News & media

Corruption is wreaking untold damage on the moral fibre of the nation – Vavi

From left: Dr Mathews Phosa (Unisa Chairperson of Council), Zwelinzima Vavi (Chairperson of the National Anti-Corruption Forum and COSATU’s General Secretary), Ayanda Dlodlo (Deputy Minister for Public Service and Administration), Mandiaye Niang (Regional Representative: UNODC Southern Africa), and Prof Mandla Makhanya (Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor).

“The fight to defeat corruption is one we cannot afford to lose… If corruption is not defeated it will indeed mean the decay and ultimately the death of the living body of our democracy. For some, it is a matter of life and death, as people are being literally killed for exposing and preventing corruption,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, newly elected Chairperson of the National Anti-Corruption Forum and COSATU’s General Secretary.

Speaking at Unisa on 10 November during the commemoration of International Anti-Corruption Day, Vavi said the misconception that corruption covers just financial transactions is untrue. He listed acts such as bribery, tender-abuse and other immoral conduct, such as human trafficking, sexual abuse of learners by teachers, or the torture of suspects by police, as forms of corruption. Such behaviour, he said, should not be tolerated or accepted by the public, and they had every right to voice their opinions without fear of being victimised.

He lambasted corrupt politicians and officials who built political support by bribing people to back their factions, which were no longer based on ideological differences but on who had the “biggest treasure chest to dole out favours”. Leadership contestation is changing from being about the battle of ideas into battles for control of the public purse-strings, said Vavi.

“We must do much more to encourage and defend the whistle-blowers who are risking their jobs and even their lives to expose corruption. The recent conviction of the murderers of North West ANC councillor, Moss Phakoe, exposed the lengths that corrupt councillors will go to, up to and including murder, to cover up their crimes and silence those who blow the whistle. How can we tolerate the spectacle we have witnessed recently of people demonstrating outside courtrooms in defence of someone accused of corruption, or even murder?”

Walk the talk

Vavi admitted that while all stakeholders – government, business, labour, civil society, all political parties and religious denominations – were unanimous and vehement in condemning corruption in principle, “none of us are doing enough to turn principles into action on the ground.” This, he said, was one of the biggest difficulties the country faces. “Despite all our fine resolutions, the problem remains endemic. In Transparency International’s corruption perception index for 2012, South Africa now ranks 69 out of 176 countries. We have fallen 31 places since 2001 when we were 38 out of 91 countries.”

The index, said Vavi, measured perceived levels of corruption in the public sector, bribery, the abuse of public resources, secrecy in decision making, anti-corruption laws and conflicts of interest in respect of government officials. And while the survey is only one of perceptions, there is plenty of evidence in South Africa to suggest that the perceptions are based on reality and echo the thousands of reports from ordinary people confronting corruption daily.

Misconduct and private affairs

Among the statistics and examples of corruption in South Africa provided by Vavi were the Auditor General’s findings which were also echoed in the findings of the Public Service Commission (PSC). These revealed that the cost of financial misconduct to the state in 2010/2011 was R932 million, up from R346 million in 2009/2010 and R100 million in 2008/2009.

In 2010/2011, 838 senior officials were charged with financial misconduct, compared with 689 and 652 in the previous two years. “This report leads us to one of the critical problems – that in 2010/2011, 20% of senior managers in the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, as well as 19% in the Department of Transport and 17% in the Department of Public Works, had interests in private firms.

“…Public servants should be banned altogether from doing business with the government. They must choose either to serve the public or to go into private business but never the two at the same time. The same rule should apply to union and civil society leaders. You can’t be a referee and a player at the same time and then think everything will be fine. It’s just not fine.”

Vavi also supports PSC Director-General Prof Richard Levin’s proposal for lifestyle audits of key staff, and audits into employees’ indebtedness. He said this should also apply to union members and should target even junior staff.

PSC Chairperson Ben Mthembu added: “The involvement of officials in private business entities is generally a worrying factor. Some officials seem to conduct business with employing departments and the PSC is of the view that this acts as a breeding ground for corruption.”

He said the PSC writes letters annually to executive authorities asking to be informed on both potential and actual conflicts of interest that might exist in the public sectors. “We encourage these executive authorities to deal with such issues.”

