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On 9 December, International Anti-Corruption Day (IACD), Corruption Watch (CW) took to the streets again as part of its activism work on that day. Well, we took to a particular street corner – Jan Smuts Avenue and Empire Road – for a morning of colour, creativity, and paint.

Johannesburg residents will be instantly aware that this street corner, in a bustling intersection, is one of the popular places in the city for graffiti. And yes, that’s why we were there – with the help of our artist Mars, we were going to spray paint a wall with the anti-corruption message of the day,

This year’s IACD theme is Recover with Integrity. It refers to the fact that inclusive Covid-19 recovery can only be achieved with integrity, where nobody is left out and everyone benefits equally. Unlike the indecent rush to plunder money and resources set aside to fight the pandemic, where a few greedy well-connected looters benefited at the expense of ordinary people, the recovery from Covid-19 will require a concerted effort involving governments, the public, and organisations such as Corruption Watch.

IACD is held annually on 9 December and was set up by the UN to raise awareness of the devastating impact of corruption, and to look back on the year and assess progress in the fight to eradicate the scourge.

We released a report focused on the devastating effect of corruption on South Africa’s youth. We also chose to express our support for IACD through a creative outlet.

“Our decision to explore graffiti as a means of expressing outrage at the shocking levels of corruption in South Africa seems entirely appropriate,” said CW’s head of communications, Moira Campbell. “Our original thinking was that graffiti both reflects the current culture and mood of the time in the boldest possible sense, and influences the environment and the people living in it.”

The art form’s association with being a subversive, irreverent and sometimes controversial form of expression also lends it some ‘street cred’, said Campbell, and makes it entirely suitable as a channel for social commentary and pointing to what is wrong in society, what needs to change.

Large-scale artistic expression

Over the past few years, Johannesburg has established itself as South Africa’s graffiti capital, having surpassed Cape Town – according to local graffiti artists, at least! Some of these artists are establishing names for themselves internationally, like Mars, whose iconic style is well represented in the city. 

Originally from Bulgaria, Mars has lived in South Africa for over 20 years. He created his alter ego at the age of 15 when he started getting involved in street culture, graffiti and art.

Since then he has graduated with a degree in multimedia design and painted hundreds of walls in and out of South Africa. He has spent a large amount of time immersed in the urban landscape of Johannesburg creating public artworks, and commercially, representing well-known brands including banks, car manufacturers, and beverage companies.

“This International Anti-Corruption Day, we wanted to leave our mark on the city, and create a punchy, captivating image that people would respond to,” Campbell said. “Recover with Integrity seemed like a fitting message to a city that has, like so many others around the world, been so badly affected by the dual pandemics of Covid and corruption.”