Corruption is not something that should be left to politicians, police or judges. It is a societal thing. It is society as a whole that bears the brunt of this scourge. It therefore requires the involvement of society as a whole
There we were, at a funeral at a village just outside the City of Polokwane a few days ago, multitudes of us. The deceased had succumbed to cancer of the throat and all those who were close to him, especially his family, were expressing more relief than sorrow at his passing. They saw him in excruciating pain, unable to eat, going in and out of hospital and being progressively reduced to mere skin and bones. “He has escaped pain; he has rested; it is better this way,” they said variously.
The family belongs to one of the charismatic churches and a brother of the deceased is a pastor in the same church. Ministers of religion were there in full force and shared the priestly duties seamlessly. The sermons, both at home and at the graveyard, were just as vigorous and inspired as they were eloquent, with the mourners participating by occasionally raising their hands to the heavens and shouting their appreciation of the utterances of the preachers.
As we trudged our way back home from the graveyard, I expected nothing other than the customary refreshments, handshakes and the small talk that are usually part of funerals, least of all, not another “sermon.”
A few of us were shepherded into a large room and as we commented about the viciousness of cancer, the chatting, rather imperceptively, shifted to the cancer of corruption in our country. The passion and insight with which people spoke on the topic took me by surprise.
Two men took the lead in the discussion, speaking in tandem, but others chipping in approvingly. The inputs of the two bordered, at times, on preaching.
Corruption is a cancer that is ravaging the country and according to them, it is unstoppable and incurable. It is just about to overwhelm our society and kill it.
Apparently, the village suffers from a chronic shortage of water. Several years back, water pipes were laid to solve the problem. But no water ever flowed through those pipes.
Recently, another contractor arrived in the village and started digging to lay new pipes. When the villagers protested saying pipes are already in the ground, they were told the new pipes would give them water. After the completion of this project, there is still not a single drop of water coming through. This was just another case of the crooked giving one another tenders to make money.
They talked about a contractor who was given a tender worth tens of millions of rand to tar a road in their area, despite the person having no capacity to do such a job. The road crumbled within a year.
Their examples were local and apparently well known. They referred to school feeding scheme tenderpreneurs who short-change the tiny tots of their bread or peanut butter; classrooms, school books and furniture that are not provided because money has been stolen one way or another; a granny removed from the database and then asked to pay a bribe to some official for her name to go back into the system, and a well-known thug whose case of armed robbery collapsed because the docket disappeared.
Who would lead the fight if the previous and present commissioners of police are in corruption related woes – the former doing time in prison and the latter facing a public inquiry. Another senior cop, Richard Mdluli is on suspension due to allegations of murder and other shenanigans.
According to the duo, a stage would soon be reached where you cannot take anything at face value and mistrust of people in public office would grow. What kind of country would we be where the citizens do not trust politicians, the police, the judges and educational certificates cannot be accepted at face value? Scary, is it not?
Suddenly, all eyes were on me when one of the “preachers” asked me directly: “Having been a politician, a member of parliament and a minister, how do you suggest we handle this dire situation?”
Fortunately, before I could open my mouth, another man rescued me: “That’s where you make a mistake. This is not something that should be left to politicians, police or judges. It is a societal thing. It is society as a whole that bears the brunt of this scourge. It therefore requires the involvement of society as a whole,” he said as heads nodded all round.
Others bolstered this line of reasoning by suggesting that we mobilize our churches, mosques, temples, political parties, trade unions and any other form of societal organisation to fight this scourge before it devours us.
More importantly, it was said, individual citizens should be encouraged to report incidence of corruption to the police, the Public Protector, Corruption Watch, the media or any other structure or person who might be able to do something about it.
I left the village on a high, encouraged by what I had just heard.