Ralph Mathekga: Political party members must expose the corrupt among their leaders

As the nation's war on corruption takes off, it will be naïve to expect those who are implicated to fold their hands and wait for their execution, writes Ralph Mathekga.

After the decision by the United States (US) government to impose targeted sanctions against the Gupta family and their associates, we should ask ourselves if we as nation have shown the necessary resolution in taking a position against corruption.

The fact that the Guptas' first direct punishment came from the Americans – in a foreign jurisdiction – is an indictment on us as a nation. Justice Minister Ronald Lamola welcomed the decision but added a very interesting qualification. He said that the greatest tool that the Americans have is the executive authority; which according to him enabled them to institute sanctions.

Our problem here in South Africa is not the lack of some instrument such as executive authority, but rather a deep-seated indifference towards what has become a sustainable political project in the country. We are at a point where even Donald Trump's administration finds our conduct abhorrent and we seem not to have clear recourse to address the problem.

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It is not the first time that conduct that took place in South Africa is sanctioned in a foreign jurisdiction whilst here at home we play dead and fuel the political economy of corruption. The global conglomerate Hitachi was fined an equivalent of R250m back in 2015 by the American Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) for violating the Foreign Practice Act in their dealing with the ANC's Chancellor House in relation to the construction of the Medupi power station. Up to this day, there has been no consequences in South Africa in relation to this matter. It's not a stretch to say that the most serious investigations into the Steinhoff looting are being undertaken by the German authorities; for a crime that was orchestrated and undertaken here in South Africa. This while we are still gathering basic details on what happened at Steinhoff.

I welcome the National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA) decision to hire experienced bounty hunter lawyers to prosecute cases that emanate from the state capture inquiry. It is good thinking to hire the best to assist in this massive asset recovery mission. The NPA should go further and be more creative by inviting goodwill accountants and additional lawyers to assist in investigations that will lead to the recovery of assets. They can be rewarded for their commitment to the cause with a percentage of the bounty they recover.

As the nation's war on corruption takes off, it will be naïve to expect those who are implicated to fold their hands and wait for their execution. There is a fightback that entails discrediting the NPA, embarrassing the judiciary and attacking the media.

The political economy of corruption in South Africa brings about intense conflict among key role players on how to shape public opinion. We see intense contests over how to shape the public opinion, including concerted efforts to delegitimise the media so as to undermine the credibility of reports on corruption. Efforts are made by public opinion contenders to stretch the unfortunate yet isolated instances of compromised journalists as an indication that the media should not be trusted. The aim is not to get the media to report fairly and robustly, but to undermine it so it can only report according to the whims of the politicians, some of which are implicated in wrongdoing.

The big picture is that there are visible shifts in ensuring that corruption is prosecuted in South Africa. However, citizens still hold the power as to whether they harbour corrupt leaders within political parties. If ordinary party members do not engage their leaders on allegations of corruption, they will be making their parties available as platforms to defend theft and impropriety. By exposing corrupt party leaders, we will restore our dignity as people capable of resolving our own problems instead of relying on sanctions that are designed halfway around the world. 

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

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