Herman Mashaba: there can be no political compromise in the true fight against corruption

As long as politicians continue to set the rules for dealing with their corrupt colleagues, friends, family and business associates, nothing will change, writes Herman Mashaba

I hate corruption with a passion.

I hate that we have so many needs in our country that cannot be met, and yet there is an abundance of money available to steal. I hate that we, as South Africans, have become desensitised to this, almost accepting it as part of our political system.

I hate it.  

In my time as Mayor of Johannesburg, the corruption that we uncovered made my blood go cold. Every week the forensic teams would present their findings, over 6 000 cases totalling more than R35 billion under investigation.  

It is a frightening consideration for me that this was just in Johannesburg. Can you imagine what the real figure is across National, all 9 Provinces and all 278 Municipalities in South Africa? In many of these places, the bright light of journalism does not shine as bright as in our economic hub.  

Possibly my greatest hatred arose from these cases, meticulously investigated by a former Scorpion, handed over to the NPA with a bow on them, and, nothing. I have piles of letters addressed to heads of the NPA over the past 3 years. We have had meetings, we have poured through the evidence, and still, nothing.  

Take a look at the revelations arising out of the Zondo Commission. It was instituted in January 2018. We have heard enough to initiate the investigations and resulting prosecutions of scores of people. And yet, nothing.  

We celebrated as South Africans when Shamilla Batohi replaced Shaun Abrahams as the head of the NPA.

Strong words were said, it was all part of the renewal of the new dawn.

A year after her appointment, nothing. You would think given the circumstances that one, just one, high-level case would have been prepared and taken to trial, perhaps prosecuted by herself as a sign of things to come.

And yet, nothing.  

In the beginning of this year, a tweet went out saying there was going to be high-level arrests in the coming days. South Africans celebrated, at last here it comes. It was a fake account. The not so new head of the NPA distanced herself from this statement, there would not be high-profile arrests then.  

For me, fraud and corruption by government representatives is nothing short of treason. It is a crime against the social contract, that requires citizens to entrust their tax money to the state in exchange for a rule of law, service delivery and justice. If this were a business relationship, it would have been cancelled because of a breach of contract.  

Let's be honest, on all of this we are on the same page.  

What we, as the people of South Africa, need to do is take control of this situation. As long as politicians continue to set the rules for dealing with their corrupt colleagues, friends, family and business associates, nothing will change.  

I read the views of a writer I used to respect the other day, but not anymore. He suggested that we need a process of giving amnesty to the corrupt, to those who captured our state so that we can start on a clean slate.

Is this the extent to which our minds have been captured that we have adopted some kind of twisted Stockholm Syndrome towards those who steal our public money? It is time to snap out of it.  

Just watch the interview between Bruce Whitfield and Richard Quest at Davos. If you want any idea of how our once admired country is seen by the international community today, this interview will put it into painful perspective.  

This is why The People’s Dialogue is launching a discussion on combatting corruption on Monday. We need South Africans, of all backgrounds, to come together and share their ideas as to how we can wage a winning war against this evil.  

It can be done, trust me. Unlike so many of our challenges, beating corruption does not involve the complexity that exists behind our economic challenges and the legacy of our unjust past.  

In my view, and I look forward to hearing yours, we need uncompromising and highly skilled investigators that hunt down the corrupt without political interference and without the distraction of any other functions. We had this in Johannesburg and it was working.  

We need political leadership that does not purge law enforcement for doing their jobs in cases of corruption, but who give their unconditional support to the work of investigations teams, the NPA and every part of the process. If they need more resources, give it to them. If we can prioritise bailouts to disastrous businesses like SAA, why can’t we capacitate our law enforcement agencies to win the war against corruption?  

We need tougher laws that are brutal on the corrupt. They need to be jailed, they need to be punished, and we need legal processes that allow for us to take back everything they have stolen from us, and quickly.  

We had 24-hour courts during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

We prioritised this for our international visitors, why can’t we have the same for our citizens to see justice in cases of fraud and corruption being addressed with urgency?  

We need government officials to have an ethical culture ingrained in their way of thinking.

Corruption doesn’t start big, it starts when a government official signs off procurement of a product at a cost they would never pay themselves if they were buying it. I have seen R100 being paid for a 2l of milk.

Nobody would pay that if it was their own money, so we need to teach government officials that public money must be treated with a higher level of care, not a lower one.  

We also have to change the culture of looking the other way.

There are so many good government officials who, for the sake of surviving, look the other way because they cannot afford to be victimised and lose their jobs. We need to protect such people so that they can come forward, so that they are protected, and ensure the only punishment they receive is if they turn a blind eye.  

The fight against corruption can be won, but it cannot be left to our political establishment to do it. This is why I have committed to set up a political alternative in South Africa, because there can be no political solutions, no expediency and no compromise if we are going to win this battle.  

This is why I am committing The People’s Dialogue to a programme of initiating private prosecutions against corrupt politicians who appear untouchable by our law enforcement agencies and the NPA. With the support of all South Africans, we will work together to put the corrupt behind bars in South Africa.  

I look forward to hearing your ideas, as we work together to rid our country of corruption, and ensure every cent of public money goes to addressing our many challenges.  

- Mashaba is founder of The People's Dialogue, an entrepreneur and the former executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

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