South Africa’s corruption crisis – the hotspots for fraud, bribery and maladministration

 ·3 Apr 2024

Corruption has become a widespread issue across various sectors in South Africa, manifesting in forms such as maladministration, fraud, employment irregularities, bribery, extortion, and procurement irregularities.

The provinces of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State, and the Western Cape have been identified as major hotspots for these corrupt activities.

This is outlined in Corruption Watch’s (CW) 2023 annual report, titled “Changing the landscape,” which takes stock of the group’s work that aims to “expose, confront, and take preventative action against corruption” in South Africa.

The non-profit relies on tips from the public to uncover cases of corruption and then investigates, researches, and campaigns to hold those in power accountable.

Since Corruption Watch’s inception in 2012, it has received at least 46,900 complaints of alleged corruption from whistle-blowers – averaging 11 reports per day. 2,110 of these came in 2023.

This heightening of reports in corruption has manifested elsewhere, South Africa recently tanking in a Corruption Perceptions Index – falling to its worst position since the ranking was introduced.

Corruption Watch’s 2023 statistics

Looking at a national average, the most frequent types of corruption that featured in 2023 were:

  • Maladministration – 34%;
  • Fraud – 21%;
  • Employment irregularities – 16%;
  • Bribery/extortion – 15%;
  • Procurement irregularities – 13%.

Provincially, the highest levels of corruption complaints were seen in:

  • Gauteng – 37%;
  • KwaZulu-Natal – 19%;
  • Free State – 10%;
  • Western Cape – 9%.

These four provinces collectively account for 75% of reports and are thus “all considered to be hotspots for monitoring corruption,” said CW.

Trends that emerge when analysing the provinces and the sub-types of corruption experienced:

ProvinceTop 5 types of corruption recorded
Gauteng– Fraud (19%);
– Bribery/extortion (16%);
– Maladministration (13%);
– Abuse of power (10%);
– Procurement irregularities (9%).
KwaZulu-Natal– Maladministration (41%);
– Fraud (10%);
– Bribery/extortion (7%);
– Procurement irregularities (7%);
– Dereliction of duty (6%).
Free State– Maladministration (33%);
– Employment irregularities (26%);
– Dereliction of duty (9%);
– Procurement irregularities (7%);
– Abuse of power (5%).
Western Cape– Fraud (24%);
– Maladministration (15%);
– Dereliction of duty (12%);
– Abuse of power (9%);
– Employment irregularities (9%).
Mpumalanga– Maladministration (39%);
– Employment irregularities (15%);
– Fraud (11%);
– Procurement irregularities (8%);
– Bribery/extortion (7%).
Limpopo– Procurement irregularities (18%);
– Misappropriation of resources (16%);
– Maladministration (16%);
– Abuse of power (12%);
– Fraud (11%).
Eastern Cape– Fraud (17%);
– Procurement irregularities (14%);
– Maladministration (12%);
– Misappropriation of resources (11%);
– Dereliction of duty (9%).
North West– Maladministration (21%);
– Fraud (18%);
– Procurement irregularities (13%);
– Misappropriation of resources (10%);
– Bribery/extortion (10%).
Northern Cape– Maladministration (22%);
– Bribery/extortion (20%);
– Misappropriation of resources (17%);
– Abuse of power (10%);
– Employment irregularities (10%).
Source: 2023 Corruption Watch annual report

Looking locally, “the prevalence of corruption at the local government level emerges again as a key trend,” said CW.

Out of the five municipalities with the highest number of corruption reports, three metropolitan municipalities (City of Johannesburg, City of Tshwane, and City of Cape Town) collectively account for 71% of corruption incidents.

This is followed by Dannhauser Local Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal and Matjhabeng Local Municipality in the Free State, sitting at 15% and 14% respectively.

The highest number of reports received by sub-sectors in the country were seen in:

  • Mining – 38%;
  • Policing – 23%;
  • Business – 16%;
  • Basic education -12%;
  • State-owned entities – 11%.

“These figures speak to government’s failure to provide basic services and rights such as efficient policing, safety and security, access to decent employment, education, and services intended to improve people’s lives – a functioning power utility or proper transport services come to mind,” said the report.

Police corruption

A massive inhibitor to the country’s fight against corruption is the fact that many within law enforcement find themselves embroiled in acts of corruption.

“South Africans are increasingly unsafe in their own communities, and much of the failure to curtail this situation lies at the foot of the SAPS,” said CW.

According to the report, the types of corruption seen at SAPS include:

  • Dereliction of duty (40.4%);
  • Abuse of power (31.0%);
  • Bribery attempt or solicitation (26.7%);
  • and sextortion (1.9%).
Graphic: Corruption Watch

As such, it is estimated that public trust in SAPS sits at around 26%.

Going forward

Executive director of CW, Karam Singh said that “it is frustrating that, in a country like South Africa, where the corrupt have been exposed for all to see in such public processes as the Zondo Commission and robust media investigations, so few of the implicated parties have been brought to justice.”

While this is alarming, the chairperson, Themba Maseko, said, “the country’s democratic institutions remain strong, and our citizens remain resilient; The civil society sector remains agile, strong, and well positioned to lead the struggle to expose corruption to defend our democracy and demand accountability.”

Of the many identified issues and subsequent solutions presented, a major one is seen where CW calls for effective reform in procurement processes.

“Public procurement presents one of the biggest corruption risks in modern society,” said CW. “Monitoring public procurement and advocating for reform of South Africa’s public procurement system, is thus central to CW’s work,” the group added.

Some suggestions to improve the public procurement process include:

  • Incentivised whistle-blowing to assist with the early detection and prevention of corruption;
  • The use of e-procurement for efficiency, transparency, and accountability;
  • Clearly defined independence of the proposed public procurement office from National Treasury for better accountability and oversight.
  • Beneficial owners of companies bidding for government work should be included in bids;
  • Clearer consequence management must be stipulated for instances where prohibited procurement practices are undertaken.
  • Clearer guidelines for the proposed tribunal as a new structure in the public procurement office.

Additionally, much of the instances are linked to leadership – something that the report largely revolves around given the forthcoming general elections.

“The appointment of suitably qualified and appropriate leaders to key institutions in South Africa is of critical importance in addressing corruption in the country,” said CW.

“The consequences of appointing the wrong people can be dire and the subsequent erosion or even collapse of these institutions can take years to rectify and rebuild, giving rise to a state without adequate checks and balances, where impunity prevails,” with the public ultimately bearing the brunt of these failures, it added.

“With elections just around the corner, it is time that citizens stop enabling government corruption, and realise that as voters in a democratic society, they hold the power,” said CW chairperson, Themba Maseko.

Read: Government not blacklisting companies caught up in corruption

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