The 'insidious plague' corroding our society

Corruption should be declared a violation of our human rights and freedoms, and the public should be conscientised and educated much better in our fight against corruption and its "economic gangsters", writes Chris Jones.

We've just commemorated Human Rights Day and will soon celebrate Freedom Day. These two days remind us of the struggle to attain freedom and democracy in our country.

As we look back over the last 25 years, we should celebrate the promotion and protection of human rights, honour those who fought for our liberation, and commemorate the rights and the Constitution we enjoy today.

The first couple of years of democracy were a golden era in South Africa's history. But then came the Guptas and their alleged improper influence on our former president, Jacob Zuma, government officials and politicians.

By now we know how the rampant corruption of the Zuma era violated South Africans' hard-won freedom and rights. Because of corruption, our country teetered on the edge of disaster. No wonder Danny Titus, executive director of corporate affairs at the Afrikaans Language and Culture Association (ATKV), writes that South Africa has been a country with so many contradictions from racism to democracy. From prisoner to president. However, now it is a country with ironies.

READ: Election campaigns fail to answer the question on all South Africans' minds

How is it possible that we could have sunk from the heights of Mandela to the depths of Zuma? Well, this is largely due to the kleptocracy that has developed over the last decade. The irony is, it took place in broad daylight and without regard for human rights and freedoms.

In this regard, Titus quotes the late former secretary-general of the United Nations (UN) Kofi Annan who said that "corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distortions of markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organised crime, terrorism, and other threats to human security to flourish".

Annan then continues by saying that "corruption is a key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development". Corruption has indeed become an "insidious plague" in our country, corroding our society.

A former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed herself as follows in 2013:

"Let us be clear. Corruption kills. The money stolen through corruption every year is enough to feed the world's hungry 80 times over. Nearly 870 million people go to bed hungry every night, many of them children; corruption denies them their right to food, and, in some cases, the right to life."

Bribes and theft swell the total cost of projects to provide safe drinking water and sanitation around the world by as much as 40%. Money siphoned from the public treasury could have been spent to meet development needs, to lift people out of poverty; to provide children with education; to bring families essential medicine; and to stop the hundreds of preventable deaths and injuries during pregnancy and childbirth that occur every day.

When reflecting on human rights, our hard-earned freedom, and corruption, examples from our recent past, as well as questions, come to mind, especially in light of Trevor Manuel's recent testimony at the Zondo commission that the improper influence of the Guptas on Zuma was already clear in 2011 and was discussed at a meeting of the ANC's national executive committee.

Where were our current leaders in 2013 when the Gupta wedding party unconcernedly arrived at the Waterkloof Air Force Base? Where were they in 2014 when Lynne Brown loaded the Eskom board with Gupta cronies while experts and very competent staff left the power utility?

Where were our so-called "clean" leaders when Zuma appointed Tom Moyane as the head of SARS? Where were they when Zuma pushed the Russian nuclear contract, and fired Nhlanhla Nene to replace him with the unknown Des van Rooyen?

Where were they in 2016 when Pravin Gordhan warned them about a capture of the national treasury, and in March the same year when the Constitutional Court found Zuma had broken his oath of office?

Our current president too, who stood by, failed to condemn those incidents when it occurred. Still lacking in certain respects, is brave, bold, and moral leadership from his side. If Mr Ramaphosa isn't truly committed, among others, to clean up the state in national interest, but rather choose to drink from the poisoned cup of party compromises, he will in the end be spit out.

Do leaders realise that the poor and vulnerable groups in our country are the first ones hit by corruption when bribery and abuse of power and position deny them access to basic services?

With the national election around the corner, we'll have to explain the damage of corruption to basic human rights, freedom and democracy much clearer to all potential voters, as well as to our political leaders especially those who apparently have not yet realised this.

Corruption should be declared a violation of our human rights and freedoms, and the public should be conscientised and educated much better in our fight against corruption and its "economic gangsters".

Fortunately, information regarding corruption can now be presented in a way that was not possible in the Zuma era thanks largely to the remarkable role of the free press, an incorruptible judiciary and very successful civil society agencies.

- Dr Chris Jones heads the Unit for Moral Leadership in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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