29 March 2010

A Red Card to Corruption

A Red Card to Corruption

Speech by the SACP General Secretary, Cde Blade Nzimande, to the SACP Anti-Corruption Seminar, Parktonian, 29 March 2010

In line with our long-standing commitment to the democratic transformation of South Africa, since our founding in 1921, and our upholding of values of sacrifice, dedication to the cause of the workers and the poor, and a principled struggle prioritise the socio economic needs of the overwhelming majority of our people, we have taken the initiative to convene this summit.

We have done this however knowing full well that we are not the only political formation, or the only organization concerned about threat posed by the scourge of corruption to the attainment of a better life for all, but that there are many citizens and organizations out there who share our outrage at the pillaging of resources and theft, thus depriving the workers and the poor of our country what is due to them.

All of our allied formations have also committed themselves to a principled struggle against corruption. For instance the ANC, at its Polokwane conference made the following observations about the scourge of corruption, careerism and patronage:

“That our accumulated weaknesses include inability to effectively deal with new tendencies arising from being a ruling party, such as social distance, patronage, careerism, corruption and abuse of powers; ineffective management of the interface between the movement and the state; a flawed approach to membership recruitment, a decline in ideological depth amongst cadres; and a lack of institutional resources to give practical effect to the movement's leadership role.”

The ANC Polokwane Conference identified the following task:

“The central challenge facing the ANC is to address the problems that arise from our cadres’ susceptibility to moral decay occasioned by the struggle for the control of and access to resources. All the paralysis in our programmes, all the divisions in our structures, are in one way or another, a consequence of this cancer in our midst”.

The SACP Special National Congress in December 2009, in its Congress declaration, resolved on corruption thus:

“Together with our allies, and the great majority of South Africans, we communists pledge to fight the scourge of crime and corruption.  We will carry this struggle without fear or favour. Without militant worker vigilance, corruption will devour our democracy.”

COSATU has also indeed taken many resolutions and embarked on very public and prominent actions, on its own but also through its affiliates, in the fight against corruption.

Many other formations, including those that are here, have in various ways been in the trenches in the struggle against this scourge. There has indeed been near consensus in society as a whole to escalate the fight against corruption, but the challenge is that there has been no consensus on what specific measures we need to take to deal with this. This summit must in one way contribute to the development of this consensus, especially amongst the workers and the poor of our country.

We convened this summit fully aware that there are many South Africans serving in positions of responsibility in both the public and the private sector who abhor corruption and are determined to go about doing their work in the most honest manner. In the public service in particular we can highlight and salute the role of the thousands of public servants who do their work honestly and are totally dedicated to serve our people, whatever it takes. Similarly in the private sector there are many workers and professionals who are only interested in doing an honest and good day’s work.

Whilst the media is an important partner in the struggle against corruption, nevertheless most of the media’s coverage of this subject is characterised by a subtext which includes the following: 
  • That all politicians are corrupt unless proven innocent
  • The ANC is a corrupt organisation unless it proves itself otherwise
  • That our government is mainly made up of self-serving corrupt civil servants
  • That fighting corruption in the private sector is less of a priority unless it is linked to the public sector, given their paucity of coverage of corruption in the private sector

Of course all of this is not true! This is one of the reasons for instance why an honest call by Cde Vavi and COSATU for lifestyle audits has been opportunistically appropriated by a sensationalist media, who have turned this into beauty contest, such that it could seriously undermine efforts to fight the scourge of corruption and the exposing of tenderpreneurs. Systems within government, including the South African Revenue Service, need to be strengthened to expose and crack down on corruption and unexplained wealth amongst public representatives. This cannot be left to the whims of the media who create heroes and villains in order to sell newspapers.

A myth that is fostered by the media, both wittingly and unwittingly, is that corruption is mainly to be found in the public sector. This is obviously not true. There is also large-scale corruption in the private sector, except that it is often ignored or be called by a respectable and seemingly innocuous description ‘white collar crime’. Crime and corruption has no colour, it is just crime and corruption, and if there is any colour it requires it is red – a red card to end it!

