Address by Zwelinzima Vavi on the occasion of the launch of Amandla magazine's special feature on corruption, 10 September 2015, Cape Town
Let me begin by thanking you for inviting me to speak at this important occasion and to congratulate Amandla on publishing a special edition on the great issue of the day – corruption, to coincide with the mass marches taking place on 30th September.
It is a topic on which all of us are gatvol with anger. At a time when so many South Africans face poverty, homelessness and hunger, they are insulted day after day with sickening new reports of precious resources which should be going to build schools, hospitals and public housing being stolen from the people though corruption, fraud, money-laundering, tax evasion, price-fixing or racketeering.
It is rampant in both the private and public sectors. Corruption Watch received 49 reports from the public about corruption in state-owned enterprises between January 2012 and April 2013. Many of these involved vast amounts of money and reflected weaknesses in procurement and employment processes. This is what led to the outrageous escalation of the cost of the Nkandla homestead to R246 million.
In most instances the corruption in the public sector is as a result of collusion between private companies or individuals with connections with public officials. The links between the two lead to collusive tendering for public procurement and cartel-like behaviour among companies, as in the notorious cases of price-fixing by road-building companies and in the dairy, bread and cement sectors.
As one businessman, Simon Mantell, wrote in the Cape Times, “Corrupt practices require both a corruptor and a beneficiary. It appears that the corruptor side of the equation is frequently overlooked by these critics, as well as the vast majority of financial journalists, whose almost exclusive focus is on exposing government and public-entity beneficiaries while appearing disinclined to expend similar energy on targeting private-sector perpetrators”.
In January 2015 the Institute of Internal Audits reported that South Africa had lost R700 billion to corruption over the last 20 years. The Auditor-General’s most recent audit for 2013-14 recorded nearly R700 billion of irregular and unauthorized expenditure by 245 entities in national and provincial government departments and public entities, while R1.1 billion was spent on fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
The situation is no better in local government and parastatals. In the same period the AG recorded irregular expenditure of R11 773 million by 264 local government entities. Entities that fall under the Municipal Finance Management Act spent R687 million in fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
The already massive catastrophe of unemployment, poverty, and inequality, combined with the abysmal level of service delivery is getting even worse and it will soar out of control unless we end the looting of money budgeted to improve these services.
Those of you who have to struggle to work every day on Metrorail trains will have been as appalled as I was at the Public Protector’s report on the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) – “Derailed” - which uncovered massive irregularities and billions of Rands being looted from this vital service provider.
Findings including suspended CEO Lucky Montana signing off contracts worth R3 million without proper tender procedures, improperly suspending employees, resulting in the CCMA overturning some of the terminations and others being settled out of court at a cost of R3 816 735, and unlawfully appointing a firm of ‘consultants’ at a cost of R10 833 774.
This report could not give a better example of how corruption directly affects people’s lives. Just before this report was published, PRASA was telling the Constitutional Court that it could not afford to ensure the safety of its passengers by paying security guards to patrol all of its trains.
The Court was hearing Irvine Mashongwa’s application for leave to appeal against a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling which found that PRASA didn’t have to pay for the damages he suffered after his leg was amputated in 2011 after he was robbed, assaulted and thrown off a moving train by three men.
His lawyer, Gilbert Marcus, argued that if there had been security personnel patrolling the train, Mashongwa’s injuries might have been avoided: “The evidence is that throughout the country, no security guards are deployed on trains”.
But Prasa’s lawyer, Jaap Cilliers, countered that “If they employ guards, effectively it would cost them billions.” That is how little PRASA chiefs value workers’ lives. They can squander millions on corruption, yet cannot guarantee passengers’ safety.
Security is not the only area in which PRASA has failed to deliver an acceptable level of service. Infrastructural backlogs and poor maintenance has caused train delays and cancellations, which can cause workers to lose their jobs because of late arrival at work, and also lead to dangerous overcrowding and accidents.
All these problems are made far worse because money to resolve them has been stolen by the very people responsible for providing proper services.
Corruption in other state-owned enterprises has similar knock-on effects on consumers. In Eskom corruption, waste and incompetence has contributed to the disastrous load-shedding which has not only caused massive inconvenience but has had major economic consequences. An unreliable power supply is a major deterrent to new investment is threatening existing jobs and reducing the prospects of new jobs being created.
Children at schools are deprived of their constitutional right to education for the lack of books, equipment, sanitation or even classrooms because tenders are fixed to enrich companies who bribe officials. Patients die at hospitals where money for life-saving medication is stolen by tenderpreneurs. Homeless families cannot get houses because corrupt officials are illegally demanding bribes to move to the top of waiting lists.
In an audience like this, where the arguments for a socialist response to corruption could be expected to find favour, there are a number of observations that I would like to share with you. But first let me remind us all, as good Marxists, that corruption as a phenomenon is not free of class bias. Corruption is not something that is separate to class oppression, but is in fact an integral part of it.
