Perceptions of pervasive corruption in South Africa have dominated public discourse for much of the last decade. In its many forms, corruption undermines the effectiveness of the state, worsens the quality of public services, and ultimately erodes public trust. In South Africa, former President Jacob Zuma and some of his allies stand accused of state capture – the use of the state for personal interests that has crippled various compromised institutions.
In 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa made promises to rebuild government integrity, improve democratic institutions, and fast-track development, which gave South Africans a renewed sense of hope. To tackle corruption, his administration has attempted to enhance independent oversight and presented a far-reaching new National Anti-Corruption Strategy that calls on all stakeholders to take responsibility for ethical leadership.
However, in 2020 state institutions were marred with allegations of corruption. The Auditor General found that Covid-19 relief funds were misappropriated, and contracts awarded unduly. The Department of Health was engulfed in scandal and the civic space for calling out corruption was marked as increasingly dangerous after the murder of a prominent whistleblower.
The Afrobarometer, a partner of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) fielded a survey in 2021 that among other topics, surveyed South Africans on their perceptions of corruption. Sadly, and despite the high visibility of corruption on the national agenda, almost two-thirds (64%) of South Africans say corruption has gotten worse over the past year. Although the presidency has emphasised an anti-corruption agenda, more than half (53%) of South Africans believe that “most” or “all” officials in the Presidency are involved in corruption. Among 10 other institutions that Afrobarometer asked about, only the South African Police Services (SAPS) are more widely seen as corrupt (by 56% of respondents).
In recent years, state and civil society actors have strongly encouraged South Africans to report corruption through various platforms, but survey findings show that citizens are increasingly worried about retaliation if they do so. Three in four respondents (76%) say people risk retaliation or other negative consequences if they report incidents of corruption, a 13-percentage-point increase compared to 2018. This is a worrying development goes hand in hand with widespred perceptions that breaking the law largely goes unpunished.
Progress in the anti-corruption fight demands political will, more assertive and independent oversight, as well as safe reporting channels for both whistle-blowers and ordinary citizens. Without these, the effectiveness of the state will continue to be undermined, and the inclusive development agenda left behind.
Following the publication of this data in a dispatch titled
South Africans see corruption as worsening during President Ramaphosa’s tenure, the Office of the Presidency responded in a press release affirming their anti-corruption stance and stating that “The Presidency will continue to give political leadership to this work.”
Jaynisha Patel, Project Leader for Inclusive Economies at IJR