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Today’s release of Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) reveals that South Africa, along with many other countries in the world, has reached a virtual standstill in its efforts to curb corruption, as human rights abuses and the erosion of democracy flourish.

The CPI, the leading global indicator of public sector corruption, ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Download the report.

Download the world map and index.

A review of South Africa’s standing on the CPI since 2012 demonstrates a woeful stagnation on the global index over the past nearly 10 years. In 2012 South Africa scored 43, ranking 69 out of 176 countries that were assessed that year. Fast forward to 2021, and the country sits at a dismal 44, the same as last year, dropping one place in rank to 70 out of the now 180 countries. The highest score over the past decade was 45 on the 2016 CPI, while the lowest score was 42 on the 2013 index.

“It is extremely disheartening to find ourselves, year after year, in the same position on the CPI, with marginal shifts up or down. The poor perceptions of how South Africa is faring in its efforts to truly tackle and dismantle the systems that enable corruption are perhaps to be expected, when one considers the staggering levels of corruption we have witnessed,” said Karam Singh, executive director of Corruption Watch.

“As a civil society organisation working relentlessly to expose the gaps that enable corruption, and find solutions for creating a society free from this scourge, we can only hope that recent developments to bring corruption to the fore in the country will result in swift and effective prosecutions, and a restoration of public confidence in the political will to end impunity and lack of accountability,” he continued.

This year’s analysis shows that 86% of countries have made little to no progress in the last 10 years – a concerning trend. The CPI global average remains unchanged at 43 for the tenth year in a row, and two-thirds of countries score below 50.

South Africa sits alongside Jamaica and Tunisia on the index, and comes in at number eight on the regional table of sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries (below). The average score for SSA countries is 33, one point higher than last year, demonstrating again that there have been no significant changes in addressing the high levels of corruption in the region.

Once again Somalia (13) and South Sudan (11) fall at the bottom of both the SSA and the global index, which also includes Syria at 13. While countries like the Seychelles may have gained on the SSA table, these positive changes are eclipsed by the region’s poor performance overall, with 44 of the 49 countries still scoring below 50.

Country / Territory CPI ScoreRank
Cabo VerdeCPV5839
Sao Tome and PrincipeSTP4566
South AfricaZAF4470

Statements and commitments from leaders to uproot corruption at its source have not manifested in any real consequences for the perpetrators of the widespread corruption that South Africa has experienced. Despite some positive initiatives, for example the inclusive process to develop a National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS), the failure to implement this and related plans means that corruption continues unabated. The NACS was adopted in November 2020, and prioritises measures to prevent corruption, while providing a framework and an action plan for the whole country. The more its execution is delayed, the longer we will stay in the same position.

The failure to actively combat corruption is mirrored in countries around the world, indicating that anti-corruption efforts have largely stagnated, even deteriorated, as human rights and democracy have increasingly come under attack. This is no coincidence. The continued use by governments of the Covid-19 pandemic to erode human rights and democracy could also lead to sharper declines across the globe in the future. There is thus a particular need for African governments to urgently implement existing anti-corruption commitments if the region is to lessen the devastating effect of corruption on millions of people living in extreme poverty.

Zondo Commission

During the period under review, there were some positive developments in the attempt to expose and address corruption in South Africa. The commission of inquiry into state capture, known as the Zondo commission, has been instrumental in uncovering the extent of corruption and greed that has taken hold of institutions and processes over the past decade and more.

While the naming and shaming of individuals through the commission has been revelatory, giving rise to hopes that finally there will be accountability, especially with Zondo’s recommendation to create a procurement officer’s profession and bring more reliability to the field, this may also have the converse effect of convincing people that the scale of corruption is irremediable. There is widespread interest from the public in this process, but also an expectation that prosecutions will begin to reel in the vast array of individuals from the private and public sectors who have been found complicit in orchestrating corruption.


The 2021 CPI proposes a number of recommendations for people to demand of their governments in order to end the vicious cycle of corruption, human rights violations and democratic decline.

The highest priority in the South African context is the need to uphold the right to information in government spending. At the heart of this is mobilisation for transparency in public procurement and in relation to the COVID-19 recovery efforts, to honour the global pledge contained in the June 2021 UNGASS political declaration to include anti-corruption safeguards in public procurement. Corruption Watch has consistently called for reforms of the tender procurement system, and has highlighted the numerous gaps that remain in the Public Procurement Bill, pushing for increased commitment to implementing OECD principles for integrity in public procurement.

It is also of great importance that efforts are made to restore and strengthen institutional checks on power, the lack of which has been made patently clear through the hearings at the Zondo commission. It is time to establish public oversight bodies such as a dedicated anti-corruption agency and a supreme audit institution, which must be independent, well-resourced and empowered to detect and sanction wrongdoing, as advocated through the NACS and many other whistle-blower forums, and as recommended by the recently released Zondo report. Parliament and the courts should also be vigilant in preventing executive overreach.

Other recommendations focus on the need to be watchful for human rights abuses in relation to restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly, as well as matters of transnational corruption. The latter is relevant in light of the increased co-operation between countries in the region, and the lack of compliance of some local multi-national companies with head offices in advanced economies, as evidenced at the Zondo commission.

“We have seen a systematic weakening of our law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies during the state capture years, which has had an extremely negative impact on the psyche of this country, and has eroded the public’s belief that those found guilty of corruption will be held accountable,” said Singh.

“One thing is clear – we need to be proactive and swift in implementing new strategies for addressing perceived and real impunity enjoyed by public officials and private sector actors involved in corruption, if we are to shift South Africa’s position on the CPI in the future,” he concluded.

Access the 2021 CPI here.

For more information:

Phemelo Khaas                 083 763 3472