He said 2 200 public-sector employees were found guilty of misconduct between September 2004 and March this year. Of those, 1 504 officials were dismissed, 341 were given final written warnings, 202 were prosecuted, 139 were fined, and 16 were demoted.

Unisa’s anti-corruption stance

Unisa Chairperson of Council Dr Mathews Phosa said good governance is a priority at the university and “whether the conduct is termed corruption, bribery, fraud, or abuse or misuse of power, we abhor its existence and will ensure that it is rooted out.”

“The university,” said Phosa, “has been fair but fearless in advancing its value proposition of zero-tolerance to fraud, corruption and other irregularities and we pride ourselves on the principle that the rules apply equally to all people in the university, irrespective of position, power or influence. The institutional policies and intrepid stance against corruption is supported by the Council. We recognise that we have set the bar high and intend to implement our commitment to our students and stakeholders – we want an ethical university.”

Phosa said the unequivocal truth is that the fight against corruption should not be dictated by position, age, gender, or race.

“Corruption is a distasteful scourge that we, the right-minded and integrity-focused, must take the lead to destroy.  I am pained when I read, on the one hand, of the abuses of power for unwarranted financial gain that seem to have become the order of the day in some circles, whilst on the one hand, there are service delivery protests, inadequate housing and hospital facilities, and the majority of the population living below the breadline. I am then forced to question: Where has the allocated budget gone? Has anyone been called to account? Where have we taken the wrong road? And what has happened to the spirit of conscience and ubuntu that was the spirit of Africa during the struggle for democracy.  I am wholly intolerant of the sentiment that I sometimes hear as an excuse for irregular conduct – ‘I did not take part in the struggle to remain poor’,” said Phosa.

The costs of corruption

Deputy Minister for Public Service and Administration Ayanda Dlodlo said South Africa had lost an unquantifiable amount of money because of corruption.  This is money that could have been utilised for poverty alleviation, service delivery and the general upliftment of society, she said. “Although all of us are affected by corruption, the impact falls most heavily on the poor who get deprived of their basic rights and access to quality services.  Therefore, it is the responsibility for all of us to fight corruption.”

Dlodlo also spoke of the National Crime Prevention Strategy, which she said has “sadly” not been implemented over time. “I implore that we revisit the strategy because it deals with a lot of the frustration we all have with this fight against corruption…We should start building on what it suggests.”

She added that if all stakeholders worked in silos, there would be no impact, and stressed the importance of working together.

Written by Rivonia Naidu-Hoffmeester

7 comments to Corruption is wreaking untold damage on the moral fibre of the nation – Vavi

  • Zwakele

    What is sad, these people who want us to believe that corruption is wrong today, were the ones cheering Jacob Zuma when he was subverting the course of justice. I’m not convinced, they are all such hypocrites!!!
    First, they must speak out against their leader who is blatantly using the public purse for his benefit. Second, speak out against comrades who corrupt, dont go toy toying when they appear in court. That will be just the beginning.

