South Africa has managed to stop in the past decade the decline in its governance, which had always had better quality than predicted by human development capital. Its judiciary is the best in the region, its budget transparency is at a maximum, and freedom of the press very good for both region and income group. The country has considerable room to progress by cutting red tape and increasing administrative simplicity, in relation with simple citizens as much as with businesses. The investment in e-services will only pay off if similar efforts are done on increasing e-participation. South Africa is on top of the region on e-citizens, but an absolute laggard in its income group. There is where its development potential lies.
South African national and local elections expected to deliver referendum on corruption
Today’s elections in the Republic of South Africa may be a watershed moment as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party is expected to lose support amid corruption scandals, and reports of election-related violence and coercion.
ERCAS partner Institute for Security Studies (ISS) released a press briefing with two of their researchers, Lizette Lancaster and Judith February who called today’s vote, “one of the most contested elections of the past 20 years.” The organization published an interactive map of violent and non-violent election-related incidents since January 2013 showing a total of 78 incidents, two-thirds of which turned violent, with most of the incidents occurring over the past six months.
According to Lancaster, “Violence has shifted away from KwaZulu-Natal towards the more hotly-contested provinces such as Gauteng. The risk of violence increases where the dominance of political parties at a local level is challenged by newcomers.”
The ISS reports that the incidents have included the torching of polling stations, intimidation of voters, disruption of political party meetings by rival parties, attempts to disrupt the voter registration processes and even political killings. By in large, the perpetrators are unknown, but for those who are, their political affiliation has been: ANC (54%) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF, 22%), party founded by former ANC League leader Julius Malema.
President Jacob Zuma was accused in November 2013 of grand corruption for misspending huge sums of public money on his private residence. The President insists the money was spent on needed security upgrades, but public prosecutor Thuli Madonsela concluded after his investigation into the matter, that Zuma had reaped “substantial” personal gain from the upgrades (which included a swimming pool, visitor’s centre, amphitheatre, cattle kraal, marquee area, paving and extra homes for Zuma’s relatives) at “enormous cost” to the taxpayer.
Opposition parties have worked hard to fan the flames of the scandal and the 2013 Afrobarometer survey shows 66% of South Africans feel their government is not working to ensure a society free of corrupt behaviour. While South African has an anti-corruption framework, according to ISS researcher Judith February, they have struggled with implementation, preventing them from holding well-connected individuals accountable if they are found out to have behaved corruptly.
While it is unclear the extent to which voters have decided if enough corruption is enough to throw the ANC out of power, as February states, the issue is high on the political agenda. “Voters will have to decide which parties best represent their interests with regard to corruption. The vote on 7 May will in many ways be a test of South Africans’ attitudes towards current levels of corruption and a commitment to transparent and accountable governance.”
A number of former ANC government officials have made public statements that they will not be voting for the party this time. Former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils and former Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge have both voiced their opposition. Kasrils also urged voters not to simply abstain from voting; however, a number of disaffected voters have threatened to do just that. ISS released the results of a study two days ago which they conducted on young (ages 18-24) voters showing that many of them lacked the necessary knowledge to effectively participate in the election.
Founded in January 2012 under the initiative of national trade union federation COSATU, one of Corruption Watch’s main goals is to offer citizens and corruption victims channels to report corruption cases, guaranteeing full anonymity. For that purpose, the organisation offers the possibility of submitting tip-offs through SMS, Facebook, e-mail, an online form, or even in person. According to Corruption Watch’s executive director David Lewis, “given the fact that corruption is a conspiracy against the public, the public must participate in rejecting it”. He adds: “There are a lot more people who are talking about corruption, and there are a lot more people who are outraged about corruption, and people are increasingly phoning hotlines, complaining, laying charges, sending in reports and even taking to the streets.
After its first anniversary last January, Corruption Watch disclosed statistics on the corruption cases reported: about 1200, an average of 3 per day, most commonly involving municipal administrations (23%), traffic police (14%) and schools (11%). The organisation stated that it will prioritise fighting corruption in schools and in small municipalities, where monitoring is weak and citizens have little possibilities of reporting and complaining about corruption cases. The cases reported to Corruption Watch are investigated internally and furthered to relevant authorities for appropriate action. In order to increase pressure for the cases to be adequately and speedily handled by enforcement bodies, Corruption Watch also engages in naming-and-shaming activities in partnership with media, publishing findings of their investigations, especially for big corruption cases.
The organisation has also been active in advocacy work for important pieces of legislation, and in some cases against bills that may increase corruption risks in the country. It took a position against the Protection of State Information Bill, also known as the “Secrecy Bill”, and has recently voiced serious concerns about a bill to change regulation for business licensing, which proposes that local governments would be in charge of processing business applications, and inspections to monitor compliance would be conducted by traffic policemen. Given that municipal governments and traffic police were among the organisations most often associated with the corruption cases reported to Corruption Watch, it claims that the bill could create room for more abuses in the issuing of business licenses. The organisation has also proposed a law amendment to strengthen the independence of the South African Police Service.
Recently, Corruption Watch has created a campaign with a fun twist to raise awareness about corruption, in collaboration with cartoonist Mdu Ntuli, who has created two featurettes, one of which dealing with corruption in schools. The campaign aims at further empowering people, in particular youth, to report corruption.
(The pictures featured in this article are from smartplanet.com and timeslive.co.za.)
A new civil society initiative has been launched to help curb corruption in South Africa. Corruption Watch, initiated by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), was founded as a non-profit organization to collect, analyze and publicize information about corruption cases received anonymously from whistleblowers through a website and a cellphone message hotline. Additionally, the organization will take complaints to law enforcement authorities for further investigation.
According to a speaker from COSATU at the launch event, the objective of the new organization is to gather public participation in naming and shaming corrupt politicians and public officials, and to strengthen public disapproval of corruption. COSATU’s initiative follows their efforts to pressure the governing party African National Congress (ANC), to which they are allied, to taking a tougher stance against corruption, especially in case of suspicions against party members.
Regarding the risk of the reporting mechanisms being used to make false accusations, the individuals behind the project emphasized the importance of verifying information posted by users. According to Ben Elers, from Transparency International, similar initiatives in other countries have collaborated with government agencies and the media to ensure that information made public is not based on false claims.
Read the full article “Unions back anti-corruption campaign in S.Africa” on newsday.com. The picture above is featured in the article and is credited to AP and Denis Farrell.