By Melusi Ncala

It is widely accepted that the spreading of corruption erodes many facets of our society and its ramifications are serious for all concerned. There are those among us who may want to contest this sentiment, to argue that some people are immune from being victims as they are the wrongdoers.

But this opinion is a limiting perspective for it

  • suggests that the problem only lies with a section of our society or a handful of individuals in our midst who must carry the responsibility. Presumably, this will miraculously result in order prevailing;
  • infers that the actions of these perpetrators should be viewed outside of societal factors –an idea that is unworkable; and
  • supposes that the persons who think in these narrow ways have a claim to moral high ground, and that they spend little (or no) time reflecting on how their thoughts and actions may influence their surroundings.

Corruption is a problem that we are increasingly becoming aware of and our combined effort is needed to combat it. For this reason, the alternative perspective calls on a unified approach to addressing corruption – an approach which does not involve scapegoating. Some of the elements of this idea have already been hinted at. In essence, each and every person in our society needs to acknowledge his or her responsibility in creating a corruption-free environment.

Understandably and sensibly too, our roles should differ, but the weight of the responsibility should be shared equally. This will be a far more powerful illustration of our societal intention to change course and to steer ourselves to a better tomorrow.

We can’t keep blaming the past

We should pursue this particular mindset for a number of reasons – to begin with, our inherent past speaks volumes to the innumerable socio-economic problems experienced by the majority of our people. However, this does not release us from the responsibility to curb corruption because, to a large extent, scapegoating in this respect has solved nothing, but rather compounded the problems and magnified them for millions of South Africans.

But also, cushioning this factor by ignorantly aspersing South Africa’s history is more likely to cause ill effects than to serve the greater good. More so, these ideological stances perpetually drive us apart as they tend to create chasms in society. When this occurs, we lose focus on the matter at hand. We wonder then how those with avaricious behaviours can still dwell among us, and all the while the poison of corruption is slowly but surely crippling our communities.

The acceptance of a unified responsibility in this regard has no implication of guilt – as the two concepts may be mistakenly seen as synonymous in the context of what is currently discussed. Instead, responsibility means that we all should fully appreciate that corruption is a fundamental problem in every aspect of every community for individuals who reside or work in those communities.

Just as some of us have had to understand that HIV/AIDS is a chronic condition that transcends all boundaries, genders, races, beliefs and cultural backgrounds, so too do we need to acknowledge that graft cuts across the same lines. Just as the abuse of women and children is not exclusive to a particular family or social status, the effects of corruption reverberate indiscriminately in every corridor and room.

How do our individual action contribute to corruption?

Thus, we need to embark on a process of self-reflection. Initially, we need to ask ourselves how our thoughts and actions contribute to solving the scourge of corruption.

We need to ask if it is a problem that we think has to be settled by us. If not, are we then willing to leave that mammoth task to others, and in some instances, individuals whom we allege to be corrupt? If we do step away from our duty, will we become a hypocritical consumer of news about corruption who continues to be enthralled by these deplorable accounts?

Besides that, is our thinking that shallow that we vent about corruption only when we observe a sensational news story or when there is a personal interest? If so, when do we take a moment to honestly question not only ourselves but those with whom we interact in our small circles? When we do resolve to probing deep within, should we not be as alarmed and outraged by our habits (as insignificant or benign as we think they may be) as we are about large sums of money that exchange hands illegitimately?

Corruption is not somebody else’s problem

Essentially, we have passed the time to be thinking about corruption as a problem that lies elsewhere. We all need to roll up our sleeves and to take charge of this crisis. We need to be aware of ourselves and the environments we operate in.

Part of that is to realise that we may be conceptually misled in terms of our thinking about the issue – in other words, thinking of corruption as a matter that emanates from elsewhere.

As we rethink, we need to consider our social context and how we contribute (or not) to that environment – we need to be conscious of those seemingly innocent moments where a simple act could be questionable.

Furthermore, let us not only call for transparency and accountability from others, but let those be virtues that resonate in us too. This means that when we apply these virtues to ourselves, we should do so with the aim of being critical of various aspects of our lives, however painful the questioning process may be.

Melusi Ncala is a research and analyst officer in Corruption Watch’s research department.

• Photo by on Flickr.