In six years, not much of a dent has been made in the fight against corruption, according to the majority of South Africans, who have been surveyed about the issue in four different studies since 2004.

The latest findings, from a survey done in October/November 2011 and released by TNS Research Surveys, show a majority of city dwellers believe corruption is endemic in South African society. The majority also rate corruption as the third biggest problem in the country after poverty and unemployment, and crime.

A trend appears

These figures build on similar findings of surveys done in 2004, 2005 and again in 2008.

In the latest survey, 83% of adults were found to believe that corruption was a way of life in South Africa, while 85% were found to believe that there was corruption at senior levels in the public service.

As before, the survey was conducted among 2 000 inhabitants of South Africa’s seven largest metros: greater Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

The same two questions were asked during each survey:

  • Do you agree/disagree that corruption is a way of life in South Africa?
  • Do you agree/disagree that there is corruption at senior government level?

“What is notable and deeply concerning is that these figures are largely unchanged since 2005,” says Neil Higgs, the senior adviser and head of innovation at TNS. Almost identical results were obtained in 2005 and 2008.

The studies were conducted by TNS South Africa as part of its ongoing research into social and political issues and were funded by the company. TNS undertakes various types of market research for clients and always includes questions relating to social issues as part of the questionnaires.

The surveys not only confirm that corruption is a concern, but also that the country does not seem to be making significant inroads in tackling it. “It also suggests that efforts to attack this scourge need to be redoubled and that, where officials are suspended on corruption allegations, these investigations need to be speeded up so that people can see the consequences of engaging in corruption,” says Higgs.

TNS also suggests that gains made in the public and private sector in rooting out corruption should be more widely publicised.

The demographic perspective

The perceptions are shared across the board among all population groups and are an expressed concern of young and old.

The group with the lowest score on the two questions were black males, at 79% and 83% respectively. Among the four categories of population groups, Asian and Indian respondents returned the highest score at 90%, followed by blacks (86%), whites (85%) and coloureds (81%). More than 1 200 blacks, 385 whites, 240 coloureds, and 115 Indians and Asians were questioned.

The city with the highest negative score was Pretoria, which rated 92% and 91% on the two questions, respectively. Durban, Soweto and Bloemfontein residents gave the problem of corruption at senior government level scores of 94%, 92% and 90%, respectively.

In a study of 2 000 metro adults undertaken in January 2011, 8% of people admitted to giving bribes to avoid a fine or a traffic ticket, while a 2005 study showed that 85% of metro dwellers believed that “many police officers take bribes”.

Negative perceptions are a hidden cost of corruption, and affect South Africa’s image abroad as well as at home.