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Most young South Africans will report corruption, despite the dangers – survey

Research had shown that sexual extortion (sextortion) was a pervasive, but hidden form of corruption that intersected with issues of gender-based violence in communities, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation said. (Photo: insidehr.com.au / Wikipedeia)

Young people in South Africa have a pervasive distrust of state institutions such as municipalities, the police and Parliament. These are some of the findings of a survey released by Corruption Watch on Wednesday, 9 December 2020.

The most common forms of corruption experienced by young people in South Africa are the administration of loans in schools and tertiary institutions, the awarding of driver’s licences, sextortion (extortion in the form of sexual favours) and bribery in relation to the police.

The survey respondents in the Corruption Watch report showed concern over the high levels of youth unemployment in South Africa, with 10% seeing corruption as a particular hindrance to accessible and available employment opportunities. Another point of great concern was the solicitation of sexual favours in exchange for employment.

“Sixty-two percent of respondents claimed to have never participated in corruption and 67% believed that corruption has become the norm for ordinary people who have to pay to access basic services. 

“In spite of this, many young people still thought it possible to root out corruption in South Africa, with the majority indicating a willingness to report corruption even if it is dangerous to do so,” said the report.

In responding to the question of corruption during the Covid-19 lockdown, “83% of respondents stated that there was an unfair distribution of food parcels, while 49% believed that a person had to be a member of a particular political party to receive a food parcel. 

“In addition, 48% of participants noted that the police were abusing their powers and harassing the public during lockdown.”

In the webinar discussion after the launch of the report, Busi Sibeko, an economist and researcher with the Institute of Economic Justice (IEJ), said the relationship between employment and unemployment was directly affected by high rates of corruption and the resultant strain on the country’s fiscal expenditure.

She said that from her perspective, the issue was not necessarily a moral question, but more about what people’s needs and wants were that drove them to participate in corrupt activities. Sibeko said it was important to take into account the environmental structures that enabled corruption.

Key to dealing with corruption was understanding that it came in many forms, which would require different pathways to dealing with it, and understanding that there wasn’t a silver bullet approach that could be adopted, said Sibeko.

“We need a deep power analysis of corruption,” said Sibeko, explaining that in order to find solutions, the power that reproduces corrupt interactions needed to be unpacked.

She said there needed to be more effort aimed at providing economic opportunities for people in order to disincentivise corruption and make corruption unprofitable

She said activists needed to work at making information accessible to people – that people had a right to be informed about the government’s budgeting process, which would empower them to demand transparency and enable them to challenge things such as irregular expenditure.

Gugu Nonjinge, senior advocacy officer at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, reminded those at the webinar that corruption diverted funding meant for public services, including youth unemployment initiatives. 

Nonjinge said corruption has been a constant in political systems in South Africa for more than 300 years and that it would take a while to understand social attitudes towards it. She said this wasn’t a problem unique to South Africa. 

“We need a government that is truthful to people,” said Nonjinge.

She said we shouldn’t be surprised if people were willing to pay bribes for employment or access to education, as we were still living in a divided and unequal society. This was why corruption was a broader problem than that of moral decay. 

She said, for example, that those within the lower-income threshold didn’t necessarily see corruption as wrong, but as a way of accessing social services or education that they would ordinarily be excluded from.

Nonjinge said research had shown that sexual extortion (sextortion) was a pervasive but hidden form of corruption that intersected with issues of gender-based violence in communities.

In discussing the role of the youth in addressing corruption, Nonjinge said it was a collective responsibility, especially when it came to shifting norms around making conditions less conducive to corruption. 

She said progress would not necessarily come from government initiatives alone, but it was about ensuring that government and communities forged ahead together.

Both Nonjinge and Sibeko emphasised that the private sector had to work together with the government in combating corruption. DM/MC

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