More to corruption than what we see

2012-06-12 00:00

THE international anti-corruption NGO, Transparency International, recently released yet another report on worsening corruption in southern Africa. The report suggested that the police service is particularly riddled with corruption and is thus too compromised to protect citizens from this scourge.

This is just further evidence of the deep challenges facing the region and South Africa. It is must easier to point out this problem than to identify effective ways of containing and ultimately eradicating it. It is a difficult societal problem both to understand and to solve because it is simultaneously a problem of morals, individual behaviour, institutional culture, downright capitalist economics, kleptocratic political culture, state-citizen interface, and even a clash between culture and modernity.

The problem is that we like to make the problem appear a lot simpler than it actually is. Reports such as the one referred to above, or a statement by a judge ruling on a specific corruption case or news headlines on scandals or a statement by zealous corruption fighters have the effect of simplifying the problem to single causes, single categories of culprits and simple solutions. This gives a sense that this scourge can be overcome by a simple act done by a single actor and a single direction, that is obvious for all to see.

Take the never-ending saga of the arms deal in South Africa. The line of argument that dominates public discourse suggests that the problem is simple: government officials whose identities can be found in some government database took bribes from known arms companies and deposited their loot in bank accounts that can be traced with the co-operation of banks. It is simple, it is suggested.

On a general note, the problem is presented as a particular challenge of post-apartheid government. Explaining the exclusion of the non-West from the new world order after WW2, Britain’s Winston Churchill said it was better to have governments run by rich people rather than hungry nations because, unlike them, the former had no need to acquire more wealth. It turned out that the rich people had an insatiable hunger for even more wealth. “All for themselves, and nothing for other people”, as Adam Smith put it. And, in the process, they would work with the rich in poor countries to plunder former colonies. Similarly, the post-apartheid government has provided lots of proof for some that the poor are inherently ambitious and, therefore, corrupt. Very little is said about the corruptors who, in Smith’s world, were merchants and manufacturers, the very drivers of capitalist economic enterprise, he was embarrassed to admit.

The second challenge is that in respect of petty corruption, the ubiquitous incidence of bribes is an inextricable part of crass materialism that has caught on, especially among the largely multiracial post-1994 elite. When success was measured by one’s possession of cars, fancy clothes, and the ability to flaunt this material wealth for all to see, then the real corruption of social fabric began. The bribes are only means by which gatekeepers in public service and private business dealings seek to enter the ranks of those considered successful.

The third problem is that because we have reduced corruption to ways by which it manifests itself rather than what it is in essence, we see it as something that has nothing to do with us, but a vile act propagated by others. We have absolved ourselves of the responsibility we shoulder for promoting extreme modes of capitalist accumulation. Even those who consider themselves non-capitalist or even anti-capitalists are culpable. The fact that we work hard to distinguish our children with material possessions, rather than social values they hold; that we monetise every aspect of human activity from co-operatives to social security; and that we promote individual excellence at the expense of human solidarity means that we, too, are part of the corruption of the fabric of society. We create conditions where those who have less would do anything to catch up or live above their means.

If we fail to understand the corruption behind the symptoms of bribes and extortions, we will only deal with the manifestation of corruption while actually promoting conditions for its growth at the same time. We live in houses made of glass, so we cannot throw stones. We must accept that we are culpable, too, and be prepared to work with others to rid society of these evils.

Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue. He writes in his personal capacity.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


WATCH: Man films himself going down water slide upside down as things go very wrong…

What is at first an exciting tummy-turning adventure stunt, quickly turns into a scarily bad idea caught on camera. Take a look:


You won't want to miss...

WATCH: Conor McGregor: Notorious the trailer
Best date night restaurants in South Africa
WATCH: Ryan Reynolds offers fans a free tattoo in new Deadpool 2 teaser
Should you date your co-worker?
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.