Tackling Corruption in South Africa’s Political Environment

Corruption is a significant problem in South Africa, and it has been a persistent issue for years on end, as its poor rating in the Corrupt Perception Index (CPI) can attest. The CPI is an annual survey conducted by Transparency International that measures the perceived levels of corruption in the public sector of countries worldwide. Countries are ranked based on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being highly corrupt and 200 being very clean. According to Transparency International (2022), South Africa ranked 72/180  and scored 43 out of 100 in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). This means that the country is perceived to have a relatively high level of corruption compared to other countries. It also implies that corruption is a significant problem in the country.

Corruption has eaten deep into the public and private sectors of South Africa. The political environment of the most important southernmost country in Africa reeks of malfeasance. The situation is getting worse as public office holders engage in unscrupulousness with reckless abandon, in spite of the existence of various public sector agencies empowered by law to combat corruption. With its horde of anti-graft agencies empowered by law to fish out and prosecute unscrupulous entities in government and the capacity of South Africa to cleanse its public sector’s stinking environment, the South African people hold to the notion that the government has failed continuously in tackling this problem and it has continued to eat deep into the polity.

Corruption in South Africa

Corruption is a significant problem in South Africa, and it has been a persistent issue for years on end, as its poor rating in the Corrupt Perception Index (CPI) can attest. The CPI is an annual survey conducted by Transparency International that measures the perceived levels of corruption in the public sector of countries worldwide. Countries are ranked based on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being highly corrupt and 200 being very clean. According to Transparency International (2022), South Africa ranked 72/180  and scored 43 out of 100 in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). This means that the country is perceived to have a relatively high level of corruption compared to other countries. It also implies that corruption is a significant problem in the country.

A general lack of transparency and accountability in the public sector can hinder economic growth and development, undermine the credibility of South Africa’s democratic institutions and political system, and have significant social consequences. The country has struggled with a range of corruption-related challenges, including fraud, bribery, and embezzlement. Some of which have led to decreased foreign investment, lower economic growth, and a lack of access to public services and opportunities for its citizens.

One of the most notable cases of corruption in South Africa involved its former president, Jacob Zuma, who was implicated in a scandal dubbed “State Capture”. The “State Capture” scandal refers to allegations that the former president and his associates used their political power to hand out ministerial positions, influence the awarding of government contracts, and use other state resources to benefit themselves and their business associates. In essence, the Gupta family, a wealthy Indian family with business interests in South Africa, in collision with former President Jacob Zuma, used their tech, mining, media, and business empires to capture South Africa. (Wild, 2022).

The allegations of “state capture” sparked widespread outrage in South Africa and led to a series of investigations and legal proceedings. In 2018, a judicial commission of inquiry, known as the Zondo Commission, was established to investigate allegations of state capture and corruption in South Africa. (The Presidency, 2018).

The “State Capture” scandal has had far-reaching consequences for South Africa, damaging the country’s reputation and undermining public confidence in its democratic institutions. It has also highlighted the urgent need to address corruption and strengthen accountability in the public sector.

Another high-profile case of corruption in the country is the Eskom scandal. The scandal involves allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and state capture at Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned electricity provider. The scandal has been ongoing for several years and has had far-reaching consequences for the country’s economy and energy sector. The allegations of corruption at Eskom involve a network of powerful individuals, including high-ranking government officials, Eskom executives, and private sector entities. It included improper contracts and tenders to companies linked to individuals with political connections; mismanagement; and overspending on unnecessary projects.

The consequences of the Eskom scandal have been severe, with power cuts and blackouts becoming a regular occurrence in South Africa. The scandal has also had significant economic consequences, with Eskom’s debt levels reaching unsustainable levels and the cost of electricity for consumers increasing. (AFP, 2023).

In addition, the Bosasa scandal, also known as the State Capture of Bosasa, was a major corruption scandal in South Africa that involved allegations of bribery and corruption in relation to Bosasa, a company that provided services to government institutions, including prisons. The scandal implicated several high-ranking government officials, including former President Jacob Zuma, as well as Bosasa executives. The allegations included bribery by senior government officials at the Department of Correctional Services to secure lucrative contracts, money laundering, and tampering with evidence. The Bosasa scandal was uncovered by investigative journalists and led to a commission of inquiry, which was established in 2019. The inquiry heard evidence from dozens of witnesses and produced a final report, which was released in 2020. The consequences of the Bosasa scandal have been significant, with several high-ranking government officials implicated and prosecuted for their involvement in the scandal. Bosasa has since gone into liquidation, and its assets have been sold off to repay its creditors.

