Wed, 12 May 2021

Corruption as a human rights Issue

14 Apr 2021, 16:11 GMT+10

and Sabeehah Motala. But when the human rights factor is brought in - as it should - the situation is not so cut and dried, and we must distinguish between those who create and support systemic corruption, and those who are trapped in that system.

We were pleasantly surprised to see a response to an opinion piece we penned, titled .

Cameron Lee Jacobs, the author of the rebuttal, Our Constitution provides a value system, views corruption as a scourge, just like us.

Our view diverts from his, however, in respect to linking corruption and human rights as he believes that provisions of the Constitution adequately address the issues we highlighted.

Debates like these are important in a country like ours, where human rights are supposedly guaranteed, but are far from tangible for the majority.

Corruption has long been understood, in the main, as a financial problem. The various actors troubled by the malignancy of graft in society, often seek to underscore the significance of the problem by providing financial figures in terms of how much governments have lost and private persons have gained. This is sobering information as noted in Jacobs' counter-argument.

Activists, scholars, journalists and law enforcers must continue their work of uncovering and exposing those emptying the public purse, for this story of grand and political forms of corruption is a macro perspective of where we are as a society.

That said, in our work at Corruption Watch, we are privy to intel from tens of thousands of cases of corruption which clarify the reality of these criminal acts - a motorist brutalised for not paying a bribe at a roadblock, a student failing a test because a teacher's sexual advances have been spurned, a patient not receiving antiviral drugs because a health worker profits from selling essential medicines to illicit dealers.

Such atrocities place corruption in the homes of millions of South Africans. These are the people who feel the brunt of criminal decisions relating to procurement, recruitment and service delivery. These are the ones who are truly wronged.

Impact of impropriety

So, when we argue there is an imbalance in how we as a society view and handle incidents of corruption, we do so with the weight of lived experiences behind us.

As activists who analyse reports of graft and who visit communities across the country, we know too well the real impact of impropriety. We know the moral and social dilemma facing many vulnerable persons who are desperate to place their children in schools, or looking for protection from the police, or for whom all that matters is to have adequate shelter, water and sanitation.

When the author points out that section 195 in conjunction with the opening sections of the Constitution provides for recourse and a means to deal with corrupt individuals, his position is principally premised on corrupt activities conducted by state employees. Just as he says, and just as we believe too, regardless of rank, those employees should not be given special treatment.

But it is for the sake of the ordinary person, living under impoverished conditions and who is systematically disadvantaged by virtue of their race, gender and class, that we propose a rethinking of our approach to anti-corruption.

READ | Ramaphosa condemns corruption in ANC at Charlotte Maxeke commemoration

We are not a non-racial and non-sexist society, and as is apparent to all, neither are we a classless society. Non-racism and non-sexism are noble values - so too are the ones prescribed in the Bill of Rights, in particular the aspects relating to socio-economic rights.

Unfortunately, the government's efforts to reach these ideals is excruciatingly slow and meanwhile, the vulnerable among us are at the mercy of ruthless and corrupt administrators, politicians and corporations. For these reasons, we should be wary of merely ascribing constitutional and legal frameworks from other countries, especially if those nations' economic, social and political contexts differ from South Africa's situation.

Do our ideas of how to solve the problem of corruption take into account the different experiences that people have, depending on the systems of power that intersect in their lives? Does anti-corruption legislation simply vilify anyone who dares to participate, or is there room for it to view corruption through an intersectional lens?

Everyone is equal before the law, but is it fair to place on the same level a millionaire mining tycoon exploiting a system for undue profit and an indigent single mother trying to access a food parcel for her family?

Challenge to society

These are the questions we pose to activists, politicians, legislators, public officials, and ordinary people. It is a challenge we must grapple with as a society, that we absolutely must distinguish between those who create and support systemic corruption, and those who are viciously trapped in the system. Laws are living documents, subject to amendments when we cultivate more intricate morals. And when the law is no longer moral, perhaps it is time for a change.

Therefore, we appeal for an even greater humanistic approach when deliberating on corrupt cases involving mothers, students or elderly persons such as we described.

To realise the ideals envisaged in this society's constitutional order, when our lawmakers shape this country's future, perhaps it would be a worthwhile exercise for them to remind themselves that they are vehicles for change.

They are carrying a people whose socio-economic factors and various other intersectional attributes are unavoidable. Essentially, those who mould the laws and policies are the bridge between what is hoped for and what is present and real - an ailing system of governance where the poor and destitute are jostling for food, security, education, health and housing.

Source: News24

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