Bribery is when one person gives another person something of value (usually money) for that person to abuse the powers they have been entrusted with, a new report on Bribery in South Africa says. File photo: Denis Farrell/AP

Pretoria - The need to adopt a child or get a driving licence, cellphone deal or that much-needed job were just some of the reasons millions of South Africans paid bribes at one point or the other.

They paid bribes to jump the queue, prevent services being cut off or to get an unabridged birth certificate for their children.

“Bribery is when one person gives another person something of value (usually money) for that person to abuse the powers they have been entrusted with,” a new report on Bribery in South Africa says.

The survey was conducted by the Ethics Institute of South Africa and covered five provinces, with a participation of 6 380 people.

While 26% of those surveyed said they knew at least one person who had been asked to pay a bribe in the past year, 75% said the bribes had been paid.

At least 74% knew someone who had been asked for a bribe in the same period.

“This means most people who are asked for a bribe end up paying it,” the report said.

The survey was sponsored by Walmart and Massmart and conducted in shops in Gauteng, Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal and Polokwane.

KwaZulu-Natal emerged as the province where bribery was most prevalent. It was done to establish the extent of bribery as a major component of corruption in the country, and until the survey was conducted, all that was known about it was anecdotal.

“Most bribes (34%) are reportedly asked to avoid traffic offences; the next highest incidence is for jobs (17%).

“That was predominant in bribing to get a job, the study found. But there were also a few cases of bribes to get a promotion or avoid disciplinary action.

“Driving licences are the third highest at 13%, and this includes learner’s licences, but to a much lesser extent,” the report said.

It said the fourth highest trend was for tenders (7%), and there was no real indication which sectors were involved.

“The surprise finding is for illicit discounts or theft from businesses,” said the report.

Only 4% of respondents mentioned it, but it represented 71 responses, putting it above police bribery and bribes for education. This occurred when cashiers or other business employees were approached to give reduced prices, or even goods for free in exchange for a bribe. This was reported in buying anything from groceries to cars.

There was often a perception that corruption only affected the public sector, but this survey found that the private sector was in just as deep.

“Bribes for jobs is clearly prevalent in both the private and public sectors,” they said.

Unskilled and semi-skilled labourers were most vulnerable to being exploited to pay bribes for jobs.

“There almost seems to be a belief among them that there is no choice but to pay a bribe if you want a job.

“People across the country bribed to get into high school, make a murder charge go away, avoid arrest for selling illegal drugs, and to get assistance from a hospital. Those surveyed said it was socially acceptable to bribe, a lot said the high trends did not worry them. There was bribing for necessity and to get the most basic services; and there was bribing for greed.

“There is a reflection of the desperation of many in our society and an uncomfortable reminder that the adage ‘bread first, morals later’ might hold true,” the authors said.

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