It’s difficult to get excited about the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (Cosatu) recent launch of a dedicated unit to combat corruption. Like the proverbial pebble in the ocean, Cosatu’s Corruption Watch will almost certainly sink without a ripple.

It will plink down next to the National Anti-Corruption Forum, the Forum Against Corruption, the Moral Rearmament Movement, Business Against Crime, Transparency SA, the Anti-Corruption Trust, the Special Investigations Unit, the Commercial Crime Unit, the police National Anti-Corruption Unit, the Auditor-General’s Office, the Asset Forfeiture Unit, and the National Prosecuting Authority. There, too, are the desiccated corpses of various other vaunted crime fighters — the Scorpions, the Hawks and the Cobras.

Forget these optimistically predatory names. All have fought the good fight, none has staunched the growing tide of public malfeasance. Next time, let’s call them the Baby Seals: naïve, helpless and just waiting to be clubbed.

The Treasury estimates that annually, as much as a quarter of state procurement, some R30-billion, is stolen or wasted. Mind-boggling a figure though it is, it is likely an underestimate, for it is not only about theft, which can be counteracted relatively easily with improved enforcement. It is about having the impunity to thieve.

The SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) reported last year that it had identified 79 416 public servants fraudulently receiving social grants, of which 30 000 agreed to pay back in instalments what they had stolen, a kind of steal-now-pay-later initiative. Only 15 921 were prosecuted, while most were punished with a final warning — presumably not be so stupid as to be caught again.

This week it was reported that a decade-long investigation conducted by an array of investigative agencies into welfare fraud among 178 KwaZulu-Natal organisations funded by the Social Development ministry yielded six criminal cases and nine disciplinary proceedings. The news barely registered among a public that is becoming inured to corruption.

Sassa’s dismal performance and that of Social Development ministry that oversees it would make a great first project for Cosatu’s Corruption Watch to test its milk teeth on. After all, it unites the themes of theft from the poor, criminal action by members of the public service union, and poor managerial performance by politically deployed cadres.

But the corruption that is rife among its public sector members is a nettle that Cosatu is likely to find as difficult to tackle as does the African National Congress.

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has just called for a national database to keep track of government officials implicated in corruption. The idea is that if convicted, or if they resign from their posts while being investigated, such people should automatically be excluded from any other government post.

It would be an admirable idea were it not rank with hypocrisy. After all, South Africa has a president who avoided facing corruption charges only by similarly exploiting every bit of wriggle space in the judicial system.

Of 89 parliamentarians implicated in the Travelgate rip-off, only six were criminally charged, and not one ANC MP was thrown out of the party. The ANC has deployed and continues to deploy hundreds if not thousands of its cadres to top government posts, despite them having been implicated in corruption and maladministration.

It does so knowlingly because they have represented powerful constituencies within the tripartite alliance or because they are well connected in the web of nepotism and cronyism that envelops the ANC’s administration at every level throughout the nation.

South Africa does not need umpteen anti-corruption bodies to ensure clean governance. What it needs is a transparent and properly managed public service, whistleblower protection, a free press, a competent police force and a prosecuting authority that is independent of government interference.

Most of all, it needs the ANC’s leaders to just say no to corruption.


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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