A new political morality is needed to fight the cancer of graft that is endemic to SA.
Corruption is everywhere. This is the feeling one gets from the media, social media and casual conversation.
But before you join the next anti-corruption crusade, be warned: these campaigns are often the best mechanism for hiding corruption and perpetuating inequality. In South Africa, such campaigns can also provide the cover for our untransformed racist economy.
This paradox of anti-corruption that perpetuates corruption was highlighted by Mamphela Ramphele's voluntary disclosure of her personal wealth. Leave aside for now the problems related to the completeness of her disclosure; the point is how the benign act of being "transparent" and showing good governance ends up with unintended (or was it intended?) consequences. That is, the assumption of black corruption and the simultaneous occlusion of the bigger ills of monopoly white capital.
How did this gesture end up shielding from view the real sources of inequality, continued poverty and foundational corruption?
The main problem is the narrow legalistic definition of corruption, which doesn't take into account justice for the majority. Any crusade against corruption that doesn't expand the definition to include legalised acts of self-enrichment at the expense of the people and the environment only serves to perpetuate it.
The dominant anti-corruption morality doesn't see anything wrong with mining houses and farmers paying starvation wages while at the same time making huge profits. The wealth and privilege enjoyed by white capital and the wider white community were created out of legalised theft, the brutalisation of black people and the destruction of lives – a historical fact that has left a racist socioeconomic reality as its legacy.
To put it bluntly, white wealth in South Africa is built on corruption. Colonial and apartheid laws legalised the whole process, including land theft, as in the 1913 Land Act.
In 1994, the ANC accepted political power in exchange for maintaining the apartheid economic status quo. This presented the challenge of how black people were going to enter the economy, and so white capital extended to the ANC government its tried-and-tested corruption – its unethical business model that took the shape of black economic empowerment. In short, just like their white counterparts, black people had to steal and exploit to enter the economy.
Political connectivity is the key to riches. We have watched as people associated with the ruling party accumulate wealth at shocking speed – and all this without any dismantling of apartheid economic structures. They simply joined in.
The original corruption on which white capital continues to thrive is not within the purview of existing anti-corruption mechanisms. So the work done by the public protector and the Competition Commission only scratches the surface.
Such efforts in effect end up blinding us to normalised white corruption, which is protected by legislation, whereas racist ideology makes black business almost synonymous with corruption. If you are a black woman in business, you are likely to suffer further prejudice based on your gender.
The internalisation of blacks as "illegal" means even black people operate within an anti-black ideological framework. The Philippine philosopher Dr Walden Bello warns that the corruption-causes-poverty narrative is used to smokescreen bad policies that create poverty – policies implemented by the very same crusaders against corruption.
It's not surprising that, among the associates, supporters and board members of Corruption Watch, there are so many mining bosses and capitalists.
Corruption is endemic but not because of the personal failings of a few moral degenerates. Corruption, both legalised and illegal, is in the DNA of our politics and economy. We need a radical transformation of society and equitable redistribution of the wealth; we require a new political morality that emphasises service to the people. Only then can we defeat corruption. For as long as South Africa operates within the framework left by colonialism and apartheid, there is no ending it.
Andile Mngxitama is the editor of New Frank Talk. Follow him on twitter @mngxitama