THE CORRUPT, THE CORRUPTED AND THE CORRUPTERS
Paper Delivered to the PARI Symposium on ‘Institutionalising Government: International, Comparative Perspectives on Corruption
By Barry Gilder
Director Operations, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA)
6th August 2012
I have titled my input today The Corrupt, the Corrupted and the Corrupters because I hope to contribute to the effort to lift us out of the simplified, moralistic notions of corruption that seem to dominate public discourse on this challenge to governance in post-apartheid South Africa. In doing so, I draw on my own experience of having come out of the anti-apartheid struggle and into various senior positions in the democratic government, some of these positions having been in the intelligence departments where we had some responsibility for investigating corruption, and one position as administrative head of the reputationally most corrupt department in government – Home Affairs.
The key lesson I have extracted from my own experience and observation is that a nuanced understanding of the nature, causes and dynamics of corruption is critical to designing measures to deal with it. Understanding corruption requires an understanding of the intricate and complex dynamics of our apartheid legacy, the continuing (and perhaps growing) inequities in South African society, the active co-option of new, post-apartheid public servants into the values and mores of a capitalist economy, and the active corrupting efforts of those outside of government in a society suddenly freed from the shackles of authoritarianism and repression.
Corruption has become a political ping-pong ball batted not just between political parties competing for the moral high ground, but within political parties, between factions in local communities and their local authorities in pursuance of an opportunity at the benefits of power, between public intellectuals and the government-in-general, between the public and politicians-in-general. This ping-pong Olympiad is driven largely by generalised notions (implied if not stated) such as ‘all power corrupts’, ‘all politics is corrupt’, ‘all liberation movements-become-governments become corrupt’, ‘the ANC is inherently corrupt’ and, the worst of these, ‘Black people are by nature corrupt’.
These generalised notions are founded primarily on a moralistic attitude to corruption. Corruption is evil. Corrupt people are evil. The political parties and governments that house them are evil. While moral righteousness is perhaps a necessary ingredient in the recipe to combat corruption (we must certainly at least agree that misusing power and authority for personal gain is not a good thing) such righteous indignation is not a useful instrument for understanding corruption and for devising measures to deal with it.
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