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By Melusi Ncala
First published on News24

Corruption is my beat. I say this reservedly for my role and duty, though seemingly small, is a huge responsibility to me. Why? I am part of a country that is still grappling with vast inequality and indigence. But South Africans are people who live in hope and that, coupled with their resilience, carries them through the wildest storms.

This is why I claim corruption as my terrain, my turf, my beat. If I were to fail to research, analyse and give voice to the sorrow of tens of thousands of whistle-blowers, I would be no different from the so-called leaders who have squandered their people’s votes.

My colleagues and I wake up every day seeking to understand corruption’s contours, depths, and movements. Our senses kick into overdrive. Guarded, we look out for its wiles. Its jagged edges on our social fabric cause us pain, and it leaves a bitterness in our mouths. But despite our efforts to get a handle on graft, at night we struggle to rest. And most tragic, we mournfully gaze at the black hole that sucks resources meant to uplift the poorest amongst us.

At Corruption Watch, we learn this all through our engagements with child-headed households, abused women, unemployed men, drug abusing youth, and the elderly who hunger for adequate health care.

These people, who comprehend the effects of corruption far better than we who try to rationalise it, are the whistle-blowers who knock on our doors pleading for assistance.

This year, between 1 January and the end of June, just under 2 000 of these whistle-blowers confided in us.

We outline their accounts in our fourth annual Analysis of Corruption Trends (ACT) report, based on those reports received in the first six months.

Of the 1 995 reports, 13% speak of corruption in the South African Police Service. Local municipalities, licensing centres, traffic departments, and schools each count for 5% of the total number of reports of corruption received, while the health sector counts for 4%.

The top trending corruption types are maladministration (19%), misappropriation of resources and procurement irregularities (14% apiece), while bribery and extortion account for 13%.

Unless you are among the greedy political elite, the scheming private sector, or the unethical public officials, you will appreciate the seriousness of these acts of corruption.

The fact that 55% of the incidents occurred throughout the Covid-19 lockdown period not only exacerbates the gravity of the situation, given the desperate shortages of food and other supplies experienced, but it also gives credence to the analogy of wartime pillaging and destruction.

Lawlessness and our moral compass

When there are 67 cases of counsellors and officials stealing food parcels while families starve, we should examine the direction of our moral compass.

When 31% of bribery cases and 29% of abuse of power incidents implicate the police in brutality, selling of contraband, and tampering with dockets, lawlessness may be the order of the day.

We must rage at the 19% of misappropriation of resources cases pointing to the looting of our children’s schools, or the 19% of procurement irregularities cases that are merely an exercise to enrich a few.

And only the strong might survive when decisions at hospitals, clinics and other health facilities are based on nepotism, favouritism and the willingness to cough up a 10% kickback fee, as purported in 39% and 14% of employment and procurement corruption cases respectively.

Coupled with shoddy services, malfunctioning medical equipment, and scarce essential medicines, it is frighteningly clear that for the 80% of South Africans who rely on public healthcare, the constitutional right to life cannot be guaranteed.

Corruption’s scars are long-lasting for many of us, and the cost is much greater than an adjustment here and there of a budget item. The picture takes on a different meaning when lives are at stake.

Inefficiencies at a police station might result not only in the miscarriage of justice, but in a victim of gender-based violence feeling unprotected and unsafe.

A pupil’s school that has been hollowed out means that there is one more person with fewer prospects of survival. In the case of mismanaged a hospital or clinic, it may come down to life for the haves and death for the have-nots.

The 2020 Analysis of Corruption Trends report paints a bleak picture. But though sadness swells as my colleagues and I record, analyse, litigate and expose these atrocities, we strive to continue in our various ways to call for moral and principled behaviour.

We are intent on building and participating in a law-abiding society. We will advocate for social justice for as long as there are poor and vulnerable persons in our midst.

We intend to fight this fight because we take heart from the over 30 000 whistle-blowers who have approached Corruption Watch since 2012. These ordinary people, despite their troubles, chose to rise once more to right a wrong in the absence of transparent, accountable and ethical leadership.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us all to stand alongside these teachers, artisans, security guards, labourers, students, the unemployed, young and old, mothers and fathers, and to demand consequences for those whose snouts are at the feeding trough.

 Melusi Ncala is a researcher at Corruption Watch.