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Home Analysis Nothing has changed: corruption before and after democracy

Nothing has changed: corruption before and after democracy

We live in a time where corruption is rife—in our country and our world—and every day brings new revelations of nefarious dealings by politicians or other senior members of society. Puleng Matsaneng looks at our present state of corruption and asks whether the phenomenon is altogether new in South Africa or whether we are just more aware of it in the present time. She suggests corruption has been with us always—old and new South Africa alike.

Over the past few months we have witnessed countless service delivery protests, affecting especially those in our townships. Most often these protests take place as early as 4am before many even leave their homes for the day. Roads are littered with burning tyres and rubble. Leaving home has become a dangerous struggle.

The most recent protests were in Westbury and Riverlea, on the west side of the Johannesburg city centre. People there are asking government to help protect them against drug lords, who have turned their neighbourhoods into unbearable hives of crime. Those living there are begging to be included in the decisions that government takes on their behalf. They feel excluded.

Reflecting as I have in conversation with friends and talking to some of the people involved, we come to the conclusion that this is a display of old anger.

For many there has been great dissatisfaction since their birth, before democracy and even beyond. People have been robbed of their right to live freely and have had to accept dismal living conditions.

Corrupt leadership has led to this state of affairs. Before democracy, corruption existed in the exclusion of people of colour from society and their overall social upliftment. When the Nationalist Party (NP) came into power, their Constitution only accommodated white people as the beneficiaries of wealth and social upliftment. From 1948 to 1994, NP politicians participated in all sorts of corruption to fulfil their desires for power and money.

The fourth South African President, the NPs Nicolaas J Diederichs was in government for 20 years. When in power he bought a piece of land for R2 000. Two years later he sold it for R125 000. He was also involved in a scandal with Iscor, swindling money into a Swiss bank account.

A few years later President PW Botha not only ran roughshod in South Africa but also in neighbouring countries like Angola using his power over the South African Defence Force (SADF) to smuggle diamonds and drugs into Zambia. During his tenure the General Sales Tax was also introduced. The VAT system replaced this in 1991. The inequalities in our country grew not only through well-known and painfully felt physical and social divisions but also in the financial disparities between blacks and whites.

In 1994 we became a democracy and many of us had hope for change. The people knew what they wanted.  A healing process and economic freedom. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission unfortunately did very little to meet these expectations.

In recent years this has not changed. In The President’s Keepers, author Jacques Pauw leaves us, especially the poorest among us, feeling a deep pain as he uncovers Zuma’s life of corruption. More than R100 billion was looted from government to keep Zuma and his friends, the disgraced Guptas among them, “secure in comfort”.

When are poor innocent people going to be respected? For years they have tried to bury the abuse they suffer but their anger is slowly rising. Anger that is loudly and violently spilling out onto our streets. Still innocents are being killed, their blood poured out senselessly and their cries left unheard.

Why can’t we have a leadership that can follow Jesus’ call to welcome and “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind”? (Luke 14:13).

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Puleng Matsaneng
Puleng Matsaneng works at the Jesuit Institute where she spearheads work in Ignatian Spirituality in the African context. She is keen to understand how African themes and practices dialogue with Western traditions, and how these can be interpreted in relation to Ignatian Spirituality in a way that makes it relevant to an African way of living.

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