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Fighting corruption is everyone’s business and we should all dig in

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Kavisha Pillay is a social justice activist and the founding director of the Campaign On Digital Ethics (CODE).

There are no quick wins. It’s about fostering a culture of integrity and transparency, whether by demanding accountability from our leaders, participating in community advocacy, or simply practising ethical behaviour in our daily interactions.

This year marks 30 years since South Africa became a constitutional democracy, and with that, we should reflect on the many positives that have been ushered in and implemented during this period.

Our democracy, though fragile and at risk in many instances, still has the potential to improve the lives and dignity of all those that live in our country. With ethical leadership, robust and inclusive systems, and new, progressive ideas, we can transform from a land of stolen dreams to one of realised potential.

It goes without saying that corruption has stolen the dreams and hopes of many. It poses one of the biggest threats to our democracy and inhibits the delivery and realisation of basic rights and services. If we hope to positively change the trajectory of South Africa, it will require some fundamental shifts and changes – at both a state and individual level.

Change is slow, but possible

Some of these include:

  • The campaigns led by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, Outa, to prevent the implementation of e-tolls, and the 2023 legal win which saw the government retracting its State of Disaster on electricity, which would have opened the door to a lot of corruption in procurement;
  • Initiatives by Open Secrets that have unmasked the enablers of State Capture, and exposed the role of the private sector in aiding and abetting systemic corruption;
  • The important litigation by My Vote Counts, which led to the introduction of party funding disclosures;
  • The work currently being done by The Ethics Institute to improve the state of ethical leadership in local government;
  • The continuous and consistent work by Corruption Watch (CW) to improve the way in which leaders are appointed to crime and corruption-fighting bodies, Chapter 9 institutions, and state-owned entities. CW’s impressive strategic litigation record has also contributed to the promotion of accountability and justice;
  • The ongoing advocacy campaign by #UniteBehind to bring to book those who have been responsible for collapsing our public railway systems;
  • Lastly, the lobbying and pressure campaigns by the Active Citizens Movement, Whistleblower House, and other civil society groupings, has led to decent proposals by the state on improving whistleblowing in South Africa.

This list is but a fraction of the many impactful and meaningful efforts that took place, and are still under way, by different organisations to arrest the pervasive levels of corruption in our country — in defence of our democracy and her people.

Fighting and resisting corruption is a tough battle, which requires a lot of personal strength, as well as resources. This work is ongoing, and oftentimes frustrating, as the impact is only felt after many months or years.

Nevertheless, investing and supporting anti-corruption efforts is imperative if we hope to shift South Africa onto a path of integrity, accountability and transparency.

Looking ahead

Our world is ever-changing and becoming more complex as we confront global declines in democracy and civic space, the rise of right-wing populism and kleptocracies, the pervasive influence of money in politics and democratic processes, as well as existential threats posed by climate change and artificial intelligence.

In the months to come, activists and corruption fighters in South Africa must coordinate their efforts to ensure that we see meaningful wins in the following areas:

Regulating the funding of politics 

It is quite reasonable to assume that Parliament will pass the proposed Electoral Amendments Bill, which will see the removal of thresholds for disclosure by political parties and independent candidates on who funds them, as well as funding caps.

If we do not control the way in which money flows into politics to unduly influence policy or gain access to procurement, we will find ourselves in a perpetual state of capture. In the interests of safeguarding our democracy, it is imperative that the people of South Africa remain at the centre of our society and how it functions, and that the integrity of our electoral process remains untainted by undue financial influence.

Ensuring whistleblower support and protection

The Department of Justice has introduced interesting proposals on possible amendments to our whistleblower legislation. These proposals are progressive, but can be improved to ensure that whistleblowing in South Africa will not result in a loss of life or livelihood.

Amending the Protected Disclosures Act, or possibly enacting an entirely new piece of legislation will be critical in ensuring that people who come forward to expose corruption and other misconduct will receive the necessary support and protection for their disclosures.

Advocating for greater Public Procurement Bill transparency

Long in development, the bill is criticised for lacking the necessary safeguards to prevent corruption. While public procurement is a crucial economic driver, the current system’s fragmentation, opacity and vulnerability to corruption undermines its effectiveness.

The proposed legislation falls short, maintaining secrecy as the default and leaving weak accountability structures in place, thus missing a critical opportunity to reform South Africa’s procurement system and combat corruption.

Investing in a corruption-free society

As we reflect on the challenges of the last 30 years and think ahead to our future, we need to ask ourselves about the type of South Africa that we would like to live in, and the society that we must build for ourselves and those who come after us.

What role can you play, in your job, at your school, in your religious institution, at your sporting club, in your everyday life at home, to contribute towards a more just and equal society where we see reduced levels of corruption?

Fighting corruption is everyone’s business and will require us all to play a meaningful role in seeing its reduction.

Engaging in this collective endeavour necessitates a heightened awareness and proactive stance against corrupt practises, no matter the scale. It’s about fostering a culture of integrity and transparency, whether it’s by demanding accountability from our leaders, participating in community advocacy, or simply practising ethical behaviour in our daily interactions.

As individuals, our commitment to these values can inspire change, creating ripples that extend beyond our immediate circles. By embedding principles of fairness and honesty in all sectors of society — from the halls of government to classrooms, from places of worship to sports fields, and within the sanctity of our homes — we lay the groundwork for a transformed South Africa.

This journey towards a more equitable society continues. There are no quick wins in sight, but it is a journey that we should all invest in if we hope to see progressive transformation in our lifetime. DM

Kavisha Pillay is a social justice activist and founding director of the Campaign On Digital Ethics (CODE). She is the former Head of Stakeholder Relations and Campaigns at Corruption Watch.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Nanette JOLLY says:

    After reading “Small is Beautiful” by E E Schumacher, I think that if everyone knew everything about everyone else, everyone would behave better. Especially if we all realised that we all depend on everyone else. Social ostracism would be terrible.

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