"Do you want to be a 'star' in South Africa? Do you want the media to follow you everywhere you go and to record every word you utter? Do you want your picture to adorn the front pages of newspapers, and your face and voice to get into every household in the country through television?" asked Mosibudi Mangena in an article he wrote for The Star on 9 October 2012.
He continues by saying:
"If so, why don’t you try your hand at corruption, theft of public money, fraud, money-laundering and associated pursuits? It has been shown again and again in our country in recent years that these are a sure route to celebrity status.
"Some streets were cordoned off recently in Polokwane when some people appeared in court to answer to charges of corruption, fraud and money-laundering. The provincial cabinet, senior public servants, schoolchildren in their uniforms and other members of the public came in large numbers to support the accused.
"The crowds sang and danced as they eulogised the accused and threw scorn at the authorities.
"Nothing was said about the alleged malfeasance and the misery such wrongdoing has caused to schoolchildren and patients in our clinics and hospitals.
"Patients are dying in Limpopo hospitals for lack of doctors, medicines and equipment, while the textbooks saga rages on.
"Clearly, corruption and fraud are at the heart of all these maladies. Seemingly, that does not matter.
"Media people crowded the courtroom, some being thrown out and others fainting in the squeeze and jostling that ensued to get the best vantage point to record the movements of the alleged fraudsters.
"Those accused of theft of public resources lapped it all up, smiling from ear to ear for the cameras. They were the super “stars”, not shameful villains who should be cowering in shame.
"When the court adjourned, the crowds outside gave the accused a reception fit for a rock star and the media was there to ensure the phenomenon was on our radios, on our television screens and in our newspapers.
"Where has shame gone? Shame makes us human. Not so long ago, it used to be part and parcel of our social interaction and behaviour.
"None of us wanted to shame ourselves, our families and our communities. There was even a saying: “Batho ba tla reng?” (What will people say?)
"Conscience and shame kept most of us in line more than the criminal justice system. Seldom would people think about what the police would say, but more about what society would think or say. It is quite clear that there is no police force big or strong enough to police a society that is devoid of conscience, ethics or shame.
"Our society is changing, but unfortunately, not for the better. Do you remember the same scenes, if on a bigger scale, taking place whenever our present head of state appeared in court charged with rape or corruption?
"On a daily basis, throngs of people, including national leaders, assembled outside the courts in Joburg and Pietermaritzburg to support him and show the authorities the middle finger.
"Incense was burnt and traditional rituals were performed in the midst of fiery speeches and singing, all geared at defeating the legal system.
"Incidentally, we understand priests prayed deep into the night for confusion to reign in the ranks of those prosecuting the Polokwane case.
"We also remember the provincial cabinets of KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape bunking work to join the masses who were demonstrating in support of senior political and business people who were appearing in court in connection with water purification tender scandals in those provinces.
"Unlike in other countries of the world, and ours not so long ago, those accused of criminal activities are not frowned upon, but are admired and raised to hero status.
"It is particularly those in leadership positions that are glamorised for malfeasance. We even take children out of classrooms and make them sing the praises of those alleged to be involved in corruption and other criminal activities.
"What are we teaching them? That being a crook is cool? No wonder corruption is on the rampage in our country. Many municipalities and certain departments in some provinces are on their knees, mainly as a direct result of corruption.
"Idasa claims that corruption in our country is at its highest since 1994 and the public protector, speaking in Stellenbosch not long ago, said SA was at a tipping point in its struggle against endemic corruption. Transparency International rates us poorly in the corruption stakes.
"By all means we should use the law to root out corruption in our society, but that alone would not be adequate. We need a society that frowns upon theft, bribery, fraud, corruption and money laundering.
"At present it looks like we not only tolerate these ills, but celebrate the crooked in our ranks.
"We elevate them to high office, glamorise their theft of public resources and give them celebrity status in our society. We have become a queer society indeed!
Mosibudi Mangena is the president of the Azanian People's Organisation and a past minister of science and technology in South Africa.
View the original article here.