However, in raising the above issues we must not be misunderstood as trying to make a judgemental call between corruption in the public vs. the private sector. Crime and corruption must be fought wherever it occurs, both in the public and private sectors. As a matter of fact in most instances it is difficult to separate or distinguish between corruption in the public and private sectors, as there is often collusion and overlap between the two. For example it is often the private sector that identifies corrupt characters in the public sector, and vice versa, that is the source of much of the corruption we talk about. It is for this reason also that when we talk about tenderpreneurs – those who corruptly seek to capture tenders, especially government tenders, in cahoots with public servants and private companies – we talk about this phenomenon as it cuts across both the public and private sectors.

In criticising journalists who report on this however we must also not be misunderstood. There is a lot that we can criticise South African media for, including sensationalism, shallow investigations, and even sheer opportunistic interventions in political debates, etc. In fact the struggle for the transformation of the media as a whole needs to be intensified such that it is able to effectively inform the South African public.

However, if allegations that journalists’ private lives are being investigated through illegal means is true, then we also join President Zuma and COSATU in condemning such.  This is in itself would be a corrupt activity, that can spread like cancer throughout all of society, beyond just targeting journalists. This is a dangerous activity that has the potential to take us back to a period where state institutions were being abused to pursue narrow political agendas. We would strongly oppose this just as we opposed it in the past.

The political and moral dimensions of the struggle against corruption

To us as the SACP, and indeed it should be so for the majority of South Africans, the fight against corruption is in the first instance not merely a moral, but a political struggle. By political struggle we do not mean just party political activity, but a struggle to defend our democratic gains. The struggle against corruption is therefore a struggle for the progressive consolidation of our democracy. The struggle against corruption is a struggle for the accelerated implementation of the priorities of government, for decent work, access to quality education and health care for all, a struggle against crime, and a struggle for rural development to benefit the overwhelming majority of our people.

Too many heroic struggles and promising democracies in other parts of the world have been compromised or even degenerated as a result of attempts by political and economic elites to grab power in order to pursue their narrow, selfish and greedy interests. The struggle against corruption is therefore fundamentally a political struggle since it must involve the whole of society in defending, consolidating and deepening our democracy. It is for this reason, amongst others, that our Special National Congress directed us to intensify the struggle against corruption, and seek not to narrowly own it as an SACP struggle, but to build a broad front against this scourge. Hence our initiative to convene this summit today.

For the SACP the struggle against corruption cannot be separated from a struggle against capitalism and its often corrupting practices and ideology. The very existence of opportunities for the private accumulation of wealth, instead of societal accumulation of wealth to be shared amongst all, creates opportunities for corruption. Much as not everybody would share this perspective, but this should not be an obstacle to uniting against this scourge and cancer in society on which we all agree pose a threat to our democracy.

The struggle against corruption is political also because it is aimed at building the confidence of our people to tackle corruption, to expose it, to be whistle blowers without fear of being victimized. The corrupt will always seek to intimidate our people, so that they do not have the confidence to confront their actions.

Therefore this initiative we hope will grow to draw in all our people in their various formations – the trade unions, our stokvels and burial societies, in our civic organizations, the NGOs, religious organisations, traditional leaders, youth, women, and student organizations, etc – to stand and confront corruption wherever it occurs. The organized working class in particular has a special role to play of being in the forefront of this struggle, as they are located in all our workplaces both in the public and private sectors. All our unions must follow in the footsteps of unions like SATAWU did at SAA and stand up and expose corruption.

However, in elevating the political nature of the struggle against corruption, the moral dimensions of this struggle must not be lost. The struggle against corruption must also be a struggle against values that are foreign to those that guided our struggle against apartheid. These are values of social solidarity, selfless commitment and personal sacrifices to addressing the needs of the poor, and to defeat the ‘dog eat dog’ and ‘get rich quick’ mentality.

The struggle against corruption must also be a platform to forge common societal values that should underpin our democracy. At the heart of these values must also be that there can be no meaningful human rights for our people, unless there is drastic improvement in their socio-economic conditions. Corruption is theft from the poor, as it undermines our efforts as a country to build a better life for all, by diverting the country’s resources away from the workers and the poor into the pockets of small elites.

Defeat the scourge of corruption for the sake of our future

Intensifying the struggle against corruption is not just about defending our democracy in the present, important as this maybe, but it is also about building a better South Africa for generations to come.

It is indeed a truism that our youth has become a particular target for corrupt and other malfeasance in society. Our youth today is a particular target by druglords and other peddlers. Our youth is also a target by large sections of the media with decadent values of ‘get rich quick’ and the idolisation of wealth.

