The end of the month of August saw a rising surge of anger from South African citizens across the board about corruption around the Covid-19 fund. A number of radio programs and interviews, television discussions, newspaper articles and the circulating social media posts including the “Voetsek ANC” poster indicate this sense of having had enough of corruption among the ordinary people.
Churches and civil bodies have embarked on focused analysis and thinking about this new “pandemic” of corruption. There is a feeling that South Africa is going towards the direction of being known for corruption as a country. As Columbia is known for drugs, Mali for child soldiers, Nigeria for terrorist groups, Saudi Arabia for lack of women’s rights, lately Zimbabwe for human rights violations, and other countries known for bad things, South Africa is fast becoming known as a country where corruption is a way of life, much similar to what Kenya was once known for.
There is a growing worry that corruption is beginning to shape the soul of our nation to the point where it is becoming synonymous to South Africa so that if you want to say “corruption” the same meaning will be understood when you say “South Africa”. In view of this emerging culture and identity forced on us by those in the leadership and their cronies, let us as citizens refuse to let corruption culture characterize our country. As we enter the heritage month of September, God forbid that the heritage we shall be passing on to the next generation will be the heritage of corruption. We must refuse to be defined as a country by corruption. In addition to the to call not to let South Africa be known as a Republic of Sexual Abuse and basher of women, we must also be resolute in our refusal to let South Africa be known as a Republic of corruption.
The call is not so much to invite the citizens to complain about corruption but for citizens to resist those who want this country to be defined by corruption. We must act against corruption because corruption is contrary to the values we stand for as Africans, as Christians and as a democratic country. As Africans we cherish the value of Ubuntu, and care and corruption is an insult to these values. As Christians we believe in serving rather than being served, and corrupt leaders practice the exact opposite of this value. As democrats we hold the civil servants we elect accountable to us but the corrupt leaders see themselves as accountable to no one.
Everyone who commits crime faces the demands of the law and suffers the consequence, yet the corrupt criminals who pose as leaders get away with it. They get to avoid wearing orange overalls in jail and continue looting with impunity while they continue to enjoy a life of opulence at the expense of poor people and at the detriment of the image and development of the country.
The call is to fight corruption before it takes root in our country. The first step to fight corruption is to become aware of it. Generally described, corruption is “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain” (cf. www.transparency.org). This general description is applicable to all, and not only to the government officials. It calls on each and everyone one of us to evaluate how we use the power, resources and trust assigned to us for their intended purpose.
Let us keep in mind that even the use of time for which we are paid and supported for “private gain” is corruption because it is not our time, we are paid for it. Consequently, to come to the office and hang one’s jacket on the chair and leave the office to do one’s private business in town is corruption. The use of facilities meant for our work for “private gain” is corruption. Consequently, to use the telephone provided for the purpose of our work to phone family members and friends is corruption. To use the vehicle provided for the purpose of our work for private trips and to make money is corruption.
At personal level it should haunt one at the end of the day when one enjoys a sumptuous meal and a comfortable bed in a cosy room and yet cannot say in clear conscience that today enough work was done to earn one’s living. This is not only stealing from those who have entrusted the resources but it is also an insult to one’s dignity to eat without earning one’s food. I suppose it is for this reason that St Paul gave the injunction: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Corrupt people live and eat without earning their living and the food they eat.
Looking at it this way will help us understand that corruption is subtly lurking in our daily lives even at our homes and in our daily interaction with each other. One could say that even our failure to do our fair share of tasks or duties in our families and in communities has an element of corruption because while others oblige to fulfill their responsibility towards us, we fail to do the same and get away with it; such disposition and practice is not fair, it is corrupt.
In addition to what corruption is, it is its consequences that are disturbing. The evil of corruption is that it results in common good objectives not being achieved, and with the majority of people not getting the rights which belong to them, while a few thugs wrongfully get more than what they should get. In short, corruption leads to injustice. This in turn leads to a sense of disgruntlement and lack of social cohesion that I referred to at the beginning of this article. Corruption leads to lack of trust in leadership and even to cynicism, hence many people no longer care about voting when election time comes. Corruption is thus not conducive for nation building and must be dealt with decisively.
Time for complaining about corruption has come to an end; something must be done even during this time of Covid-19, which places limitations of movement and activity. Without propagating for the transgression of Covid-19 safety measures let us begin to think creatively about actions that can be taken, for we cannot wait until the Covid-19 pandemic is over to act. The time is now. Let us refuse to be defined by corruption as a country.
As we get enraged with corruption, let us remember that the call against corruption starts with us. In our personal lives and in our work. We must not be liable for acts and dispositions that smack of corruption, otherwise we have no right to speak against it. This is true of us men and women of the cloth as well because accounts and incidents of corruption are not missing us. Let us pray to be relieved of corruption and this will enable us to speak and act against corruption with integrity.
Article written by:
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka
Catholic Bishop of Mthatha and President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops
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