Furthermore, the VBS Mutual Bank corruption scandal involved the collapse of VBS Mutual Bank, a small mutual bank in South Africa. This scandal also implicated several high-ranking government officials, as well as executives and directors at VBS Mutual Bank. The allegations in the scandal included fraudulent deposits accepted by the VBS Mutual Bank from various municipalities and other public entities, in contravention of banking regulations. The allegations also included mismanagement and bribes paid to government officials and politicians in exchange for deposits and other favourable treatment. The VBS Mutual Bank scandal led to the collapse of the bank and the loss of depositors’ funds.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic was not left out of the corruption scandals in South Africa. Some unethical behaviours were reported during and after the pandemic. For example, there were allegations of irregularities in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as inflated prices, substandard equipment, and companies with political connections receiving contracts. The distribution of social relief grants and other economic stimulus packages was rife with fraud, double-dipping, and nepotism. The disbursement of unemployment insurance benefits saw individuals make fraudulent claims to receive the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). The procurement of vaccines was not left out of concerns about its transparency, coupled with allegations of hoarding and fraud.

These examples of corruption in various aspects of the public sector in South Africa have further undermined public trust in government and the private sector. Addressing corruption in the country requires a coordinated effort from all sectors of society, including the government, civil society, and the private sector.

The Fight Against Corruption

The fight against corruption in South Africa is a long and tough one. Corruption has led to the erosion of public trust in government institutions; South Africans do not have faith in their government’s efforts in fighting corruption. The diversion of public funds by corrupt politicians and private officeholders has also worsened the economic and social situation in the country; funds designated for essential services have been diverted for personal gains, leaving the masses with little or nothing to hold on to.

The lack of political will to fight corruption has also slowed progress and eroded the public’s trust in the process. Most of these corrupt individuals are in government, and they are the ones responsible for setting up these anti-graft agencies, but they are lackadaisical about really addressing the issues of corruption in the system because it is like shooting oneself in the foot. The lack of political will is a serious hindrance to the flushing out of corruption in the system. The culture of impunity is taking the fight against corruption one step forward and two steps backward. Corrupt politicians and private office holders engage in nefarious activities without fear of being persecuted for them, and in cases where they are, they receive leniency or only a light sentence. This has emboldened shenanigans to continue to operate without restraints. The immunity shielding them from being held accountable for their dishonourable acts is causing serious damage to the country.

The lack of effective institutional frameworks to investigate and prosecute corruption cases has also been a hindrance to the noble fight against corruption. Institutions charged with the task of investigating and prosecuting corruption cases are weak, easily manipulated, and unable to carry out their work effectively. Corrupt politicians and their associates, seeing this loophole, have taken advantage of it, going about their clandestine activities without fear.

In spite of all these challenges, there have been efforts to fight corruption in South Africa. Though they have not been able to fully wipe out the problem, the efforts made so far give hope to the masses. These measures include the establishment of various institutions and bodies that are tasked with investigating and prosecuting corruption, such as the Special Investigating Unit, the National Prosecuting Authority, and the Public Protector. Investigative journalism in South Africa has played a crucial role in exposing corruption and holding those in power accountable. The country has a vibrant and active media industry, with a number of publications and organisations that specialise in investigative reporting, such as AmaBhungane and The Daily Maverick (JAMLAB Africa, 2021). Anti-corruption laws in South Africa are setting the pace in the fight against corruption. For example, the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, 2004 (PCCAA), primarily regulates the bribery of public officials, criminalising corruption and bribery (Bernstein and Shaw, 2021).

Civil society activism in South Africa has played a significant role in promoting democracy, social justice, and human rights. The country has a strong tradition of civil society organizations that have worked to challenge inequality, oppression, and corruption. Some of these civil society activism efforts in South Africa include: The Treatment Action Campaign, which advocates for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS; Section 27; Corruption Watch, which aims to expose and fight corruption in South Africa using various tactics such as advocacy, public education, and legal action to promote transparency and accountability in the private sector; and Equal Education, a movement of learners, parents, and teachers campaigning for equal access to quality education in South Africa.

Civil society activism in South Africa has been a critical force in promoting social justice, human rights, and democracy in the country. By leveraging the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and judicial system, they have effectively advocated for democratic rights, freedoms, and equality, as well as improved access to public services for marginalized and disadvantaged groups. However, civil society organizations face a range of challenges, including limited resources, government hostility, and threats to their safety and security. Despite these challenges, civil society activism remains an important part of South Africa’s democratic landscape (William Gumede, 2019).

