The #AmINext protests of the past two weeks were a game-changer for South Africa, writes Adriaan Basson.
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greatest risk any democracy will face is that the system comes across as interested
only in serving those few who are politically connected.
democracy is seen as only protecting the interests of the few, the broader
masses tend to disengage and seek alternative means through which to pursue
their interests in society.
democracy that does not enjoy wider legitimacy runs the risk of collapsing into
anarchy where powerful interest groups compete for resources while everyone
else stands by waiting to receive the crumbs from the battle involving the
powerful and connected.
collapse of VBS Mutual Bank is a clear indication of how corruption threatens to delegitimise
VBS saga implicates players across the political divide, united in their
benefits from corrupt activities. The strange part of the saga is that the
looting seems to have benefitted political elites who are generally opposed to
the allegations turn out to be true, the saga would have united the ANC and the
EFF in the process of looting. This is tragic in the sense that supporters of
the two parties would now be confronted with a situation where their parties
are used as vehicles to push against meaningful investigations into the matter.
of these parties focusing on the interests of the people and their members, they
would be concerned with trying to hide the extent of their involvement in the scandal.
Whichever way you look at it, this is wasted time that should have been
dedicated to advance the broader interests of the people of this country.
danger with a situation such as the VBS saga is that it breeds cynicism about
the meaning of democracy. When political elites are united in looting, it undermines
the ability of institutions to meet out consequences against those who are
political stakes are high when it comes to VBS. It is clear that there are
those who are willing to use their political domination in society to fight
back against any attempt to have them respond to their alleged involvement. It
is quite sad when those who are charged with corruption feel emboldened to
openly ask who else is not involved in wrongdoing. Well, the answer is simple:
ordinary South Africans are not involved.
the VBS story unfolds, South Africans are divided about which investigation between
VBS and Steinhoff should be prioritised by the police. A suspicion is already
emerging that the Hawks are too quick to pounce on VBS while Steinhoff crooks
are allowed to roam the streets freely. This shows we are already experiencing
a moral dilemma in relation to how corruption has infiltrated our society.
are being compelled to ask which crooks are treated well under our laws and
which ones seem to be treated harshly.
sad part is that it is the very same crooks who are driving the debate as to
whether our police are targeting blacks and whites equally when pursuing
investigations into wrongdoing.
truth is that this is a false debate. Corruption should be investigated
irrespective of the colour of the alleged perpetrators. The debate about
whether the police should prioritise VBS over Steinhoff is not pursued driven
by the need to punish those involved in wrongdoing, but seeks to create an
unnecessary deflection to take our attention away from corporate wrongdoing.
we are not careful in the manner we deal with the Steinhoff and VBS scandals,
we will find ourselves saying the unthinkable: we will effectively argue to
are those who seem to believe that because there have been no arrests in
relation to Steinhoff (read: white people), those implicated in the VBS saga (read:
black people) should also be left alone. This is as good as saying that we
should democratise corruption across the board. It is a serious risk to the
credibility of our democracy.
a nation, we should be careful not to become a society that rationalises corruption.
It's a slippery slope, where the masses will ultimately choose to elect benign
corrupt leaders among those with different shades of corruption. It does not
get more tragic than that.
- Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.
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