South Africans are sick of corruption – with trust in Ramaphosa dropping

 ·13 Jun 2023

Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa saying that the government is battling corruption, South Africans are growing more irate with the government.

In November 2022, Ramaphosa said that the government was introducing new laws and creating agencies to fight corruption following recommendations from the state capture commission.

The president said that state capture is apparent in South African society today, which can be seen in state entities crippled by financial issues and the failure of local and national governments to deliver services.

However, according to the Afrobarometer, the public’s perception of the government and its proximity to corruption is souring.

The Afrobarometer, with assistance from Insititute for Justice and Reconciliation, interviewed over 1,500 adults South Africans in November and December 2022 to understand their perceptions of corruption.

In February 2018, Jacob Zuma’s resignation as president brought renewed hope amongst South Africans in the progress of fighting corruption.

In an August/September 2018 survey, citizens’ perceptions of worsening corruption dropped by 19 percentage points from a high of 83% in 2015 to 64%.

In addition, the number of respondents who believed that the government was handling corruption well increased from 20% to 25% over the same period.

However, sentiment has since then soured, with 82% of respondents in 2022 saying that corruption had increased in the prior year and only 10% saying that the government has been successful in its anti-corruption efforts.

Perceptions of corruption from 2015 to 2022 can be seen below:

In addition, the proportion of respondents who believe that most, if not all, officials in key public institutions are corrupt has increased in most cases.

Despite Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption sentiment, 65% of respondents see widespread corruption in the presidency (2021: 53%).

A similar sentiment was seen for parliament – up from 51% in 2021 to 63% in 2022 – and local government councillors – up from 50% to 60% in 2022.

Police (61%), civil servants (53%) and tax officials (37%) also saw increases. However, judges and magistrates only saw a 1% increase to 37%.

The perception of corruption in government institutions can be seen below:

Public trust in key institutions has also remained weak, with only 27% of South Africans in 2022 (2021: 38%) saying that they trust the president “somewhat” or “a lot.”

Trust in Parliament also dropped from 28% to 23%, which the Afrobarometer links to ongoing scandals surrounding members of parliament and a perception of ineffective anti-corruption laws, such as blocking an investigation into the Phala Phala scandal.

Trust in government institutions can be seen below:

What can citizens and government do?

The Afrobarometer said that the anti-corruption measures require the participation of whistleblowers and ordinary citizens who feel that they are safe enough to speak up.

Following the assassination of Tembisa Hospital whistleblower Babita Deokaran in 2021, there has been a growing call to overhaul the Protective Disclosures Act to protect whistleblowers.

The majority of South Africans think that they cannot fight corruption, with 72% fearing retaliation or other negative consequences if they report on corruption.

Only 24% of respondents said that they can report on corruption without fear, while 4% did not know or refused to answer:

Despite citizens not believing that they have the power to fight corruption, 54% believe that government has the capacity to take action against all forms of corruption.

In addition, 80% said that officials charged with corruption should step down immediately.

Just over three-quarters of respondents said that businesses implicated in corruption should be barred from working with the government:

However, a mere 25% of South Africans believe that government will respond to reports of corruption, while only 34% believe that it is committed to fighting corruption.

In a bid to tackle corruption, Afrobarometer said that public servants should be required to disclose their financial interests, provide training to foster ethical leadership and reward ethical behaviour to promote transparency and accountability.

It added that collaboration with civil society is crucial, as well as empowering law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, and anti-corruption bodies.

It also said that international organisations and foreign governments can help fight corruption via information sharing and investigation assistance.

Read: The biggest types of corruption in South Africa

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