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A report released by Corruption Watch today, Our Future is not for Sale, highlights the devastating impact of corruption on the lives of young people in South Africa, and how their prospects have been affected by the pervasiveness of corruption in the country. 

On this International Anti-Corruption Day (#IADC2020), the report draws attention to the behaviour and attitudes of young people towards corruption and its normalisation, which has the potential for the youth to become not only victims but perpetrators of corruption too.

Corruption Watch commissioned this study in mid-2020, reviewing the attitudes of a weighted and representative sample of 1 500 respondents between the ages of 18 and 35 years old.  The responses, as reflected in the findings, indicate that young people perceive the main drivers of corruption to be unemployment, abuse of power, greed, and low or no income. 

“It is not surprising that there is a feeling of distrust and frustration amongst the youth in South Africa,” said Kavisha Pillay, head of stakeholder relations and campaigns at Corruption Watch. “When one considers the unaddressed and ongoing inequality, along with the exclusionary economic policies that continue to obstruct social, political, and economic transformation in the country, it is no wonder that young people feel disempowered and concerned about their future,” added Pillay.

It is clear from the survey that young people understand the meaning of corruption and its effects on our society. While Corruption Watch defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain, respondents provided definitions of corruption in their own words. Some respondents (26%) view corruption as the looting of resources by those in positions of power, while the majority (59%) expressed more nuanced definitions, including bribery and theft as well as criminal activity in their understanding of graft. Reflecting concerns over the high levels of youth unemployment in South Africa, 10% of respondents saw corruption as a particular hindrance to accessible and available employment opportunities. 

Of concern is the evidence that people are routinely asked for sexual favours in exchange for employment, along with the view that the South African Police Service and local government are the most corrupt institutions in South Africa. It is also clear that there is little trust of politicians and big business, as the majority of respondents believe that representatives of both sectors exchange money and benefits for the sole purpose of self-enrichment.  There was also a widespread view that corruption is at a higher level now than it was in the past.

It is interesting to note that although 62% of respondents claimed to have never participated in corruption, 67% believe that corruption has become the norm for ordinary people who have to pay to access basic services. In spite of this, many young people still thought it possible to root out corruption in South Africa, with the majority indicating a willingness to report corruption – even if it is dangerous to do so.

Responses to the survey, conducted during South Africa’s nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, reflect the manifestation of corruption in the flouting of processes intended to address the pandemic. From the sample, 83% of respondents stated that there was unfair distribution of food parcels, while 49% believed that a person had to be a member of a particular political party to receive a food parcel. In addition, 48% of participants noted that the police were abusing their powers and harassing the public during lockdown.

The conclusion of this study is that young people demonstrate a deep comprehension of corruption, how wide-ranging it is in society, and its effect on their lives.  It also emphasises the importance of the youth as best placed to create a future that addresses current injustices and reduces opportunities for corruption, the effects of which are most keenly felt by the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

It is therefore incumbent on all young people, indeed the whole of society, to promote transparency and accountability by blowing the whistle on corruption, if the country is to turn itself around.

Engaging with youth

The most dominant issues reported to Corruption Watch by young people include the administration of loans in both schools and tertiary institutions, awarding of driver’s licenses, sextortion, and bribery in relation to police.

As part of its many efforts to engage with young people, Corruption Watch has released a series of stories, capturing how people’s lives have been affected by corruption. These stories aim to raise awareness of corruption and educate them on what to do when confronted by corruption.

A further activity to engage young people on this IACD2020 is the collaboration between Corruption Watch and well-known Johannesburg graffiti artist, Mars. The graffiti art, executed on a wall prominently situated in Johannesburg, represents Mars’ interpretation of the UN-designated theme for 2020, Recover with Integrity.

Corruption Watch is also hosting a webinar at 13h00 on 9 December to discuss the findings of the youth perceptions survey, engaging prominent young commentators on their own perspectives.  Registration link:

Corruption Watch has multiple channels for reporting corruption. Report online at, or via WhatsApp on 072 013 5569.

Download the report.

Download the full study.


Phemelo Khaas               083 763 3472