A woman collects a food parcel in Dunoon. Corrupt public office holders have exposed the public to the double threat of Covid-19 and hunger, says the writer. File picture: Ayanda Ndamane /African News Agency (ANA)
A woman collects a food parcel in Dunoon. Corrupt public office holders have exposed the public to the double threat of Covid-19 and hunger, says the writer. File picture: Ayanda Ndamane /African News Agency (ANA)

Yet more toothless rhetoric against rampant corruption

By Opinion Time of article published Aug 3, 2020

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By Paul Tembe

THERE is an understanding that the fight against corruption in South Africa consists only of harsh - but toothless - rhetoric coupled with a string of commissions of inquiry.

Since the last decade commissions of inquiry have persisted under the guise of ultimate service towards democracy and public interest.

However, these commissions tend to take away resources and attention from the main business of government aimed at delivery of public goods.

In South Africa, commissions of inquiry have so far proven ineffective in the fight against rampant corruption. It is clear that corruption has become the mainstay of South African democracy.

In fact, corruption disguised under the veil of democratic procedures seem to have become a common denominator among most nations of post-independent Africa.

Recently, looters of the Covid-19 emergency funds have also joined the democratic procedures route to escape prosecution.

These public office holders have exposed the public to the double threat of Covid-19 and a hunger crisis.

What is then the answer to the Covid-19 gravy train, insolent corruption? Well, to date, the Covid-19 corruption has been met with the usual threatening but toothless rhetoric.

When evidence of rampant corruption is presented by the media, the government will inform the public that, "there will be investigations and those found guilty will face the full might of the law".

However, to date most perpetrators continue as if nothing has happened or they enjoy paid leave of absence while waiting their turn at customary commissions of inquiry.

Under these circumstances, how can the grass-roots population fight corruption? Already before the Covid-19 pandemic the employment rate in South Africa was at 16million.

Enter Covid-19, that figure has added another 3million within a period of four months. There seem to be no feasible solutions in sight for the greater population, but a downward spiral towards impoverished existence.

Will the government take the increased rate of unemployment seriously and act upon it accordingly? Or, should we all brace ourselves for the masses to take the law into their own hands? Is South Africa ready for yet another battlefront amid current economic and social crises exacerbated by Covid-19?

What will become of South Africa when the masses finally decide to fight back and demand what is theirs by birth right; the dignity of being heard an respected?

It may seem as if failure of democracy as an institution for building a coherent social system and nation is apparent to all in South Africa.

Such a failure translates into holders of public office looting state funds with insolence and without fear of prosecution. Among the grass roots, the failure is manifested through pervasive indignity and being condemned to a life of living in squalor.

These contradictions, coupled with the scourge of the Covid-19, constitute extreme social crises from which there is no return or amendment.

The Corruption Perceptions Index, an index published annually by Transparency International since 1995, places South Africa at number 70 out of 179 countries, as the worst corrupt nation for the year 2019.

One may calmly guess that at the current rate, South Africa will have fallen below the 100th position post the Covid-19 era.

China, at the height of its reforms, which began in 1978, developed rampant cases of corruption through temptations brought by the introduction to the market economy. Public office holders and private enterprise leaders used their positions to loot state funds and enrich themselves.

Some purchased expensive property and sent their entire families to study and live abroad. The rapid rise of China as an economic giant in global markets became a breeding ground for domestic, rampant corruption. President Xi Jinping, upon his ascent to office in 2012, made the fight against corruption his priority and a mission for the entire party.

The anti-corruption campaign was dubbed "Catching Tigers and Flies". Flies referred to low-level officials and Tigers to high-level officials found guilty of diverse forms of corruption. Since then more than a million low- and high-level officials including top ministers, business and media personages have been prosecuted and punished with the majority of the top tier receiving capital punishment.

One is not suggesting in any manner or form that we learn from China and its system of governance. The proposition is that we emulate China in serving the people first.

South Africans are well capable of fighting corruption by themselves. We do not need a foreign power to tell us that our people are hungry.

We do not need a foreign power to tell us that our people are left without recourse against poverty. We do not need a foreign power to teach us that segregated geographies of the apartheid regime are still in place.

What we need to do is to link economic development to our national development.

Until now we have managed to link economic development to the Western "First World Capitalist" democratic benchmarks.

It is for that reason that all our initiatives have failed to deliver public goods. May we instead search for examples from successful nations beyond customary Western benchmarks. May we seek local solutions to local problems. The suggestion includes seeking tools for waging a war against corruption.

The ruling party needs to engage in practices that help justify its legitimacy beyond the yesteryear dogma of a biblical mission of liberation.

Corruption in the ruling party impedes political governance, economic development and invention of a better future.

In South Africa, the jury is still out with regards to outcomes of the next local government and national elections. Will the people choose to have empty democratic rights that ensure that they sleep on empty stomachs, have no clothes on their back and no roof over their head or will they take history into their own hands? The ball is in the court of the governing party!

* Tembe is associate professor at the Institute of African Studies Zhejiang Normal University. Jinhua, China. He is also based at the Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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