August saw a surge in anger from South African citizens across the board about corruption related to Covid-19 funds. Several reports on various media platforms, including the highly circulated “Voetsek ANC” poster, indicate that people have had enough of corruption.
Churches and civil society bodies have embarked on focused analysis and thinking about the corruption “pandemic”. As Colombia is known for drugs, Mali for child soldiers, Nigeria for terrorist groups, Saudi Arabia for lack of women rights and lately Zimbabwe for human rights violations, 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. We are getting to the point where corruption is becoming synonymous with South Africa. This emerging culture and identity are being imposed on us by those in the leadership and their cronies, and it is up to us as citizens to refuse to let corruption characterise our country.
As we enter the heritage month of September, God forbid that we pass on to the next generation the heritage of corruption. We must refuse to be defined by corruption just as much as we strive to avoid being known as a country of women bashers.
The call is not so much to invite the citizens to complain about corruption — that has been done over and over again. This is a call to resist those who want to corrupt us. It is a call to act against corruption because it is a practice which 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.
Corrupt leaders practise the exact opposite of this value and as democrats we hold the civil servants we elect accountable to us, but corrupt leaders see themselves as accountable to no-one.
Everyone else who commits crime is charged and faces the consequences, 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.
The first step in fighting corruption is to become aware of it. It must be understood that corruption defined as abuse of power for private gain does not only apply to politicians and government officials.
It calls on each of us to evaluate how we use the power, resources and trust assigned to us for their intended purpose.
Corruption manifests in different ways: use of time for which we are paid for “private gain” is corruption; arriving at the office to hang up your jacket and then leaving to do private businesses is corruption; even using a telephone provided for the purpose of our work to phone family members and friends is corruption.
Self-introspection is key. You should be haunted at the end of the day when you take stock of what you have done; you should not enjoy a sumptuous meal and sleep on a comfortable bed in clear conscience.
This is not only stealing from those who have entrusted you with resources, but it an insult to your own dignity; to eat without having earned your food.
I suppose it is for this reason that St Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 gave the injunction: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
The evil of corruption is that it results in objectives for the common good not being achieved, with the majority of people’s rights trampled on while a few thugs wrongfully get more than what they should.
In short, corruption is injustice. This in turn leads to a sense of disgruntlement and lack of social cohesion. Corruption leads to a lack of trust in leadership and even to cynicism, hence many people no longer care about voting when election time comes.
It is for this reason that corruption must be confronted — we can’t be told to wait until Covid-19 is over. Let us refuse to be defined by corruption as a country.
As we get enraged by corruption, it must be made clear that acting against it starts with you and me. At a personal level and in our workplaces, we must refuse to be part of corrupt activities.
This is also includes men and women of the cloth, because corruption permeates every sector. Let us pray to be relieved of corruption, and this will enable us to speak and act against it with integrity.
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka is Catholic Bishop of Mthatha and president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops. He writes in his personal capacity