Corruption is killing South Africa: Archbishop warns

The “insidious cancer of corruption” is “the most egregious threat” to South Africa’s democracy today, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has said in a public lecture.

The “insidious cancer of corruption” is “the most egregious threat” to South Africa’s democracy today, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has said in a public lecture.

Delivering the Beyers Naude Memorial Lecture at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth on October 27, Archbishop Thabo also criticised suggestions that criminalising corruption was a “Western paradigm”.

“Actually, I think it’s the other way around,” he said. “Corruption is a two-way street, a two-way transaction. For corruption to happen, you have to have a corrupter, someone willing to pay the bribe, and what I will call a “corruptee”, someone willing to take a bribe. For Africans, over the 50 or 60 years since liberation, the Western paradigm — if indeed there can be said to be one — is one in which Westerners have been the corrupters, and African elites the corruptees.”

The Archbishop also quoted from the African Union’s 2003 “Convention On Preventing And Combating Corruption”, which said corruption and impunity had “devastating effects on the economic and social development of the African peoples.”

Other quotes from his address: 

“The most egregious threat to our democracy today is the insidious cancer of corruption. I cannot say it any more simply than that corruption is anti-democracy….”

Quoting his Roman Catholic counterpart in Cape Town, Archbishop Stephen Brislin, he said corruption was not new in South Africa – the colonial and apartheid systems were highly corrupt. Nor did corruption affect only governments: he quoted Archbishop Brislin as saying that it affected business, corporations, NGOs and even churches.

“So, while all of must be concerned about corruption, no institution can be holier-than-thou about it,” Archbishop Makgoba said.

He continued:

“I am really puzzled by what President Zuma and his lawyers are reported to have argued in representations to the National Prosecuting Authority some years ago. According to City Press, which has seen an NPA analysis dealing with Mr Zuma’s reasoning as to why he should not be charged:

“’One of the reasons President… Zuma believed criminal charges against him relating to the arms deal should be dropped was because corruption is only a crime in a ‘Western paradigm’. And even if it was a crime, [Mr] Zuma’s lawyers apparently argued, it was a crime where there are ‘no victims’.’

“If this is the case, we have to ask what values — whether they be cultural, constitutional or faith-based values — the President and his lawyers used to come to that conclusion. Contrast what is reported to be their thinking with the following statement identifying who suffers from corruption:

“‘[Corruption] means that the state pays a higher price than it should, which takes money away from education or health care for the poor. Or it means the state accepts a poorer quality hospital or road or housing unit, which endangers the welfare of the population and particularly the poorest citizens who so often rely on that hospital or house. It is as simple as that.’

“That statement was made by Mr Zuma’s Minister of Economic Development, Mr Ebrahim Patel, in a contribution to the same booklet as Archbishop Brislin. The title of Mr Patel’s article is: “Fighting Corruption is a Fight For Social Justice.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

“And what can they be talking about if they are saying corruption is a Western paradigm? Presumably, this means that cracking down on corruption is somehow a Western phenomenon which is not appropriate in Africa. Actually, I think it’s the other way around. Corruption is a two-way street, a two-way transaction. For corruption to happen, you have to have a corrupter, someone willing to pay the bribe, and what I will call a “corruptee”, someone willing to take a bribe. For Africans, over the 50 or 60 years since liberation, the Western paradigm — if indeed there can be said to be one — is one in which Westerners have been the corrupters, and African elites the corruptees.

“Let’s turn away from talk of Western paradigms, and look for an African paradigm. We need go no further than a declaration adopted by Africa’s heads of state and government at a summit in Maputo in 2003. Its title is African Union Convention On Preventing And Combating Corruption. In the Preamble to the Convention, the African leaders of government say, and again I quote, that they are “concerned about the negative effects of corruption and impunity on the political, economic, social and cultural stability of African States and its devastating effects on the economic and social development of the African peoples.” Clearly, they agree with Minister Patel. (As an aside, might I ask our President: Does he?)

“In Article Three of the Convention, signatory states say they will abide by a number of principles, two of which state:

“‘Transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs,’ and

“‘Condemnation and rejection of acts of corruption, related offences and impunity.’

“Corruption is paralysing progress across South Africa today. We all know about the high-profile cases which dominate the headlines, whether they concern Nkandla or provincial departments here in the Eastern Cape. But for every one of those cases, there are many more — I am sure it is thousands across the country — which go unreported. The moral compasses guiding our leaders and public servants are misaligned.”

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