Corruption Watch, a South Africa-based nonprofit focused on anti-corruption, published a report on August 18 about corruption within local government. The report, “South Africa Needs Clean Hands,” provides information and analysis on the 32,998 whistleblower reports that Corruption Watch has received between 2012-2020. 16% of those whistleblower reports “contain allegations of corruption within the local spheres of government,” Corruption Watch found.
The report explains: “In October 2021, South Africa is currently scheduled to hold its sixth municipal election since the end of apartheid. Should the environment be deemed to be conducive for a free and fair elections, the public will go to the polls to elect leaders to occupy positions in the country’s eight metropolitan municipalities, 44 district municipalities, and 200 local municipalities.”
Corruption Watch describes how local governments in South Africa are structured, explaining that “local government municipalities are autonomous institutions with their own processes and programmes.” Additionally, the three types of local governments (metropolitans, district councils, and local municipalities) all “operate under provincial and national laws.” Thus, Corruption Watch highlights that “it is critical that municipalities adhere to principles of accountability, democracy, and good governance.” According to the report, “municipalities ensure that communities have water and sanitation provisions, electricity, developed and maintained infrastructure, and that community members have a voice in decisions to be taken.”
The report states that Corruption Watch “encourages all members of the public to report incidents of corruption” and that the organization receives “reports of graft from all towns and cities, suburbs and townships in South Africa.” Since Corruption Watch was founded in 2012 to the end of 2020, the organization received nearly 33,000 whistleblower reports; more than 50% of the reports “were gathered in the last four years.” According to the report, “[t]he peak occurred in 2020, when we received 16.8% of the 5,094 reports.”
In terms of location, Corruption Watch states that out of the 5,094 whistleblower reports regarding corruption in local government, “41% of the corruption cases implicate municipalities in Gauteng, the country’s most densely populated province, and also where our organisation’s work is concentrated.” Within Gauteng, the “top contributors” to the whistleblower case numbers were the cities of Johannesburg, accounting for 16.5% of the cases, Ekurhuleni, which makes up 8.3% of the cases in Gauteng, and Tshwane, making up 7.6% of those corruption cases.
KwaZulu-Natal is the province with the second-highest whistleblower reports, coming in at 11% of the 5,094 cases relating to local government corruption, followed by Limpopo, which makes up 8% of that figure. Corruption Watch states that there was an overall increase of whistleblower reports in 2020, but that complaints “emanating from the Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape increased by 50% in comparison to the previous year.”
The report also has an exact breakdown of how many whistleblower reports came from each city; for example, there were 700 whistleblower reports of corruption from the City of Johannesburg municipality.
Corruption Watch reports that according to whistleblower reports, “the most common forms of corruption at a local level are bribery (28%), procurement irregularities (24%), employment irregularities (11%), abuse of power (9%) and embezzlement of funds (8%).” The report also states that the whistleblower data “highlights that the main hotspots for local government corruption occur within the office of the municipal manager and the office of the executive.” Corruption Watch “also received complaints related to the metro/local police, housing and human settlements, and infrastructure development” and provides numerical breakdowns of all of the data.
Within the office of the municipal manager, “the most prevalent types of corruption reported include irregularities in the procurement process (34%), embezzlement of funds (9%), and employment irregularities (8%),” the report states. The report goes further into detail about the types of corruption whistleblowers have raised concerns about in local governments, like companies billing the municipality double for services or business syndicates having “major influence in municipal processes.”
Whistleblower complaints relating to “metro/local police reveal that the most common form of corruption experienced is bribery (70%), followed by abuse of power (12%) and maladministration (5%). The trend appears to be that when officers spot a traffic violation, instead of following the letter of the law they regard such incidents as opportunities to make a quick buck,” the report states.
The report includes graphics about each of the 10 municipalities in South Africa, with breakdowns of the whistleblower reports from each area, the type of corruption that the whistleblower reports alleged, and information about whistleblower reports regarding the local government office/department.
In closing, Corruption Watch states that the report “has shown that the door is often shut on the citizens who rely on municipal managers, committees and elected officials for basic amenities.” The report underlines the fact that “those who actually feel the cost of maladministration and corrupt and unethical practices are the senior citizens who rely on welfare, women and children who head households, and destitute men. In effect, the most vulnerable in our society are left in squalor and the only hope is an oft-repeated political promise that service delivery will improve.”
Corruption Watch also points out: “this report is published at a time when we need to reflect frankly and honestly about the state of the country’s young democracy that every so often teeters when confronted by serious challenges. It also comes at an opportune time when we are presented with the chance to exercise our right to vote as activists, workers, professionals, the elderly, students and the unemployed, in electing representatives that will manage public finances responsibly and deliver much-needed services to our communities.” The organization celebrates the fact that they have “the voices of thousands of brave whistle-blowers who live in these hardships and who have witnessed the injustices brought about the insatiable greed for power and money. Their accounts tell the stories of communities throughout the length and breadth of this country and thus afford us all the opportunity to give meaning to accountability in our pursuit for social justice and leadership that is corruption-free, ethical and imbued with integrity.”
At the end of the report, there’s a call for reporting corruption: individuals can make a report online on Corruption Watch’s website, or via phone or WhatsApp. The report also includes the organization’s physical address and email address.
“What is evident in the majority of corruption cases relating to local governance is that South Africa, broadly, has a leadership crisis,” said Melusi Ncala, CW researcher and author of the report, in Corruption Watch’s press release. “Consequently, the hedges of the country’s democracy are unprotected because politicians and administrators alike are serving personal, factional and private interests. Not even a global pandemic could make them pause and think about the people they promised to serve. During their frenzy, the hardships experienced by the elderly, unemployed youth, the impoverished men and women, were compounded due to a lack of basic service delivery,” added Ncala.
In a note in the press release, Corruption Watch “calls on candidates running for office to pledge to keep their hands clean by committing to principles of anti-corruption, accountability and transparency” in the lead-up to local elections.