Corruption that works
What if, in spite of the corruption, things worked? It won’t make it right, but maybe okay, says XOLANI KHUMALO
INEVER thought I would write an article with such a title: corruption that works — an oxymoron of note. But given the society we live in, given the state of our beloved South Africa, I find myself having to adopt the position of a spouse living and staying in a relationship with an unfaithful partner.
In spite of her husband’s infidelities, she can still find it within herself to say: “He’s not perfect but at least he takes ‘ good’ care of me”.
To put it in a song, Joe Thomas had a song with the line “I used to think that pain was a part of happiness …”
With a tail between my legs, today I am the one who has to sit back and think: “Maybe I can still find happiness in the midst of this pain.” I find myself being the one who has to concede: “Despite these stains and fading colours, maybe I can still appreciate the beautiful rainbow in this nation.”
We live in a society that is marred by corruption — from politicians to business to the ordinary citizen. We see it across racial lines, in the public and private sector and across cultures. We see it across religious denominations and within charitable organisations, we see corruption in the church, among “saints”, even among corruption watchdogs. It is from this backdrop that I found myself thinking, despite all the corruption, maybe things can still work. I ask myself, what if, in spite of all the corruption we see around us, things still worked? It won’t necessarily make it right, but maybe just okay.
In our beloved South Africa, what makes corruption so prevalent and so in our face is not necessarily because there is too much of it, but more because things do not work. And because things do not work, we then raise our eyebrows and then learn that corruption is at the root of the dysfunctional state of affairs. But what if things worked? • What if Jacob Zuma was a great president — despite having spent R250 million on his own house? As I gasp for air. • What if our politicians really worked and delivered services — despite driving fancy cars and spending R50 000 at Nando’s? • What if Khumalo Trading, after getting the tender, actually went and built quality roads and bridges, and delivered on time — despite having been awarded the tender irregularly? • What if the director- general’s son actually did a good job as the CFO of that institution — despite having got the job through nepotism? • What if the education system actually worked — despite all the political and labour- related shenanigans? • What if Eskom delivered stable power — despite any instances of corruption? • What if through BEE, corporates were actually introduced to prominent and credible business partners — despite how the legislation is frowned upon by others. • What if those appointed as AA/ EE candidates ( and I’m not saying AA/ EE is corruption) actually brought in a fresh perspective to whatever jobs they were appointed to?
Okay, I may be misinterpreted on the last two points on BEE and AA, so let me reiterate that I by no means infer that BEE and AA are corrupt, because they are not. My point is that those who are against the policy would be more receptive to it if it worked as effectively as it was intended. Okay, let’s move on.
The question I’m trying to get to is what if things worked despite all the corruption or allegations thereof? Can we have corruption that works?
Apartheid was a very corrupt system, with political and economic institutions that favoured the minority to the detriment of the majority. But for its mandate at the time, the very corrupt and unfair system actually worked. Which is why it is difficult for those who were in that minority back then to say honestly they never benefited from the system, because they did, one way or the other. So, as much as the system was corrupt, it worked. That is why it lasted for as long as it did. And that is why the after- effects can still be seen even today.
CORRUPTION DURING APARTHEID
I have no doubt that even during apartheid, there were a lot of corrupt politicians. There was lots of corruption in awarding government business. There was lots of nepotism when it came to filling key posts, be it in the government or private sector. But hey, things worked ( for that minority at least). Hendrik Verwoerd ( and his successors) may not have built themselves a R250 million house from state coffers, but I reckon their individual comprehensive benefits under the system would rival this figure.
Post- apartheid, the new political regime introduced us, or rather was supposed to introduce us, to a new political and economic system that was inclusive ( as opposed to exclusive and extractive). Despite this noble mandate, the system and the regime as a whole have been marred by corruption ( or allegations thereof), nepotism and irregularities, etc. Just like the apartheid system was. But now, the difference here is that the corruption in this case is compromising the system as a whole, almost rendering it dysfunctional. Now we are raising questions and we want another change of regime.
You see, when things work, we are more likely to keep our heads down and go on with our business. But when things are not working, then we raise our eyes and start questioning, so corruption is exposed. Whenever I hear of service- delivery protests, it’s not because the communities are complaining of corruption or nepotism, but almost always because things are not working. Only then do they start to question key appointments and the awarding of contracts. But if things were working, the communities would most likely just keep on with their daily activities without asking questions.
MAKE THINGS WORK
To make another typical example: the corrup- tion around the building of the 2010 stadia in the country. Yes, the construction companies colluded corruptly to inflate prices, effectively stealing from the state ( I’m sure one of these days Juju will show up at their AGM and demand that they pay back the money).
But guess what, in spite of that element of corruption, they actually built the stadia, according to specifications, on time and did a good job. If the stadia had not been completed on time or they were already falling apart because of shoddy service, then we both know this would be more of an issue that it is now. But things worked, despite the corruption. I am most certain there are a countless number of such cases of corruption, but often they don’t even surface when things work.
Sometimes I wonder if our biggest problem as a society is corruption or incompetence or lack of patriotism or just no sense of good service at all, or a combination of the above.
I’d like to make an appeal that we make things work; we must work. Even the Bible states clearly: whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
If you get appointed onto a board of a public institution, even if it’s because you’re the minister’s cousin, the least you can do is be an effective member of the board and make a difference. If you get preference over other candidates and get a particular job ( because of your race or gender or who you know), the least you can do is work hard and diligently in that job.
If you get voted as president of the country, no matter under what cloud, the least you can do is be a good president nonetheless. If you are elected to be a member of Parliament, no matter how unfair and non- transparent the process, the least you can do is treat our Parliament with dignity.
If you get awarded a tender to build low- cost houses, even if it’s an irregularly awarded contract, the least you can do is actually deliver good- quality houses on time ( don’t rush off to buy a Range Rover before you’ve even started the project).
If you get a multibillion rand contract to build a power station, no matter the kickbacks involved, the least you can do is actually build the power station and give the people reliable electricity supply on time and within budget. That is what I call “corruption that works”. Maybe worldwide all politicians, all governments and most corporates are corrupt in one way or the other. But, most do work nonetheless.
Let us also have things working, despite and in spite of the prevalent corruption.
• Xolani Khumalo is a chartered accountant by profession, investment banker by occupation and writer by passion.
“I have no doubt that even during apartheid, there were a lot of corrupt politicians. There was lots of corruption in awarding government business. There was lots of nepotism when it came to filling key posts, be it in government or private sector. But hey, things worked ( for that minority at least). Hendrik Verwoerd ( and his successors) may not have built themselves a R250 million house from state coffers, but I reckon their individual comprehensive benefits under the system would rival this figure.”
Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium. Despite the fact that construction companies colluded corruptly to inflate prices of building the stadia for the Soccer World Cup, they actually built them, according to specifications, on time and did a good job.