Dry Pipes and Powerless Plugs: South Africa’s Corruption Crisis

The South African government established extensive government programs to aid the poor at the end of apartheid in 1994. Yet while the programs have helped to set families up in their first homes, many are still without running water or electricity.  The New York Times reports that many provincial governments have gone bankrupt and that for some, the “dry pipes and powerless plugs” simply reflect the corruption which continues to plague South Africa.

In provinces like Limpopo, much of the budget has been squandered in side payments to private businesses favored by government officials. Dan Sebabi, a leader of a trade union coalition in Limpopo, explains that there are many “young leaders who are politicians by day and business men by night”. Audits revealed that just 3 out of 39 of South Africa’s were free from corruption last year. The Economist reports that almost 30 billion rand a year is lost in fraudulent deals.

Even when funds do go to the poor, there is still a crisis of inefficiency and carelessness. The homes and roads that are built are poorly constructed and crumble within months, and funds are often mismanaged. Salaries are paid to “ghost teachers”, while salaries for doctors and nurses are completely forgotten, and money is often squandered on administrative supplies rather than medical tools or education materials.

Secretary General of  Cosatu, Zwelinzima Vavi, has expressed concern over this new “culture of individualism” developing in the provinces.  The Economist also notes this cultural shift, away from the “romance, solidarity, and heroism of the days of struggle” and towards a culture of “status and ostentatious” wealth. New anti-graft organizations like Corruption Watch have been formed to fight fraud within the African National Congress, which has ruled South Africa since 1994 when it won the country’s first multi-racial democratic elections since the beginning of apartheid in 1948. Predictably, however, these organizations are belabored by an increasingly hostile environment. Last fall, the home of Limpopo businessman Risimati Wilson Mkhari, was burnt down in response to his anti-corruption efforts.

While the crisis is certainly magnified in Limpopo, Mr. Brown, the deputy director general at the treasury, reminds us that Limpopo is by no means unique. He warns that the widespread nature of the crisis may deter possible investors and continue to plague South Africa’s economy long into the future. Any further delay of this translation of “freedom into material progress” will only further incite social unrest, crime, and protest.  The Central Government, therefore, should strip certain provinces of their autonomy until procedures and standards can be established for the appropriate handling of funds.

-Kimberly Hopewell

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