Africa, Headlines

CORRUPTION-SOUTH AFRICA: Some Good News – and Some Bad

Moyiga Nduru

JOHANNESBURG, Dec 9 2005 (IPS) - South Africa has made progress in the fight against corruption, but more needs to be done to eradicate the vice, say analysts – this as the world marks International Anti-Corruption Day, Friday.

“There have been efforts within government to clean up corruption,” Ayesha Kajee of the South African Institute of International Affairs, a Johannesburg-based think-tank, told IPS.

She pointed to the response to claims of graft in a multi-million dollar arms deal, as well as to an oil scandal and a parliamentary travel voucher scam.

The fallout from the arms deal, involving a French firm, has affected people in the highest levels of government and business.

One of those who has been successfully prosecuted in this matter is businessman Schabir Shaik, who was convicted in June on two charges of corruption and one of fraud.

Judge Hilary Squires handed down a prison sentence of 15 years to Shaik after he was found guilty of soliciting a bribe for former deputy president Jacob Zuma from French arms company Thomson CSF – now named Thales. This was in return for supporting the firm during a weapons procurement process, and for protecting it during a subsequent inquiry into its conduct. Thales has denied the claims.

In his ruling, Squires said he found the relationship between Shaik and Zuma to be “generally corrupt”. Shaik was also found to have made payments exceeding 185,000 dollars to the politician, to receive assistance in furthering his business interests.

After Shaik’s trial, President Thabo Mbeki asked Zuma to step down from his post, and the former deputy president is now facing a fraud trial of his own. To make matters worse, Zuma has also been charged with raping a 31-year-old AIDS activist.

“South Africa is the rape capital of the world statistically, and Zuma has been charged with both corruption and rape. This is bad for our country,” Sheila Camerer, spokeswoman on justice issues for the opposition Democratic Alliance, told IPS.

She also accused government of failing to protect whistle-blowers, citing the case of the person who first drew attention to the travel scam. A hundred members of parliament have been implicated in this scandal, 40 investigated and 18 charged. Five legislators have pleaded guilty to misuse of the travel scheme.

“He blew the whistle on ‘travelgate’, and he is now being bundled out of office on a trumped-up charge. Top officials implicated in the scam are persecuting him,” Camerer said. “This is very worrying.”

Efforts to get a reaction from the parliament on these claims proved unsuccessful.

Camerer said there was also resistance in the legislature to addressing the oil scandal, in which a company alleged to be a front for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) made contributions of about 1.7 million dollars to the party ahead of last year’s general elections.

“There has never been any satisfactory answer from the ANC on this,” she said.

A South African businessman linked to the ANC’s election-funding furore has also been named in the corruption scandal involving the United Nations oil-for-food programme in Iraq. He has denied any wrongdoing.

“The ruling party should pull up its socks and fight corruption within its ranks. Mbeki says the right things about fighting corruption, but corruption continues to happen all the time,” Camerer noted.

In a bid to root out graft, South Africa established a National Anti-Corruption Forum in March 2004, which brought together government, civil society and business. “It’s still too early to judge it. But, its formation shows the willingness of all parties to fight corruption…It’s an encouraging sign,” Kajee said.

In a 2005 report, the acting chairperson of the South African branch of corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI), Hassen Lorgat, said although “political will to tackle corruption exists, the implementation of anti-corruption measures still presents a serious challenge.”

“Corruption poses a major challenge at provincial and local government level, negatively affecting the capacity of the public sector to deliver services to the poor. At a national level, almost 332 million dollars was lost in 2003 to corruption in social welfare, and the labour ministry may have lost as much as 166 million dollars,” the report noted.

In an October 2005 report, TI ranked South Africa as the African country perceived to be the third-cleanest of those surveyed for the report. Botswana and Tunisia were seen as less corrupt. In South Africa, said TI, the construction, energy and weapons sectors were viewed as especially vulnerable to graft.

Camerer applauded the courts for being tough on corruption.

“The courts are working very well. They have tried leading personalities like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Tony Yengeni, Schabir Shaik and now Jacob Zuma,” she noted.

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