  • Leonard Zitha

    I would like to remind everyone commenting on this forum that corruption is a disease, you cannot see or hold it, but you can see its results. It’s also like war, you cannot show me the war but the results of war (people dying, taking refuge etc). Vavi is very right to address it the way he’s doing. I’m very sure that he has seen the results of corruption at a very high level, but he’s not been legally sure of who committed it. In that case I give him credits. Remember to mention individuals means you need to attach evidence. We need people like Vavi, who make other politicians feel uncomfortable and who’s not purely driven by financial assets to make a political comment or decision. My contribution to ending corruption would be:
    1. Everyone doing business with the government should be forced to either resign or stop doing their business (you have to be public or private, the two cannot co-exist).
    2. What do you think is one of the causes of poor service delivery. Some of the people appointed in government offices truely have no idea why they are there. So in order to deal with this problem, job shortlistings and interviews should be handed to the auditing body as soon as they are complited(comrade demployment should be based on merit as well). I’m saying this because recently, we heard that documentations regarding shortlistings and interviews were lost in certain departments (that’s not possible…). It’s just a coverup of the whole corrupt processes.
    3. Please centralise the tenderprocesses so that we have one person to blame.
    4. Lets talk about the garbage in garbage out phrase: The institutions of higher learning produce poor and incompetent people who end up in our critical government departments today, why? Many lecturers are involved with students in return for better academic performance and some buy the qualifications. People don’t realise how bad this affect the whole country because if you have a education system so poor, you can corrupt the whole nation easily. Let’s give education its right value.
    5. The people representing the youth of the country should not operate too far from the department of education and should have academic background themselves. Which country in the world has its youth controlling the whole nation? Also remember that some of the reasons why tender processes are corrupt is because people feel it’s longer important to go to school in order to make money, but, you could be a millionaire if you were associated with a particular youth individuals(we never had this problem before, what happened and who gave them such authority?).
    6. Bribery: Any person earning political position out of bribery is a poison to the country. There’s currently a lot of them and they would spend an arm a leg to get to that position because they know they will repay themselves through government tenders ones they are in power. This is a challenge because the people being bribed are very poor and in this situation, the poor make decisions based on the level of their hunger not from their thoughts. Let us audit senior government officials and include all their assets. Government officials’s assets should be monitored. If a government official owns billions of rands and they decide to withdraw such amount, the country should know where the money is taken to.

  • It is up to all South Africans to’ be the change they want to see in the world’. Doing so will have a ripple effect on what the future of this country will ultimately be. AWAY WITH CORRUPT LEADERSHIP!

  • Sharon

    The speech is good and addresses the issue of corruption, but we are tired of everyone saying it but little is done about it.

    An action plan needs to be implemented! People vote for change, which is always promised but nothing happens.
    I do agree it will take time, but how long do we wait!

  • Tshikalange

    The so called corruption will never end until the goverment make sure that it start within themselves. If we still find scandals within our own president and corruption charges upon Julias Malema i am realy amazing that such young person no one within the ANC never realize about his corruption. Emfuleng Manucipality run water and light in chaos since 2008 until this day. No one is helping us. Vanderbijlpark license department push people to pay 2000 and above to get their license beside that no body pass. I visited the area to pay my fine of driving 93 at 60 zone i was told to pay R1000,00 or else. The money i didnt pay because i dont have such money and i have been told to go back home and come back when I got money. This happened in magistrate office when i present my fine. The friend of mine want to registar a car has been told to pay some money before he process the document. The corruption is all over. Our country is going down the drain if something is not done urgent. The biggest problem can be media or The life style of those who are in athourity. All we need is to go back and figure out where we went wrong.

  • The issue of corruption is one that needs to be dealt with without generalisations. While I appreciate Vavi for speaking about corruption, I find it to be an utter shame that people who are in power, including Vavi will beat around the bush when it comes to corruption issues. One does not necessarily need to be convicted in the court of law for corruption in order to prove that such behaviour is unacceptable. The very same people who are in the forefront of such activities are his associates. How difficult should it be for ordinary people to expose corruption if Vavi himself who is a political leader cannot directly make examples of people involved in corruption? One does not need a team of lawyers, constitutional judges and auditors to make a conclusion that the president is involved in corrupt activities, and this should not be confused with dragging the name of the president through the mud or making unfounded accusations. The president was removed from office as a Deputy President due to corruption, whether it was proven in the court of law or not, the same behaviour is evident today. Not so long ago when the very same individual was going in and out of court for all sorts of accusations and legal trials was broke, the general public and ANC supporters had to contribute money for his legal fees. How come immediately after being elected into the president started living an extravagant lifestyle, ranging from multi-marriages to the current Nkandlaville debate? Why the sudden extravagant inflow of wealth to his family members and associates after being elected into office? Are those not acts of corruption? Should these activities not be questioned by the public?
    It is high time that politicians, who claim to be free of corruption, including Vavi, stop playing hide and seek on this very important and sensitive matter.

  • Ceril

    My concern is extending JZ’s stay in the high office. The man must pack his bags & leave us alone. Nkandlaville, e-tolling, from R100 to R900m corruption, secrecy bill etc. I’m sure my fellow voters will do what is right to save the legacy of Luthuli, Tambo, Sisulu, Mandela, etc.