CORRUPTION in South Africa is now becoming so widespread that unless it is decisively tackled in this presidential term, it will become entrenched as a "normal" aspect of life in our country. Once it becomes part of the "culture" of our society, it will be impossible to uproot.
The now daily but empty anti-corruption rhetoric and slogans from our political leaders could have been laughed off as a joke if the consequences of corruption on society were not so devastating.
We must declare corruption a national emergency. Corruption busters must have some credibility. It is a farce if those paid to fight corruption are perceived in society to be corrupt themselves.
Any serious campaign to deal with corruption must start with tackling political corruption, which provides the incubating environment for other corruption.
The ANC, as the ruling party, dominates society. This means that the behavioural norms, practices and internal cultures of the ANC will also dominate society.
In such instances, no amount of corruption-busting in broader society will do much to uproot corruption. Eradicating corruption within the ANC itself is a prerequisite for cleaning up corrupt practices in society.
Joel Netshitenzhe, the outgoing government policy chief, rightly warned in an interview in the Sunday Times last Sunday that corrupt practices inside the ANC will soon reach a "tipping point" if not stopped "with all the power of society and by the ruling party itself".
In fact, the culture of corruption will continue if there is a widespread belief - which is there - that when it comes to prosecuting corruption, some individuals and groups are immune to prosecution because of their political connectivity.
The perception is also that if one is not connected to the leadership or the dominant faction, one is likely to be quickly prosecuted for wrongdoing.
In any society there must be a sense that rules are applied fairly if there is going to be broad buy-in to society's rules. Different rules should not apply to different people, depending on how close they are to the dominant faction of leadership in the ruling party.
But fairness must also include not allowing state institutions such as the police, security and intelligence services to be used to "plant", manufacture or smear political rivals, critics or opponents with alleged corruption.
Tackling political corruption within the ANC is likely to be career limiting, for whatever party leaders, activists or members, wanting to seriously do so.
Those who do so must prepare themselves to become very unpopular. They will risk being marginalised, ousted or demoted through "redeployment".
They will find out that even outside government life will be difficult: if in business, government tenders will not be forthcoming, even private companies and other organisations wanting to be in the good books of government - for contracts - will stay away from them.
Yet, to stop corruption from preventing the attainment of a better life for the majority of our people, and not only the elite, a lot of courageous people are needed within and outside the ANC, to not only support honest corruption fighters, but to become corruption fightersthemselves.
lGumede's new book (with Leslie Dikeni), The Poverty of Ideas, is to be launched at the Book Lounge in Cape Town on November 3.