Chris Roper

'The right to be corrupt'

2009-06-10 09:20

Yet another basic human right is under threat by the ANC. This time, it's the right of humans to proffer and take bribes.

On their website The ANC Today (an affiliate of Comedy Central), they write "We cannot continue to allow our new democratic state to be indistinguishable from the previous such that national democracy would seem pretty much like apartheid and thus be equally doomed.

"To succeed in combating corruption, it is not enough that people should fear the law and punishment; they must also be ethical and possess the ethos that makes corruption fail to thrive."

It's shocking stuff from the ANC. Corruption is what makes us human. I don't want to pull out the big card, but - corruption is in our culture. Don't touch my culture, man!

In much the same way that incest is apparently the only taboo common to all peoples of the world, corruption is the only hobby common to all humans.

But enough of the heavy-handed satire for the moment. As principled as the ANC's statements are, South Africa is still one of the African nations flagged as setting back the fight against corruption.

According to a very good article in the New York Times, "Experts, prosecutors and watchdog groups say they fear that major setbacks to anticorruption efforts in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya are weakening the resolve to root out graft, a stubborn scourge that saps money needed to combat poverty and disease in the world’s poorest region."

The article relates a series of murders and intimidations of officials from anti-corruption initiatives across Africa, next to which stomping on a couple of Scorpions actually looks benign. I would just cut and paste the list, but that would be compounding the problem, so go take a look for yourself.

What I do find noteworthy, though, are the figures. In Nigeria, a former governor tries to bribe officials on his staff with huge sacks stuffed with $15m in $100 bills.

And according to Daniel Kaufmann, an authority on corruption (although probably not the practical side) who works at the Brookings Institution, $1 trillion a year is paid in bribery globally. Of this, he estimates "there are tens of billions of dollars of corrupt transactions each year in sub-Saharan Africa".

As responsible South Africans, you'll all be having the same thought as me. Hey, where's MY slice of the pie! But the world is ever thus - all the bribes go to the rich and we, the poor, have to make do with stealing from them.

To the ANC's credit (note to editor: this is NOT a typo), they've also identified useless public servants as being corrupt. "Laxity in executing public service duties constitutes corruption. Most of the public servants employed in government today are not from the apartheid era, but were engaged during the democratic dispensation. Apartheid cannot be blamed every time we fail to discharge our responsibilities or get involved in corruption."

To the discredit of Die Burger, this is what they imagine the story is. (I'm using the translation on News24.)

Under the headline Apartheid no excuse - ANC, the opening paragraph is "Apartheid is not to blame for corruption or people who don't do their jobs, says the ANC." Come on! This is not a story; this is playing into the hands of corrupt and lazy people who use that excuse every time they get caught.

Only those with a guilty conscience care about whether apartheid is being blamed for making you a lazy, corrupt bastard. The rest of us know it's an excuse, although one with some merit when it's applied institutionally.

No, the real story is that the South African government is trying to fight corruption.

Some of us will say that this is a bit like a sex-worker copulating for virginity (sheesh, that really isn't that funny a metaphor when you've made it politically correct). But I say, even if you think that many government officials are just paying lip-service to the fight against corruption, at least we can legitimately punch them in the mouth if we catch them.

- Chris Roper is feeling foolishly optimistic today. Check out or follow him on Twitter @ChrisRoperZA.

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