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South Africans in Afrobarometer survey think corruption is ‘worsening’

The wave of Ramaphoria has petered out and has been replaced with apathy and distrust. This is the narrative of a new survey that has found that South Africans feel corruption has worsened under the current president.

Released this week by Pan-African research network Afrobarometer, led in the country by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Plus 94 Research, the project reported that almost two-thirds of respondents said corruption regressed during the past year but most believed state institutions were rife with corruption.

The findings will invariably be linked to the tenure of President Cyril Ramaphosa, given that his campaign was built on promises to root out malfeasance and graft. Under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, South Africa was widely seen as succumbing to state capture — the systematic sale of its institutions and agencies. Many had hoped that Ramaphosa’s arrival into office, trumpeted by his Thuma Mina (send me) tagline, would reverse the trend.

But, according to Afrobarometer’s gauge of public perception, that hasn’t happened. Of the 1 600 adult South Africans it interviewed, 64% answered in the affirmative to the question: “Over the past year, has the level of corruption in this country increased?” Almost half, 49%, said that it had “increased a lot”.

Faith in the government to combat corruption is low. A majority 60% said it was performing “very badly” and 15% answered “fairly badly”. Only 21% gave a positive review.

The police are the most corrupt institution in the eyes of the surveyed South Africans. To the question “how many of the following people do you think are involved in corruption?”, 56% said most or all were in the police force. MPs (50%) and local government councillors (51%) likewise do not enjoy the trust of those they serve. 

But it is the highest office that perhaps concerns those surveyed most. The study notes: “The presidency registers the largest increase in perceived corruption between 2019 and 2021, from 38% to 53%. This makes the presidency the only one of the five institutions for which 2021 levels of perceived corruption exceed those recorded in 2016 [under Zuma].”

A number of incidents could cause the perception of corruption in recent years. Chief among them are the personal protective equipment (PPE) scandals that have been prevalent since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and involved Ramaphosa’s now-former spokesperson Khusela Diko. The PPE issue came to the forefront of South Africa’s collective consciousness when a whistleblower, Babita Deokaran, was killed last month, reportedly in relation to a R332-million case.

The government has similarly been accused of misappropriating Covid-19 relief funds. The auditor general remarked on “significant deficiencies in the procurement and contract management processes” of the R500-billion chest intended to relieve social and economic pressures.

Former health minister Zweli Mkhize has been a particularly painful thorn in the side of Ramaphosa. He could face criminal charges in relation to the irregular awarding of a  R150-million communication contract by his department. Many South Africans felt his removal was unnecessarily drawn out before he eventually resigned on the eve of a Cabinet reshuffle early last month.

Afrobarometer’s study largely mirrors the country’s relatively poor performance in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. In its 2020 edition, South Africa is ranked 69th in the world on a score of 44/100 — only one point higher than 2017.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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