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Don’t burn down the house to kill a mouse — Ramaphosa’s corruption-busting strategy


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

We have a structural problem in South Africa that simply cannot be ignored when it comes to our hunger for corruption, both in the public and private spheres of our lives.

In an attempt to make sense of the corruption surrounding us I was having a conversation with an old white man in Cape Town, who saw himself as an anthropologist and sociologist of sorts. He told me of his impressions of the black African people and their “so-called” cultural and traditional practices that, he said, were so prone to corrupt practices.

I listened attentively as he explained that the chief must be the person with the biggest house in the village and also the one with the most cattle. No one in the village may have more than the chief. In order for the chief to show they are in charge and wield power, they must have more than the next person.

If you are a university graduate with a a job, he lamented, in your community you must demonstrate that you have arrived when visiting the village, by arriving in a big car, dressed to kill and flashing cash.

I can’t say I agree entirely with this theory, but this is a perception when it comes to corruption — blacks are simply prone to it because they never had — and it is their time to eat. Racist rhetoric, you tell me.

With a polarised and a greatly unequal society, blacks aspire to be like the haves and at times opt for the shortest available route to wealth and opulence.

I’m reminded of Thabo Mbeki delivering the Mandela Lecture in 2006 where he addressed the huge challenges being faced by citizens, including the political elite, and why it was supposedly so important that some among us must get rich at any cost.

The fundamentals of capitalism is that of profit at all cost — more is better — and the evidence of taking short cuts to such profits and wealth by blacks is staggering. Then there are the two economies that exist in South Africa, one for the privileged few commanding the largest share of the Johannesburg Securities Exchange and another for the poor unemployed, barely making ends meet with small businesses, or those who survive on meagre social grants.

The political elite and connected few will always be the first recipients of reward and/or corruption since they are close to the levers of power. The private sector too is not immune and has actively played its part in corrupt practices, past and present.

The Zuma years took corruption to the next level, through State Capture, a criminal enterprise if there ever was: Personal embellishment, family embellishment, and then Gupta embellishment. The scandals around state-owned enterprises, banks and private investment firms such as Steinhoff are piling up and giving South Africa a bad name.

How can President Cyril Ramophosa fix all this?

First, it’s unfair to expect him to do so with less than a year before the 2019 election. Second, it’s a societal problem. A change in mindset is needed and behavioural change is required.

Already I hear people complaining of CR and the ANC’s approach to operation clean-up. Another commission of inquiry, I hear some of you complain — why can’t he just have the balls to arrest all of them.

Just because you have concluded that OJ Simpson is guilty does not mean he is. Evidence must be gathered and interrogated, presented to a judge and prosecutor. There must be no reasonable doubt that the accused have committed the crimes. In other words, the glove must fit.

This is justice, this is cleaning up in a rules-based environment. Only then can you expel, fire, arrest or excommunicate. You can’t have it both ways, good people.

Eight years of Zuma’s reign is a long time to undo and clean up, but try decades of a corrupt culture in both the public and private sector under apartheid. It takes time to successfully prosecute people.

Society is sick with corruption, and of everyone wanting to make a quick buck. And so, like a watch in the night, the second hand rhythmically states, get rich, get rich at all costs, get rich.

The Zondo commission is necessary, and perhaps one can argue so is the PIC inquiry, but just be aware, Mr President, it can have dire consequences for both the governing party and the government. I’m not sure the country can afford a long and protracted process that could in the end be the demise of the ANC and the country as a whole.

Be careful what you wish for, good people, you might not like the outcome of these processes. Maybe that is what some of you would like — a country and an ANC in ruins — but that is not what most wish for.

For the sake of all our future generations, don’t burn down the house just to kill a mouse.

Let’s agree on an acceptable strategy. A few examples must be set, and yes, a few prominent people must go to jail, but that’s it. Draw a line in the sand and say “this far and no further”, for if you don’t, the entire house of cards will come crashing down, and all we have built thus far would have been in vain.

Set the mousetraps and get the exterminators in, but let’s do it clinically and cleanly so we can preserve all we have accomplished in Mzansi.

I’m aware that these processes are also needed in order to deal with CR’s detractors (post-Nasrec) who are actively conniving behind his back to overthrow his government and ANC leadership, but the process must be managed.

Do not also undermine the internal processes of the ANC, Mr President. Have you exhausted all the constitutional processes, including letting the Integrity Committee fulfil its role? Those found to be counter-revolutionary and plotting to destabilise the ANC and its leadership must be expelled from the organisation.

No doubt a new ethos must be inculcated in our young people. Entitlement must be destroyed and our Ubuntu spirit must be allowed to thrive.

Just because we are faced with unimaginable wealth among the privileged class in society, or just because there indeed are two economies in South Africa, rich and poor, and just because the political and private sectors indulge in unethical and corrupt behaviour, does not mean we must fall prey to them. Our values cannot be to appropriate such corrupt behaviour.

Surely we do not all want to be chiefs, cheating and lying to our subjects in order to enrich ourselves.

We have a structural problem in South Africa that simply cannot be ignored when it comes to our hunger for corruption, both in the public and private spheres of our lives.

It is not going to be an event, but a long process over many years. Try we must. Let’s give our president the support he deserves, for to overcome such a mammoth task will be no mean feat. DM


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