The first observation I would like to share is that despite all of our propaganda, despite all of our analysis, the vast majority of our population has not understood that corruption is an absolute essential part of capitalism. Capitalism itself is based on the corrupt theft of the surplus social value produced by workers!
The trick of the ruling class is to encourage the view that this theft is not theft, that it is normal, that it is even healthy, and that it is the only way to produce wealth in our society. If at the core of the capitalist economy there is gross corruption, in the theft of the social surplus value, then it is hardly surprising that the ugly face of corruption should not manifest itself in all of our social interactions.
Look at the corruption that has been uncovered by the Competition Commission in the abuse of price fixing by secretive cartels, in bread, cement and other products and services. Corruption is at the core of the so-called free market which is not free at all. Those who have literally stolen millions from poor people by fixing the upward price of bread should now be facing prison sentences, not just fines.
We have 12m people going to bed hungry every night. One of the reasons is that they cannot afford even a loaf of bread. Yet the CEO of Pick n Pay recently told the country that a third of food produced in the country is wasted and get thrown away causing untold harm to our environment.
We live in a world, as pointed out by Harry Gwala, of people who die from under-eating whilst others die from over-eating. Shame on the corrupt peddlers of the so-called free market, which is not free, because the poor always have to pay!
I want to make a second observation here. The ruling class and their allies, (and lets be clear about who their allies are - those who benefit from the continuation of the exploitative capitalist system - control and mobilise a massive ideological machinery to justify their corrupt exploitation of the working class and the poor.
In our media, schools, universities and all over the place, the emphasis is on a rampant form of individualism. If someone fails to make the grade, we are persuaded to think that it is not the fault of an under-resourced school system. It is not the fault of high levels of literacy. It is not poverty that deprives our children of opportunities, but it is deemed to be a personal failure. In other words, people fail because they have not tried hard enough in this dog eat dog world.
This is the ideology of capitalism, which promotes individualism as opposed to collectivism. It says that those who make the grade are exceptional individuals and therefore must be valued, whereas the majority have to remain locked into a world of few opportunities, and remain powerless and poor.
It is this culture of individualism as against collectivism, selfishness as against selflessness, greed as against modestly of Ubuntu, an injury to one is an opportunity to the other as opposed to the universal slogan of the working class - an injury to one is an injury to all, We have allowed capitalism to move into our liberation movement and now to even trade unions.
One of the most shocking experiences I have had as a long-serving trade union leader has been to watch how this insidious individualism and disrespect for the collective has manifested itself inside the trade union movement.
There are countless examples of individuals, or small leadership cliques within unions deliberately perverting the union’s constitution to capture resources for their own private benefit. (CEPPWAWU, SAMWU, SATAWU etc.)
The deliberate undermining of the collective spirit of worker control, reporting back, accountability and transparency has been consciously undermined by those who have succumbed to the ideology and practices of an emerging predatory elite in society as a whole.
Many trade union leaders have abandoned their principles, and have become nothing more than a second-hand reflection of the greedy, self-centred, accumulative and uncaring elite that we pledged we would tackle in our new democracy.
Those claiming that fighting corruption is unMarxist, or taking up a middle strata’s concerns, are absolutely wrong. The main victims of the capitalist failures and corruption are the working class now being effectively restructured into the working class and underclass.
The workers’ movement must lead the struggle, but we have to build broad alliances to combat something that is now apparent in every nook and cranny of our society. It could be argued that corruption is now an embedded reality in our national culture, not helped by ridiculous claims of fire pools, etc.
I remain, comrades, as a committed socialist. I must say that it’s no good just to recite our socialist slogans, important though they are, but we have to also build a movement, made up of all manner of people under the leadership of the only reliable class - the working class, to put the weight of the masses behind a campaign to expose corruption as a crucial part of capitalism, and help people to understand that even under a socialist administration, it will be absolutely necessary to ensure that there is openness, democratic control, transparency and accountability.
After all, as Jo Slovo pointed out, socialism has to be infinitely more than democratic than capitalism, and that means that we have to make sure that a gap is not allowed to open up between the rulers and the ruled, between the leaders and the led! That for me is the crucial lesson of the failure of the socialist states we have seen implode these last twenty year.
This is why I urge you all to join the broad-based coalition of organisations and individuals in the Unite Against Corruption campaign who will be marching in Cape Town, Pretoria and other cities on 30 September.
We shall be making a public stand to demand an end to all the corruption in business, civil society, government, trade unions, and even churches, which threaten our fragile democracy.
We demand action to make public officials accountable to us the voters and taxpayers, action against corruption business practices and respect and support for the Public Protector’s office and other Chapter 9 institutions.
We must win back the power for ordinary people in this country, through a strong, unified response. Tens of thousands of voices on our streets will send a clear message that the majority of people in this country will no longer tolerate this culture of corruption. Enough is enough!
Issued by Patrick Craven, September 10 2015
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.
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