JUDITH FEBRUARY: Implementing anti-corruption plans is better than promises
It’s doubtful that corruption has cast a shadow over any election in South Africa since 1994 quite as it is doing now. The scale and brazenness of "state capture" under former President Jacob Zuma highlighted just how destructive it could be – not simply diverting and appropriating resources, but undermining the whole fabric of South Africa’s governance system. How the country’s major parties intend to act provides some insight into how they see the problem, and what sort of action they believe is feasible given the depth of the challenge.
The approach of the African National Congress (ANC), as the party that has largely presided over most of South Africa’s corruption scandals – and which will most likely remain the keystone of the country’s politics – naturally piques the most interest. All over the campaign trail, President Cyril Ramaphosa has emphasised the so-called "clean up" and that any future government he leads will promote honesty and integrity in public life. This includes a "clean up" within the ANC itself, promising that those placed in positions of power will be "uncorrupted, honest and self-disciplined with clear values who can resist moral pressures."
As with most of its manifesto, the ANC’s stance on corruption is set out in broad, non-specific brushstrokes. Not much comes across as particularly new or innovative. It will "strengthen" the criminal justice system, "step up" measures against private sector malfeasance, ‘ensure’ lifestyle audits, ‘strengthen’ restraints on public servants doing business with the state, "develop" systems to prevent tender fraud, and "build and strengthen" a social compact against corruption.
In a nutshell, there is rather more continuity than change here, although it is perhaps noteworthy that the ANC’s manifesto attempts to appropriate the fight against state capture. Audacious, but given how omnipresent this issue has become in the media, this is probably the only approach the ANC could take.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has anchored much of its brand and appeal on its opposition to corruption and a promise of honest, effective government. This was much easier as an opposition party, yet in government, it has had to weather its own share of scandals. Nevertheless, corruption features prominently in its manifesto. Little doubt is left that the DA regards it as one of the key issues confronting South Africa.
The DA’s manifesto probably predictably emphasises the ANC’s record on this matter and locates its anti-corruption strategy as part of expanding opportunities for individual South Africans and the prosperity of the country as a whole. It also refers to its own successes in dealing with corruption, in contrast to the conduct of the ANC. At one point, it describes the latter as having used the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro as a "piggy bank," and having recently reinstalled a "Coalition of Corruption".
Thus it commits to rooting out corruption, not only as a general principle but specifically in relation to a number of distinct sectors. So, for example, it promises to act against corruption in employment (cash-for-jobs for instance). It points to corruption as a partial explanation for the failures of state-owned enterprises, land reform, empowerment, education and housing to name but a few areas.
The DA offers some detail on its proposed strategy, although not a great deal. Thus it says it will overhaul empowerment policy, so as to enhance opportunities for ordinary South Africans and grow the economy. It suggests altering governance and administrative structures in education, and providing the necessary support, to ensure their functionality. Precisely how this is to be implemented is unclear.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is hoping to see a surge in support. Not unlike the DA, it has tried to position itself as a fearless opponent of corruption. This was always a controversial stance, given long-standing allegations around the conduct of party leader Julius Malema (and his deputy Floyd Shivambu).
Its manifesto makes a number of commitments on corruption that would not be out of place in any other manifesto: it promises to "increase" efficiency, "protect" the independence of such bodies as the Auditor General and Public Protector, to ‘strengthen’ whistle-blower protections and to increase the severity of punishment for corruption. It proposes instituting minimum sentences of 20 years for civil servants and representative found guilty of corruption and denying them their pensions.
Besides this, it proposes some far-reaching changes, such as amending the constitution to make the National Prosecuting Authority a Chapter 9 institution (in other words, at arm’s-length from most of the state machinery), and instituting state administration courts that would deal expeditiously with instances corruption, blacklisting offenders and recovering lost money.
While each of these manifestos makes appropriate promises and contains some ideas worthy of consideration, it’s important to remember that implementation is crucial if the country is to root out corruption. It is probably too much to hope for that it is entirely rooted out but even dealing with the most egregious forms of corruption will require leadership and adherence to the rule of law in all spheres of society. In this regard, the new National Director of Public Prosecutions will play an important role. It will also be important to repurpose the state institutions which have been hollowed out for the purposes of state capture.
Whether the politicians involved have sufficient steely determination to deal with the challenge will be seen after 8 May. Election time is a time of promises - what South Africa really needs in relation to corruption is action.
Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies and is also a Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy'. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february