AD126: South Africans demand government accountability amid perceptions of growing corruption

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Graph: Perceptions that president ignores Parliament and the law | South Africa | 2002-2015
Dispatches
2016
126
Rorisang Lekalake and Sibusiso Nkomo

A report by South Africa’s Public Protector has triggered the latest scandal involving President Jacob Zuma and other state officials, who are accused of improper and unethical conduct in the awarding of state contracts. The report was released as the result of a High Court ruling (Times Live, 2016) and follows court cases related to the 1999 Arms Deal (Corruption Watch, 2014) and the misuse of state funds in the security upgrades of Zuma’s personal home in Nkandla (Mail & Guardian, 2016). The latest investigation focuses on allegations of Gupta business family involvement in the removal and appointment of ministers and directors of state companies, resulting in the improper awarding of state contracts and benefits to their businesses totaling billions of rand (Madonsela, 2016). The Public Protector has ordered the president to appoint a commission of inquiry, which will have 180 days to investigate and report its findings (Madonsela, 2016).

The Public Protector’s report is popularly known as the “state capture report,” referring to corruption enabling powerful individuals, institutions, companies, or groups to influence a nation’s policies, legal environment, and economy to benefit their private interests, often with negative consequences for economic development, regulatory quality, and the provision of public services (Martini, 2016).

These allegations are likely to intensify citizens’ already-deep concerns about official corruption and inadequate accountability. Findings from Afrobarometer’s 2015 survey show widespread perceptions of increasing corruption and impunity for officials who break the law, along with substantial declines in confidence in the president, satisfaction with his performance (Lekalake, 2015), and trust in key political institutions (Chingwete, 2016).

While South Africans increasingly support media and citizen oversight over the government, most do not believe that elections are an effective mechanism for holding their leaders accountable, and only a slim majority believe that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption, indicating a need for targeted empowerment efforts.