The Long Arms of the Law

In South Africa, strong institutions that are free of politics would be effective in the fight against corruption. A number of institutions and bodies established by the government have been tasked with combating graft and promoting transparency and accountability in government and the private sector in the country, and a number of various anti-corruption measures have been implemented over the years. Some of these agencies are: The National Anti-Corruption Forum (NACF), a multi-stakeholder platform established in South Africa to coordinate efforts to combat corruption, Launched in 2001, the National Anti-Corruption Forum is comprised of government agencies, civil society organisations, the private sector, and academia. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is an independent statutory body that investigates and recovers public funds lost through corruption, fraud, and other forms of malfeasance. The SIU has the power to institute civil proceedings and recommend criminal prosecution. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is a constitutionally mandated body responsible for prosecuting criminal cases in South Africa. The NPA has a dedicated unit, the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit, which focuses on investigating and prosecuting complex commercial crimes, including corruption. The Public Protector is an independent oversight body that investigates complaints of maladministration and improper conduct by government officials and entities. The Public Protector has the power to make binding remedial recommendations and report on systemic issues that contribute to corruption. The Hawks are a specialised unit of the South African Police Service that investigates serious and organised crime, including corruption and economic offences. The Hawks have the power to arrest suspects and seize assets (Smith, 2022).

Overall, these agencies play a critical role in combating corruption in South Africa. However, they face several challenges, including limited resources, being underfunded and understaffed, political interference, and a lack of public trust. To be effective, these agencies capacities must be strengthened, and they must be adequately resourced and insulated from political influence.

South Africa has also implemented several laws and regulations aimed at combating corruption in the public and private sectors. Here are some of the key anti-corruption laws in South Africa: The Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (PCCA) This Act criminalises corrupt activities, such as bribery, extortion, fraud, and money laundering, and provides for severe penalties for those convicted of such offences. It also establishes various measures to prevent corruption, such as the requirement for public officials to declare their financial interests. The Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (National Assembly of the Republic of South Africa, 2004) is a key piece of legislation aimed at combating corruption in South Africa.

The Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). This Act provides for the proper management of public finances and sets out the rules and procedures for procurement and contracting by government entities. It also establishes various accountability mechanisms to ensure that public funds are used for their intended purposes, including the Companies Act. This Act imposes a range of legal obligations on companies, including requirements for transparency and accountability in their financial reporting and corporate governance practises. It also provides for the investigation and prosecution of corrupt activities by company officials under the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA). This Act establishes a Financial Intelligence Centre, which is responsible for combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism. It requires financial institutions and other entities to identify and report suspicious transactions to the Centre under the Protected Disclosures Act. This Act provides legal protection for whistleblowers who report corruption and other unlawful activities in the workplace. It also establishes procedures for the handling of such disclosures and provides for remedies for whistleblowers who suffer retaliation.

Overall, South Africa’s anti-corruption laws provide a strong framework for combating corruption in the country. However, there have been concerns about the effectiveness of enforcement and the need for further reforms to strengthen accountability and transparency in government and the private sector.

In conclusion, South Africa can effectively fight corruption by strengthening its anti-corruption institutions, increasing transparency and accountability, creating incentives for public officials to act in the public interest, strengthening whistleblower protection laws, and encouraging individuals to report corruption without fear of retaliation.



AFP. (2023). Eskom: South Africa’s Fallen Energy Giant. Retrieved from https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/africa/eskom-south-africa-s-fallen-energy-giant-4143014

Darryl Bernstein and Nikita Shaw. (2021). Anti-Corruption in South Africa. Global Compliance News. Retrieved from https://www.globalcompliancenews.com/anti-corruption/anti-corruption-in-south-africa-2/

JAMLAB Africa. (2021). These are Africa’s Investigative Journalism Centres. JAMLAB Africa. Retrieved from https://jamlab.africa/these-are-africas-investigative-journalism-centres/

National Assembly of the Republic of South Africa. (2004). Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, 2004 (Act No. 12 of 2004). Retrieved from https://www.gov.za/documents/prevention-and-combating-corrupt-activities-act-0

Smith, J. (2022). Investigative journalism in South Africa. CORE. Retrieved from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/287818331.pdf

Stephanie Wild. (2022). State Capture in South Africa by the Gupta Family:A Lesson on Political Influence. Retrieved from https://globalvoices.org/2022/12/07/state-capture-in-south-africa-by-the-gupta-family-a-lesson-on-political-influence/amp/

The Presidency. (2018). Statement by President Jacob Zuma on the Establishment of the Commission of Inquiry into State of Capture. The Presidency. Retrieved from https://www.thepresidency.gov.za/press-statements/statement-president-jacob-zuma-establishment-commission-inquiry-state-capture

Transparency International. (2022). Corruption Perception Index. South Africa. Retrieved from https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/south-africa

William Gumede. (2019). How Civil Society has Strengthened SA’s Democracy. Corruption Watch. Retrieved from https://www.corruptionwatch.org.za/civil-society-strengthened-democracy-south-africa/amp/

Geographer, environmental enthusiast, and a social scientist. He is concerned with human activities and their impact on the environment. A lover of history, natural sciences and the arts. A graduate of Geography and Environmental Management from the University of Abuja, Nigeria.

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