It is not true that corruption has no victims, writes William Gumede, associate professor at Wits University’s School of Governance. Rather, it causes “disastrously inefficient economic, social and political outcomes” – among others, it diverts public resources from critical development projects to less productive, less job creation and less growth spurring ones, discourages long-term investment, and leads to ineffective policies.

Gumede discusses corruption in a powerful policy brief written for Democracy Works. Titled Combating corruption in South Africa, the document assesses the situation in the country with regard to corruption, and proposes concrete steps to fight it.

He warns that corruption is becoming so widespread in South Africa that there is a danger of it becoming viewed as normal, unless drastic measures are taken to fight it. Once it becomes normalised in society, it will be almost impossible to eradicate it.

This can be a problem with new democracies, Gumede says. Corruption becomes institutionalised when public officials do not follow the rules set down in a country’s constitution and legislation. Once this happens, government business is done on shady terms such as patronage and clientelism. “South Africa is in a real danger of following the same pattern where corruption becomes institutionalised,” Gumede says.

This is already happening. In 2015 Transparency International, in its Africa edition of the Global Corruption Barometer, revealed that of 28 countries surveyed, South Africa was the worst in terms of rise in corruption. And in 2016, PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed in its Global Economic Crime Survey that economic crime in South Africa is higher than any other country. Since 2005, the survey stated, South African economic crime has been way above the global average of 36%, which decreased slightly in 2016 from 37% in 2014. Furthermore, corruption and bribery were the fastest growing economic crime categories in South Africa since 2011.

But can anything be done about this state of affairs? Certainly, says Gumede, proposing 15 points of action which together can help to stop the rot. These steps tackle the problems that South Africans see happening around them on a daily basis. They have all been repeatedly suggested and encouraged by various individuals and organisations over the years, but have not been embraced or even welcomed by those in authority.

  1. Declare corruption a national emergency – this would put an end to the defensiveness and denialism prevalent in some government and political circles over the high levels of corruption.
  2. Clean up the ANC and demonstrate the power of setting an example – the governing party must legally, socially and politically punish the bad behaviour of its leaders and members and reward good behaviour. This must be done publicly.
  3. Tackle corruption in business – this is often not taken seriously by business leaders, globally or locally. For instance, collusion practices are not always seen as corruption.
  4. Foster constitutional values that reject corruption – South Africans must actively cultivate a value system that rewards honesty and discourages dishonesty, and measure public and political leaders against such a value system.
  5. Introduce merit into the political system – merit-based appointments to jobs in the public service and in politics will come a long way to reducing the patronage system of jobs for pals, which fosters corruption.
  6. Improve the institutional capacity to fight corruption – by strengthening the corruption-fighting capacity of existing institutions, including those within government, dealing with corruption.
  7. Improve the enforcement of internal anti-corruption controls within the state – managing conflicts of interests better, improving screening of personnel, better performance evaluation and more transparent procurement systems.
  8. Set up an independent institution that can follow up on reports of corruption – despite the numerous incidents of corruption that are regularly exposed, there is currently no mechanism in the constitutional architecture that compels the state to act against public corruption, particularly in cases where the perpetrators are protected by powerful political and business leaders.
  9. Bar corrupt officials and businesses – not only should corrupt officials and politicians be denied employment in the public sector, but corrupt businesses and individuals should also be barred from doing business with the public sector.
  10. The importance of lifestyle audits – besides being “absolutely crucial” for accountability and transparency, these exercises would also serve to boost public confidence.
  11. Increase transparency and access to information – increased transparency and open access to information would raise a barrier against self-serving conduct and provide a basis for government to be held accountable.
  12. Protect whistle-blowers, witnesses and anti-corruption fighters – corruption fighters in South Africa run the risk of victimisation not only from their peers but from powerful political and business figures. In many cases, the whistle-blowers are made out to be the villains of the piece, while the corrupt are defended.
  13. Increase citizen activism – we need people of courage, within and outside of the ANC, to stand up against corruption and support those who are fighting for a better life for all residents.
  14. Deracialise the corruption debate – racialising the fight against corruption undermines its effectiveness, and generalisations about race do not help the situation or promote social cohesiveness, while international reports about South Africa are often dismissed as being influenced by “Western” bias – although they are based on fact.
  15. Stop blaming apartheid for current corruption – apartheid did leave a corrupt legacy, but it has become an easy way out of taking responsibility for current corrupt practices.

Read the original piece for more detail on these points.

Common forms of corruption

  • Grand corruption – this happens when public officials, elected representatives and leaders plunder the public resources on a large scale. This definition also applies to the capture of the state by an individual.
  • State capture – when state institutions, legislatures and even governing parties are owned by a political faction, small elite, a small number of companies or businesspeople, and are manipulated for self-enrichment.
  • Rent-seeking – this happens when the politically connected make easy money, get government, private sector contracts and mining rights and favourable policies just because of their closeness to the governing party, political leaders and government, without any merit, or without them having the ability or competence to perform.
  • Quiet corruption – this form of corruption sees public servants deliberately neglect their duties to provide public services or goods, while bending the rules for their own private interests.
  • Everyday corruption – this could take the form of a traffic official demanding a bribe for not handing out a speeding ticket, a government official demanding a payment for doing their job, a local official appointing his or her family member or friend for a public position, or a public official using public funds meant for local development to refurbish his or her private house.