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Why a TRC on corruption just wouldn’t work

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Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors’ Forum.

The call for a corruption amnesty is not new. Not only is it untenable, it is undesirable. Pardoning the corrupt would only serve to entrench the sense of invincibility and impunity that they possess.

First published in Daily Maverick 168

In recent days former public protector Thuli Madonsela has mooted the idea of a TRC on corruption of sorts.  

She made the bold statement at a leadership summit in Port Elizabeth over a week ago, where she suggested an amnesty for the corrupt.

Madonsela told those attending the virtual Nelson Mandela Bay Leadership Summit 2020 that such a move would offer the country an opportunity to start afresh.

“We might want to consider … amnesty. I know people don’t like it when I say that. It’s the second time I [am saying] we might need a truth and reconciliation kind of thing around corruption.

“It’s just so systemic that if people can self-disclose without huge consequences, it will allow us to clean the system,” The Herald quoted Madonsela as saying.

Clearly the irony was lost on Madonsela that she was addressing an event held in Nelson Mandela Bay – a citadel of corruption and gross financial mismanagement.

The city is currently run by a loose coalition and with no clear direction. It is a city characterised by poor service delivery, where open sewage spills on to the streets at regular intervals.

It is a city hollowed out by rampant corruption and financial mismanagement. A city where the Auditor-General had to withdraw its audit team following threats to their lives.

It is a city where the ANC-led council unlawfully appointed Mvuleni Mapu as acting city manager despite him having faced unresolved allegations of corruption. Not only was he suspended in 2015 following allegations of manipulating supply chain processes, but preliminary findings showed that through his actions, the municipality had incurred irregular and wasteful expenditure running into millions.

Following a three-year suspension, Mapu was reinstated without a disciplinary process having taken place and duly rewarded with the highest administrative post in the Metro.

This begs the question: Is this perhaps the kind of amnesty Madonsela was referring to?

Is it an amnesty where those with greasy palms are simply allowed to sanitise their filthy hands and start afresh?

It isn’t rocket science why the Nelson Mandela Bay political leadership would entrust a compromised person such as Mapu with such a crucial position. The only possible reason is that he was appointed to the position so that he can be a useful spanner in the corruption toolbox of Nelson Mandela Bay politicians.

Fortunately the Hawks did the Lord’s work when Mapu was arrested in August for corruption relating to a R900,000 bribe he allegedly received in his previous role while heading the Metro’s housing department.

Last month Corruption Watch released its 2020 edition of the Analysis of Corruption Trends report, which painted an unsavoury picture about the extent of corruption in the country.

The report showed that, for the second consecutive year, police corruption topped the list of complaints received.

This relates to bribes demanded by the police from members of the public, particularly motorists. This kind of corruption was more prevalent during the lockdown period.

This is another classic case of corrupt police officials literally cashing in on the crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. They may be small fry – considering that some of those bribes involved a few hundred rands  – but they are no different from the sharks who earned millions through corrupt activities in PPE procurement.

The point is that all corruption is wrong – no matter how small or grand.

The motives of an officer who accepts R100 to allow an unlicensed driver to proceed without being arrested are no different from those of a Mapu who allegedly accepted R900,000.

But one wonders whether Madonsela had the corrupt traffic official in mind when she broached the idea of a corruption amnesty.

The reality is that such an amnesty would only serve to protect the political elite who are facing serious allegations of corruption, if the evidence before the Zondo Commission is anything to go by.

The call for a corruption amnesty is not new.

Some within the ANC have suggested it as a solution to the governing party’s looming breakdown as a result of law-enforcement investigations into corruption by senior politicians.

Not only is it untenable, it is undesirable. Pardoning the corrupt would only serve to entrench the sense of invincibility and impunity that they possess.

How else can one explain the R1-billion in public funds that just sommer disappeared, as happened in the Free State? Not a single house was built (R600-million), not a single asbestos roof removed (R230-million) and not a single cow was milked in the Vrede Dairy Farm scandal (R200-million). No thug would do that if they did not believe there would be no repercussions for their actions.

That is exactly why the call for a corruption amnesty should be rejected outright. We need to restore the respect for the rule of law.

No matter how well meaning Madonsela may have been, she is way off the mark on this one.

Accountability and respect for the rule of law is what you should be advocating, Professor Madonsela. DM/DM168

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  • Rodney Weidemann says:

    The only way this could ever even *conceivably* work is if those applying for amnesty could only have it granted on condition that they paid back the money stolen (which, of course, is pretty much INconceivable, knowing our lot)…

    After all, it’s not as though the original TRC (or at least, the NPA, which was handed the evidence gathered by the TRC) covered itself with glory in how it dealt with things in the 90s. More than 20 years after the TRC ended, we are still waiting to see any prosecutions conducted against those who FAILED to receive – or CHOSE NOT TO ASK FOR – amnesty. Based on the fact that we were dealing with a crime against humanity here, if the NPA couldn’t get off its behind to prosecute those who received NO amnesty for their crimes, is there any reason to believe that any thieves that are not granted amnesty by a ‘corruption TRC’ would ever be pursued with any vigour by state prosecutors?…

    I firmly agree with the author on this one – the rule of law is the only thing that can be applied to this situation.

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