Our latest episode of corruption – PPE and pandemic relief fraud – is without a doubt the most troubling since the birth of our democracy, not only because of the obvious danger it poses to ordinary citizens, but because it shines a light on the deep apathy plaguing our nation’s psyche.
Just a contextual reminder: corruption is not an ANC thing, nor is it a phenomenon of “black government”. Corruption has been embedded in South African culture since the likes of Cecil John Rhodes and Paul Kruger were carving up a nation’s worth of resources to enrich themselves and their pals.
The apartheid system itself was amoral and corrupt to its core, so if you think this is “new” in any way, just reflect on those facts.
In my lifetime, South Africans have endured what Dr Ismail Vadi refers to as the three key periods of corruption: sanctions and demilitarisation fraud at the end of apartheid, State Capture and now PPE fraud.
Our youth have been robbed of their future because of State Capture, which has left our public education system among the worst in the world, but what makes PPE fraud arguably more heinous is that it is happening in a time of crisis.
It’s ramping up the spread of the virus because people don’t have masks.
It’s leaving our citizens desperately gasping for air in their dying moments because we don’t have enough hospital beds or oxygen.
In the coming months, it’ll be signing even more death warrants as we fumble the delivery of vaccines, which has already got off to a predictably disastrous start.
So far, the scale of fraud is estimated to be R5-billion. There’s no point in contextualising that number because you already know it’s an astronomical figure. You already know it could’ve built hospitals or schools. You already know it could have saved lives – maybe some of your own loved ones, for those of you who’ve lost family and friends to the virus.
I cannot think of anything more devoid of humanity than stealing someone’s lifeline in order to drive a Porsche or own Louis Vuitton luxury goods, and that’s exactly what lives are being traded for: material possessions.
These selfish thugs wait in the shadows until times of crisis and then press their boots against the necks of our most vulnerable, who are already drowning in the most unequal country on the planet.
A professor of mine at Gibs told our class that he believes his generation’s great struggle was to defeat the apartheid government. He believes my generation’s great struggle will be to reclaim the economy and weed out corruption. He believes the latter will be even more difficult than the former.
We’ve become so callous as a nation – so used to the norm that is staggering corruption – that we’ve barely batted an eyelid at PPE fraud.
When the apartheid government terrorised our nation for decades, we (slowly) fought back and dismantled their system. A question I ask myself more and more is: What will it take for my generation to fight back? What will be the final straw?
Personally, I’m not sure, but one thing I do know is that the answer isn’t to get accustomed to the status quo. Plato told us that “the price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men”. We are paying that price more and more as the years pass.
Many South Africans in my position have chosen to emigrate – they have chosen flight over fight – but for my fellow citizens who have chosen to stay, who’ve decided they will fight and not take flight, we need to maintain our outrage at the very least, because the only thing more damaging to our nation than corruption is our growing apathy towards it. DM