Corruption is a curse for country

Image: Halden Krog © The Times

The revelation by the public protector's investigation that our national icon Nelson Mandela's death was used by corrupt Eastern Cape government officials to loot public money is sickening.

But perhaps such venality should have been expected, given the plundering of taxpayers' money that has come to define the behaviour of government officials.

There was a time, not so long ago, when South Africans thought of themselves as an exception to the rule of the curse of corruption that has bedevilled much of post-colonial Africa.

Perhaps in reaction to the many failed states on our continent post-independence, our political leaders negotiated a political settlement that included a decent constitution with a Bill of Rights, and institutions such as the public protector, among others, to shield the individual against the power of the state and the powerful in society.

With Mandela at the helm of the first post-apartheid government, we were rightly lauded by the international community as a shining light on the hill, a beacon to the world. Sadly, the hard work of stitching together a functioning state on a continent beset by a sea of troubles, started by Mandela and continued by his successor Thabo Mbeki, has quickly unravelled in the past eight years.

We have become another corrupt African country, where members of the ruling party seem to spend their waking hours plotting how to pillage from the public purse. How did things go so wrong so quickly?

We are by no means suggesting that before Jacob Zuma took charge of government in 2009, SA was without blemish. There was corruption, which is why Mbeki initiated the setting up of the specialised crime-fighting police unit, the Directorate of Special Operations, otherwise known as the Scorpions.

The Scorpions earned their good reputation by cracking down hard on the corrupt, especially the powerful in the ANC. This earned the unit mortal political enemies who promptly closed it down as soon as Zuma became president.

As was to be expected, the public protector has ordered a police probe into the looting of the Mandela funeral funds, but we are not holding our breath anything meaningful will happen. That's just how it is under the current regime. Graft has become normalised.

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