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Corruption SA – the almost irresistible tsunami

Corruption SA – the almost irresistible tsunami
Jacob Zuma, leader of South Africa's ruling ANC, looks on as a former MK cadre salutes him at the Pietermaritzburg high court outside Durban zuma mk

The common solution to the perennial conundrum of what happens when the “Unstoppable Force” hits the “Immovable Object” is that either the force must stop or the object must move. In the fight against Africa’s greatest evil, the big question is whether corruption is unstoppable and/or immovable. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

“Political hyenas” has to be SA’s political phrase of the year. In grown-up politics, at any rate. “Bloody agent” may appeal to the younger types, but the fact is this year has really been dominated by one overarching issue: Corruption.

2010 is the year in which the fight against corruption gained a public and popular political hero, Zwelinzima Vavi. It’s also the year when those who may be corrupt, those who may be hyenas, started to make their own presence felt, started to use their considerable power. This is an issue that will probably dominate 2011, and will definitely become a big issue in the ANC’s big year in 2012.

It’s very easy to claim that this is all Jacob Zuma’s fault. He’s the President, and hell, it’s not like he’s clean himself. The full story of how exactly he escaped having to answer questions under oath about those “loans” from Schabir Shaik is in itself possibly a corruption story of the highest order. But the person (Mokotedi Mpshe) who made the final decision is now a judge himself, so we’ll probably never know the full full extent of it.

And having a head of state with that perception around him doesn’t make the fight against corruption any easier. Just look at the SABC. The man who ran it, Dali Mpofu does many a  wrong thing, gets sacked and walks away with millions. Other people, in the lower echelons of the corporation are only human if they think well, I’ll just start my own company and start to bill the corporation as well. The same dynamic could easily affect our traffic cops and councillors. Hell, if he’s doing it, why not? And it doesn’t matter if Zuma actually did anything wrong or not; it’s the perception that matters.

But as easy as that would be, the fact is that corruption is a much bigger issue than just one man. Corruption, the hyenas, now have a momentum behind them that sometimes looks well nigh unstoppable. And that momentum started long before Zuma, it started almost before Mbeki. The fact is that capitalists, the filthy lucre-ites, got their dirty fingers into the ANC, and those vulnerable to such an approach, probably even before Nelson Mandela took his oath of office.

The real question now though is: Has this momentum become irresistible? Or is it a one tsunami that can be tamed?

Most societies have a type of momentum to them that moves in ebbs and flows. Prohibition and alcohol abstinence took hold of the US for a while, and then let go its grip. Some countries in Eastern Europe flirted, very painfully, with hard-core socialism as a sort of foreplay to communism, before changing their minds. Here, capitalism still wins and as a result most of the rich are still white. The trends that gather momentum quickly and strongly are those that appeal to our baser instincts. Most people want to get rich, thus the “Clever Boys of the Alliance” (the SACP) have such a difficult fight on their hands.

Corruption, of course, appeals to a very base instinct, which makes it very difficult to fight. In most places, what seems to work is a division of power. That gift the US gave to the world of checks and balances is the one silver bullet we know of that fights corruption with some success. Not total success mind you, but close enough for us.

And therein lies the problem. Our checks and balances are weaker than they should be: the ANC’s deployment committee has seen to that. The balance between the minister who sets policy and the government mandarin who is supposed to implement it is gone.

Nowhere is this more stark than in this year’s appointment by Zuma of Menzi Simelane to the post of national director of public prosecutors. By his own admission (during the Ginwala Commission) he is not someone who believes the National Prosecuting Authority should be entirely independent of the justice ministry. (The judge who ruled he couldn’t find the appointment was unlawful, only pointed out there was no evidence Zuma even thought about appointing someone else.)

The fact is that those who claim to be keen on fighting corruption, in which, based on their public statements, we have to include the likes of Zuma, Gwede Mantashe and the rest of the ANC’s top six, are not giving us any proof of real commitment. Time and time again these people have defended the ANC’s deployment policy, and time and time again they have claimed to be fighting corruption.

The two are mutually exclusive.

The fact is, to quote Kofi Annan, “Anything is possible, if only we have the political will”. The ANC, at the moment, doesn’t appear to us, to have that level of political will. And without the ANC behind you, you are not going to change the momentum of this country very easily.

In fact, it may be impossible. DM

Grootes is an EWN reporter.

Photo: Jacob Zuma, leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), looks on as a former MK cadre salutes him at the Pietermaritzburg high court outside Durban August 4 2008. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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