When one reads through any of our nation’s major newspapers one is bombarded with endless stories of corruption in government, the civil service and of those in power pillaging state resources. But these stories are overwhelmingly confined to investigations of ‘corruption’ in the public sector; in comparison the private sector is seen as the epitome of effect, honesty and productivity.
This is not only a misleading depiction of our nation’s private sector, but also puts forward a rather limited and racialised definition of corruption. Also in the mix is the assumption that blacks in government and the public sector are more prone to nepotism, tender related hijinks and taking advantage of the taxpayers’ money. It is almost as if our previous authoritarian regime wasn’t even more accomplished and looting state funds in bizarre paranoid scams, as those who remember such momentous occasions as Muldergate surely should be able to testify to.
If one looks to our private sector the rosy picture depicted by the media quickly dissipates with even a brief encounter with reality. The legacies of apartheid era corruption are still with us in the form of inefficient and highly corrupt monopolies in many of sectors, companies birthed through suckling at the teat of the apartheid state and who engage in such ‘ethical’ business practices on a regular basis as price-fixing everything from the price of bread to charging some of the highest cellphone costs in the world.
One can only look at the most recent scandal within the private sector which clearly fits any definition of corruption – that of Constructiongate, when construction companies colluded to scam the taxpayer out of billions of rand by overcharging for state contracts. The scale of this – some 50 billion rand- dwarfs the petty scandals in the public, but yet this is depicted as the exception not the rule. Some, like Business Day editor Peter Bruce, have even gone as far as to defend these practices.
South Africans should look at the non-existent culture of customer service, outrageous cost and general inefficiency in our private sector that we have to put up with on a daily basis as a form of corruption. To expand this beyond mere middle-class outrage, one should look at the practices which exclude millions from entering the economy, outright exploitative micro-lending practices and the manner in which the poor and working class are ripped off by big capital as the height of corruption.
Our ‘investigative journalists’ should pay more attention to the misdeeds of capitalists, and if South Africa still has an economy which maintains the highest rate of inequality in the world, surely that too is also a form of corruption?
Jim Smith, Port Elizabeth