It is for these reasons, amongst others, that in government, the Department of Higher Education and Training is paying particular attention to fighting corruption in our institutions of higher learning. For instance it has come to our attention that some of the legitimate struggles of students against the lack of adequate student accommodation are being hijacked by some owners of large apartments who bribe some student leaders to campaign for renting of particular student accommodation as opposed to others. Students are in higher education to accumulate knowledge not to accumulate wealth! This is another example of the vulnerabilities and targeting of our young people.

Our young people are vulnerable precisely because of the conditions of poverty that millions of them face. They are the most affected by unemployment, and figures show that for instance of the 6,8 million 18-24 year olds in our country, about 2,8 million of them are neither in an education institution, employment nor training.

It is for these reasons that as we launch this campaign today, particular attention must be given in targeting young people in our messages as we campaign on the ground. And on the ground Youth must not just be treated as a passive lot, but must mobilize and be mobilized to be at the centre of the struggle against corruption for the sake of their future and that of our country.

Let the youth of our country rise up against corruption in the true spirit of the class of 1976 which rose against the apartheid regime.

Twenty-ten (2010), the year of action against corruption

The President, in his State of the Nation Address has declared 2010 the year of action. Let us indeed at this summit also agree with the President and declare 2010, the Year of Action against Corruption!

There will indeed be many red cards in the 2010 Fifa World Cup right on our shores, and we hope there will be none for Bafana Bafana players. But amongst those many red cards during the FIFA World Cup tournament, there must be ONE BIG RED card against corruption just as in the run up and during this tournament there must be a red card on things like human trafficking.

Let us not spend all the time at this summit lamenting about corruption. Let us spend our time more fruitfully by focusing attention discussing ways and means to tackle the scourge of corruption. This however does not mean that we must not analyse the sources and patterns of corruption in both the public and private sectors but in doing so we must be action and solution oriented.

Amongst some of the issues we must turn our attention to is how do we strengthen our corruption busting state agencies  - the police, our entire criminal justice system, SARS, etc – to be more effective in fighting the scourge of corruption.  A campaign against corruption must not be seen as a substitute for the relevant state agencies, but assist and work with these in order to defeat this scourge. We must also discuss how we should seek to forge a partnership between the people and these institutions. Therefore part of our campaign must be to protect the integrity of these institutions and ensure that they do their work without fear or favour.

Another matter that we must focus our attention on is that of fighting corruption in the private sector. Amongst these must be to join the campaign against price-fixing whether by the banks or other monopolies, as this constitute one of the most serious forms of corruption in our country. These matters must not only be the subject of the Competition Commission, important as this instrument is, but must also increasingly attract the attention of our criminal justice system.

We must also discuss how we combat corruption in the state, especially around tenders and government services and programmes in general. One of the matters that require our attention is to explore alternative means to tenders, where feasible. Not every government service must be converted into a tender. For instance there are many government services that can be given to communities directly, non-profit organisations and co-operatives to run, without the involvement of ‘middle men’ through tenders. These may include school feeding schemes, housing co-operatives, agricultural schemes, and so on. Whilst tenders will always be there, but we must watch against the tenderisation of the state!

We should possibly also campaign for a system where before any decision on a tender is made an assessment must be made on whether capacity to do such work directly already does not exist within the state or within communities that are the intended beneficiaries.

In addition our Central Committee has called for more transparent processes around the awarding of tenders, including the publicising of those shortlisted and awarded tenders, including an opportunity for communities and the public in general to comment. This may also go a long way towards preventing the repeated award of tenders to the same people.

Most important in so far as the state is concerned is how to roll back tenderpreneurship. By tenderpreneurs we, amongst others things, mean the corrupt collusion between business, politicians and civil servants to capture government tenders. Tenderpreneurship also poses a threat and is an obstacle to especially genuine small and medium entrepeneurs who get deprived of government work just because they do not have political connections. We must defend and promote genuine and clean entrepeneurs, and there are many of them, and defeat tenderpreneurs!

This struggle must also entail that we have the courage to even act against those within our ranks who have been caught with their fingers on the till. In addition as the various formations gathered here, we should go back to our organisations and translate whatever resolutions we have taken here into our respective spheres of operation.

Working together we can end corruption!

The SACP says: a red card to corruption!

I wish you a successful summit and am certain that the majority of our people will be keenly waiting the outcomes of this summit.

I thank you

By E-mail


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