More than six years ago, religious leaders in Cape Town led a march to Parliament to protest against the corruption of the previous administration.
At the rally we held at the end of the march, I described the collapse of standards and values we were experiencing as something that had begun as a trickle, but became a flood.
But as alarming as the picture was, we never realised how extensive that flood was, or how deeply corruption reached into our public and private sectors.
So we gather today, on International Anti-Corruption Day, joining activists around the country to express our anger and frustration, and once again to reiterate our call for accountability and transparency, and for the corrupt to face the consequences of their deeds.
The theme for this year’s observance of International Anti-Corruption Day is “Recover with Integrity”. Reflecting on this theme, the United Nations has very aptly summarised in a few lines the most worrisome elements of corruption in the time of Covid-19 – the exploitation of crisis to loot public money.
The United Nations states: “Corruption thrives in times of crisis and the ongoing global pandemic is no exception. States all over the world have taken significant measures to address the health emergency and to avoid a global economic collapse. They hastily mobilised billions in funds to procure medical equipment and provide an economic safety net for citizens and businesses in distress.
The urgent responses required, however, led some states to trade compliance, oversight and accountability for achievement of rapid impact, thus creating significant opportunities for corruption… Only by putting effective corruption mitigation measures in place will a better recovery be possible.”
For a country in which poverty is as rampant as it is in South Africa, stealing at a time of a crisis is almost treasonous. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres correctly says that corruption is the “ultimate betrayal of the public trust”.
Last year, in my Christmas sermon, I called for 2020 to be the “Year of the Orange Overalls”. Civil society organisations took up this call, and with the advent of the pandemic, creatively launched the “Orange Mask Campaign”, symbolising the orange overalls that looters should be wearing.
In various provinces, sustained public action and awareness has helped to ensure that Covid-19 procurement information was made public. This must continue and the growing network of organisations tackling corruption should strengthen their collaborative efforts.
While the criminal justice sector has begun to move on big corruption cases, it is not nearly enough. There have also been significant strides made within the state institutions in cleaning out the rot, but more must be done. Until every public official lives in fear of being found out, capture networks will remain in different levels of the state.
As we go into a local government election next year, we call on members of the public to demand accountability of their elected representatives. We should be asking political parties across the board to tell us what their manifestos say about tackling corruption and hold them to it. We must demand that the Political Party Funding Bill is implemented so that we know who funds parties and that they are not given tenders for doing so.
We should be advocating for better protection and support for whistle-blowers.
As we go into 2021, we amplify the call for orange overalls for looters. However, we are also emphasising the call for ordinary people to become more active. Let 2021 be the year that we all “stand up to corruption”.
- Excerpts from a message by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba on International Corruption Day, 9 December 2020.
OPINION: Flora Teckie