The "insidious cancer of corruption" is "the most egregious threat" to South Africa's democracy today, Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said in Port Elizabeth on Monday evening.
Corruption goes against every principle of democracy, he said. "Corruption contaminates, pollutes and degrades our Constitution. In behavioural terms, if you are pro-democracy, you must also be anti-corruption. If you behave corruptly or make a corrupt decision, you are opening the door to losing the fight for democracy."
Delivering the Beyers Naude Memorial Lecture at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Archbishop Makgoba also criticised suggestions that criminalising corruption was a "Western paradigm".
"Actually, I think it's the other way around," he said. "Corruption is a two-way street, a two-way transaction. For corruption to happen, you have to have a corrupter, someone willing to pay the bribe, and what I will call a ‘corruptee’, someone willing to take a bribe. For Africans, over the 50 or 60 years since liberation, the Western paradigm – if indeed there can be said to be one – is one in which Westerners have been the corrupters, and African elites the corruptees."
The archbishop also quoted from the African Union's 2003 Convention On Preventing And Combating Corruption, which said corruption and impunity had "devastating effects on the economic and social development of the African peoples."
Read the archbishop’s full address online.
Corruption in South Africa is nothing new
Quoting his Roman Catholic counterpart in Cape Town, Archbishop Stephen Brislin, Archbishop Makgoba said corruption was not new in South Africa – the colonial and apartheid systems were highly corrupt. Nor did corruption affect only governments: he quoted Archbishop Brislin as saying that it affected business, corporations, NGOs and even churches.
"So, while all of must be concerned about corruption, no institution can be holier-than-thou about it," Archbishop Makgoba said.
He continued: "I am really puzzled by what President Zuma and his lawyers are reported to have argued in representations to the National Prosecuting Authority some years ago. According to City Press, which has seen an NPA analysis dealing with Mr Zuma's reasoning as to why he should not be charged: 'One of the reasons President… Zuma believed criminal charges against him relating to the arms deal should be dropped was because corruption is only a crime in a 'Western paradigm'. And even if it was a crime, [Mr] Zuma's lawyers apparently argued, it was a crime where there are ‘no victims'.”
If this is the case, he said, we have to ask what values – whether they be cultural, constitutional or faith-based values – the president and his lawyers used to come to that conclusion.
“Contrast what is reported to be their thinking with the following statement identifying who suffers from corruption: '[Corruption] means that the state pays a higher price than it should, which takes money away from education or health care for the poor. Or it means the state accepts a poorer quality hospital or road or housing unit, which endangers the welfare of the population and particularly the poorest citizens who so often rely on that hospital or house. It is as simple as that’.”
That statement, he added, was made by Zuma's minister of economic development, Ebrahim Patel, in a contribution to the same booklet as Archbishop Brislin. “The title of Mr Patel's article is: Fighting Corruption is a Fight For Social Justice. I couldn't have put it better myself.”
The archbishop said that instead of talking about a Western paradigm, we should look for an African paradigm.
“We need go no further than a declaration adopted by Africa's heads of state and government at a summit in Maputo in 2003. Its title is African Union Convention On Preventing And Combating Corruption. In the preamble to the convention, the African leaders of government say, and again I quote, that they are ‘concerned about the negative effects of corruption and impunity on the political, economic, social and cultural stability of African states and its devastating effects on the economic and social development of the African peoples’.”
Clearly, the archbishop remarked, the African leaders agree with Minister Patel. “As an aside, might I ask our president: Does he?”
For South Africa to grow and fulfil her potential, the archbishop concluded, all her residents must grow and fulfil their potential:
“’We’ must replace ‘me’;
‘We’ must rise up and say, ‘We’ can do better!
‘We’ must step up and say, ‘We’ must do better!
‘We’ must lead and show, ‘We’ will do better!”
Source: Office of the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town