Corruption Threatens our Dream
In the past, churches and faith communities shared a burning desire, with liberation movements, to replace apartheid with constitutional democracy. Now the challenge is how to make this transition into a practical reality for all South Africans.
As the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan has said, ‘No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime.’ In South Africa, we are still learning how to become a democracy, and still feeling our ways into the new relationships appropriate to constitutional democracy. Government, political parties, the private sector, academia, the media, civil society, faith communities and so forth, now each have our distinctive contributions to make to the life of the nation as a whole. We are still learning where we should stand in solidarity, and where we should be critical; what it means to hold and to exchange legitimately diverse perspectives; and how to deliver and receive criticism that is constructive.
The way to pursue such maturing democracy is to abide by our constitution. I want to look at what this means for all of us. As a faith leader, I firmly believe it when God says that people matter. God cares that his beloved children should all have adequate food, shelter, clothing and so forth. God cares that everyone should be treated with complete respect by everyone else, with no one marginalised, excluded or voiceless in the ordering of our common lives. This is what democracy is all about.
As Anglicans we are in solidarity with the needs of the poorest, the most vulnerable, and the most marginalised; including the strangers, the foreigners, in our midst. We are in solidarity with available, affordable health care for all. We are in solidarity with effective rural development. We are in solidarity with education for all that truly equips our young people to be responsible citizens, able to face the challenges of adulthood.
On the other hand, we are critical of a response to crime that leads to escalating deaths among both police and suspects. We are critical of inadequate social support, and of continuing delays faced by too many of the most needy, especially paperless orphans and pensioners – though I recognise that there are some improvements. We are, and you all should be, concerned with honour and respect, with freedom, with unity and diversity, with healing, with democratic values and social justice; with human rights, with quality of life and liberating potential, for every single one of us.
To be subject to our constitution means to breathe life into these commitments to one another.
We are here because many of us believe that corruption – in government and in business and in our communities - is endemic and is eating at the very moral fibre of our nation and its democratic values. Corruption threatens the dream of rooting out residues of apartheid and creating the South Africa we would all be proud of. That is what makes the Red Card Campaign an urgent and important effort. I call on all South Africans not only to sign the pledge but also to inscribe it in our daily lives.
The pledge has two distinct and important parts:
1- It calls upon government to establish a strong, independent, anti-corruption body to investigate all acts of corruption and bring the perpetrators to justice; and
2- It calls upon us to pledge that we will neither take nor offer a bribe, and we will report any such incidents to the relevant authorities.
But there is much more at stake here. The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) which has gathered us here places before us a challenge: “A complacent citizenry remains the greatest threat to our constitution. As responsible citizens we should assert our right to actively campaign for the realisation of rights enshrined in the constitution.” We in South Africa have a constitutional democracy for which so many struggled and for which many died. We cannot step back from doing what we can for the realisation of the rights promulgated in the constitution nor can we relinquish the responsibilities that come with democracy. An active and alert citizenry is foremost among those responsibilities. As we all lend our support and work for the public/common good, let us never tire of ‘red-carding’ corruption.
However, it is the responsibility of governments – more than any other body, and more than any other objective – to pursue the public good. In particular government must prioritise the needs of those who are least able to achieve their own wellbeing – the poor, the marginalised, the disadvantaged, and the vulnerable. The Golden Rule calls us all to care for others as we would like to be cared for ourselves.
It seems so simple and yet we experience it to be quite difficult at times. Indeed, the history of our country would be quite different if we had begun long ago to live by this rule. But there is nothing to stop us from making the ‘golden rule’ our baseline in addressing corruption.
Many South Africans acknowledge having offered or having been offered a bribe. Certainly, highly publicised examples of corruption and claims of corruption are the centre of conversation in many circles. As I said during the funeral of Mama Albertina Sisulu, “We see examples of where many have used political power to enrich themselves and their relatives and friends, sometimes through blatant corruption – and so betray the legacy for which the Sisulu family has striven.”
Beyond being illegal and immoral, when money is misused, its potential to be utilised in constructive and helpful ways is lost. Housing, education, health services and social development cry out as obvious examples where we can least afford this. Corruption also causes costs to escalate and often new programmes are sidelined. Money to employ badly needed personnel ‘disappears,’ and resultant understaffing leads to poor services, worsening results, and a continuing downward spiral.
Corruption at this macro level is the point at which many people get most upset. But we must not forget corruption at the lower level. One can imagine situations involving traffic officers and speeding fines and other tickets where one might be tempted to cross the line. Corruption at a lower level – sometimes where the currency isn’t even money, but dishonesty about work done or left undone – has an insidious effect on the type of society we are building, which seriously concerns me as a person of faith. The ability of us all, especially those who are most disadvantaged by society’s injustices, to always ‘do the right thing’ is further undermined when it seems that dishonesty by those in positions of power and influence goes unchecked and unpunished.
Therefore, let us recall the words of the preamble to our constitution:
‘We, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past; honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to ¬heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights; to lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law; to improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and to build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations. May God protect our people.’
These challenging but cherished words are not to be taken lightly nor forgotten. The task of making the preamble of our constitution a reality is considerable – but this cannot be a reason to side-step or seemingly ‘redraft’ it. We must continue to press ahead together.
We can take another important step forward with the Red Card Corruption campaign. Through this we can say an emphatic NO to corruption which slows our pace of development as a nation and weakens the moral fibre of individuals and society. Let us not forget the challenge CASAC has put clearly before us:
“The Constitution is our social contract based on democratic values, social justice, human rights and the improvement of the quality of life of all South Africans. We cannot progress and prosper through greed. An act of corruption is a crime against us all. We call upon the government to establish strong, independent, anti-corruption bodies that can investigate all acts of corruption and ensure those that commit corrupt acts are brought to justice. We must now stand up blow our whistles and Red Card Corruption.”
Please join me as we pledge together:
“I /we pledge neither to receive nor pay a bribe; and to report any attempt to solicit a bribe from me, and other corrupt activities to the relevant authorities.”
If you are interested in signing the pledge, go to www.casac.org.za