Surprisingly, South Africa is still a country that deals superficially with corruption despite its severe impact on development, state capacity and its legitimacy, and the value-system of society. In fact, we are not dealing with corruption at all be it from the private sector nor the public sector. We are sweet and apologetic about it. Even in public platforms of the exchange of ideas by leaders of business and government; the point is always emphasized on the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality but corruption is never added as the fourth challenge – probably the most difficult and dangerous one.
In a country like ours, one would expect a proper diagnosis and a harsh treatment of it daily if we are to crush it completely from our mist especially when such a fight is to be led by the State.
Perhaps we must come to terms with the fact that corruption is institutionalized deep into our most trusted institutions of societal power i.e (1) business (2) government (3) religious bodies (4) education sector (5) judiciary (6) media outlets (7) sport; but to name a few. In making the most relevant and recent points of examples is the case of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) were it was discovered that officials in universities have been looting resources of this scheme meant to send the poorest of poor of students to university in order to usher in a skills revolution in the country for economic change.
NSFAS money has, for years since 1994, been going towards paying flights for overseas trips for university staff members, paying fees of university staff children who have parents that are well-off and renewing catering & security company lucrative contracts on campus where staff members are shareholders in. Hence, government took a decision in 2013 to remove administrative powers of this scheme from universities to a single central office for all universities in Cape Town. This happens in the context where government invests only R9 billion to NSFAS compared to the required demand of R55 billion that will usher in radical change for the poor. We can only imagine how much more looting will take place institutionally with a budget that is R55 billion – 5 times more than what it is at the moment.
Another case in point which is very popular is about the scores of millions from the Department of Public Works’ budget spent for the Nkandla upgrades. These millions were diverted from projects aimed at improving the lives of the poor, including the Inner City Regeneration and Dolomite Risk Projects. All these few squabbles that I have mentioned amongst an army of others like the FIFA debacle, tax evasion by big corporates listed in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) etc; they all underline the fact that corruption has become systematic in our society and thus it undermines the very implementation programs of change and weaken the legitimacy of the State.
When corruption becomes institutionalized in a society, it infiltrates into the value-system, it becomes a norm, part and parcel of culture and subsequently goes into the realm of behavior. Once it sets into any part; it automatically contaminates all the strata of the system’s socio-political business structures in ways symmetrical to the spread of a bush fire. One begins to see everywhere instances of (1) use of one’s office for pecuniary advantage (2) gratification (3) influence peddling (4) insincerity in advice with the aim of gaining advantage (5) tardiness and sloveliness (6) less than a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.
A case in point takes place at even the level where you least expect it to like the Student Representative Council (SRC) where university student leadership occupied by our current youth, the leaders of tomorrow, accumulate benefits with being in office such as kick backs for deals and contracts, presiding over a R9.6 million SRC budget issuing out procurement to student businesses for Mr & Miss Freshette equipment like sound, photography, alcohol, artists at inflated prices for personal gain. Some go out of their way to stay in such an office for more than 7 years either by hook or crook without obtaining any academic qualification in the process. This occurs against the backdrop of a nationwide call to Vice-Chancellors to increase SRC budgets because of a “national crisis of a lack of funding for poor students in their numbers”. We can only imagine how much more looting will take place institutionally with a budget that is probably increased to R27 million – 3 times more than what it is at the moment.
South Africa knows all these problems and they have been institutionalized into a point of no return in almost each and every centre of influence with a budget in society. We know the problem of corruption, we know how much it is undermining and reversing our gains in a democracy but we are absolutely not radical and showing zero tolerance to it. We are not decisive about this social problem that deserves the societal attention and collective solution. The nation as such has the responsibility to educate, mobilize, socialize, enlighten and sensitise its citizens towards a tradition of honesty, excellence, truth, diligence, integrity, honour, reputation, good name and other moral virtues that will lead to the establishment of a new social order.