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By Melody Emmett
First published on
Safrea Chronicle

Corruption Watch partnered with community radio stations in Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng to investigate corruption in local communities. They unearthed ubiquitous distrust and contempt for the government and the police.

“Sometimes the community does mob justice,” said Welcome Nkosi, a young producer with Voice of Hope FM in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. “Although this is not something I am proud of as a community man, if the police are not helping, the community takes the matter into their own hands. It can happen unexpectedly. The community will deal with you. They will burn you down; sometimes they burn your house; sometimes they burn you; sometimes they beat you up. There is no justice in our police sector, so the community says if the police don’t come, you are dead; if they come, you will survive.”

Lady Ocean, a presenter with Alfred Nzo FM in the Eastern Cape, said, “We broadcast to communities who reside in deep, deep rural areas. The police take a long time to show up. So the people, like the taxi people in Mount Ayliff, take the law into their own hands. They beat you to death with sjamboks and sticks and belts. The police only arrive later… In Matatiele, there is a place called Khoapa where there is a lots of theft, lots of killing, people being shot and stabbed. The police don’t do anything, so they beat you up, they hang you, they kill you.”

Police corruption takes various forms:

  • jobs for pals,
  • opportunistic alliances with government officials, taxi bosses and businessmen,
  • sextortion,
  • excessive use of power,
  • smuggling of alcohol, narcotics and contraband such as cigarettes during Covid-19 feeding frenzy,
  • protection of criminals and crime syndicates, and
  • taking bribes from perpetrators of wrongdoing.

Across the board, ordinary members of the community are ignored or disrespected.

“People who are well known can bribe and the poor can’t bribe,” Lady Ocean said.

“There is no conclusion of cases. Most cases just disappear. There’s no closure,” Alfred Nzo FM’s Avela Theni added.

In Mpumalanga, people had to pay the police at roadblocks to reach their destination during lockdown, Nkosi said. “The community don’t know how to report, because you are reporting to the same police who are corrupt.”

Kgopotso Chawane, a presenter with TUT FM in Soshangwe, described an unholy alliance between local police and a tavern owner who converted a township patrol office, intended to protect the community, into a bar.

Covid-19 gave criminal groups or corrupt actors in the police, business, health and local government carte blanche to exploit fear, confusion, desperation, new demands and lack of information.

Corruption has many faces

There has been an abuse of the relief put in place by the state ranging from the temporary employer/employee relief scheme to the R350 distress relief grants,” Corruption Watch’s Mzwandile Banjathwa said. “Stealing and irregularities in how the food parcels have been distributed has been a particularly thorny issue.”

In Mpumalanga, Nkosi said, food parcels were politicised. The only people who got food parcels were political members or people who attended political meetings, he said. “They say: Colleagues there’s food! Colleagues, there’s food! But those vulnerable communities who are poor because they are not part of any political structure, didn’t receive any food.”

TUT FM presenter Kgopotso Chawane said he was inundated with calls, mainly from women, who were unable to access the promised food parcels and emergency relief, including a girl from a child-headed household in Soshanguve.

In the health sector, Banjathwa said, “corruption is not only about procurement but also issues around maladministration, misappropriation of resources and sometimes embezzlement of funds as well.”

Nkosi said in Mpumalanga it is alleged that preferential treatment in health services is given to people who are politically connected and nepotism is the overriding influence in the appointment of administrative personnel in hospitals.

Aviwe Batyi, a presenter with Alfred Nzo FM, said hospital staff are accused of stealing medication and selling it in remote communities. Beneficiaries are spared the costs and complications of long taxi journeys, so they are reluctant to report it. “Some say that it is a privilege to get their medication near to where they are, even though they are paying for it,” Batyi said.

Women and youth hard-hit by corruption

Corruption has particular implications for women victims of violence and unemployed youth. Pleas for protection or intervention from the police by abused women are typically ignored, sometimes because perpetrators pay bribes. On some occasions, women are raped by the police they report rape to.  

The youth claim that jobs advertised in government departments are given to political affiliates, family and friends, while business proposals are ‘stolen’, and national government agencies claiming to support the youth are disinterested and incompetent. Offers of support, such as a national government commitment to support students with laptops and other resources to enable them to continue their studies during lockdowns came to nothing.

“The youth are so much unemployed and so much exhausted,” Nkosi said.  “When you talk about corruption they will say there is nothing we can do. Corruption is in our blood and in veins.”

Community stations walking a fine line

With their survival in the balance, cash-strapped community radio stations tread a fine line between engaging corrupt municipalities for advertising revenue, and naming and shaming them for abuse of power.   

“Community media has to deal with the tension of exposing people they know and work with and making sure that people know what is going on. It is a vastly more complex and nuanced scenario than we have in our bigger urban areas,” said William Bird from Media Monitoring Africa.

Alfred Nzo FM, Inkonjani FM, UCR FM, Sajonisi Youth Radio,  Ingwani FM and Pondo News have not been paid for Covid-19 advertising by the OR Tambo Municiality, Alfred Nzo FM’s Theni said. The station has asked the Hawks to intervene.  “They owe us a lot of money,”.

Collaboration bears fruit

Radio stations and listeners expressed their appreciation of Corruption Watch’s offering, which they experienced as informative and empowering. There is keen interest in taking the collaboration forward and no shortage of ideas about what form this could take.

For Corruption Watch, working with the radio stations was rewarding but tough. “You need to be extremely deliberate when working with community radio stations,” the organisation’s Phemelo Khaas said. “It’s hard to get feedback without following up, explaining the content, and giving instructions. You find that all the producers share one computer and most of the time their telephones don’t work. Lack of resources and capacity really hinders their ability to work efficiently.”

The ideal was a call-in facility to allow members of the community to air their views, but most under-resourced radio stations rely on WhatsApp and social media to interact with audiences.

Each slot included an interview with Corruption Watch’s Banjathwa, followed by discussion. “We tailored all the engagements per province, so that they could see how much corruption there is in different sectors,” Banjathwa said.

Programmes were broadcast in English, IsiZulu, seSotho, IsiXhosa, IsiNdebele, seSwati and several other languages. Alfred NZO FM, for instance, accommodates listeners who speak isiMpondo and isiXesibe.

Community radio stations need resources

With a year to go to the 2021 local government elections, resourcing and capacitating community radio stations is vital.

“It is of the utmost importance to prepare community radio stations for the local government elections. The fact that independent candidates in the community are eligible for election means that community radio stations will become a major player. I am not a political analyst but I think this could change the whole political landscape,” said Hesley Harmse, external news and actuality producer for Radio Islam.

SANEF’s Kate Skinner echoed her sentiments: “Community radio has a critical role to play during the local government elections. It is important that citizens have a clear understanding of what has been delivered, where the gaps are – and issues of mismanagement and corruption. It will be difficult – if not impossible – for citizens to make up their minds as to who to vote for without this important information.”