

It underestimated entrenched systemic corruption, the benefit of which its predecessors would seek to hide and protect. Many of its deployed cadres did not have the skills to undo the corruption that others had entrenched for at least three generations. Too many cadres gorged themselves on this corruption.

I have no sympathy for Brain Molefe. I only have deep pain for how his behaviour has influenced society's ongoing perceptions of thousands of black leaders who will come after him. They don’t deserve his tainting.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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