South Africans think corruption is getting worse under Ramaphosa

Despite positioning himself as an anti-corruption leader, a new poll conducted by Afrobarometer shows that South Africans perceive corruption as increasing under president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Three years into his tenure, not only do South Africans believe that corruption is getting worse, but they also see large portions of elected officials and civil servants as involved in corrupt activities, the survey showed.

“Society says the government is handling the anti-corruption fight badly, while channels to report corruption are increasingly seen as unsafe,” the report’s authors said.

Most citizens, they said, are dissatisfied with the way the government is handling the fight against corruption, suggesting that the National Anti-Corruption Strategy and other efforts to strengthen independent oversight have not yet had their desired impact.

The Afrobarometer team in South Africa, led by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Plus 94 Research, interviewed 1,600 adult South Africans in May-June 2021.

Key findings

  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of South Africans say that corruption increased in the past year, including half (49%) who believe it increased “a lot.”
  • State institutions are widely seen as corrupt. Half or more of citizens say “most” or “all” officials are involved in corruption in the police (56%), the president’s office (53%), local government councils (51%), and Parliament (50%). Non-governmental organisations, traditional leaders, and religious leaders are less commonly seen as corrupt.
  • Seven in 10 South Africans (70%) say the government is performing “fairly badly” or “very badly” in the fight against corruption,
  • Among citizens who interacted with key public services during the past year, substantial proportions say they had to pay a bribe to avoid a problem with the police (24%) or to obtain a government document (21%), police assistance (15%), public school services (10%), or medical care (8%).
  • Three out of four South Africans (76%) say people risk retaliation or other negative consequences if they report incidents of corruption, a 13-percentage-point increase compared to 2018.
  • Seven in 10 citizens (71%) believe that officials who break the law “often” or “always” go unpunished, while half (49%) say ordinary people who commit crimes enjoy such impunity.

Involvement in corruption

Despite a particular emphasis on anti-corruption efforts focusing on the Presidency, more than half of South Africans believe that “most” or “all” officials in the Presidency are involved in corruption.

Among 10 other institutions that Afrobarometer asked about, only the South African Police Services (SAPS) are more widely seen as corrupt (by 56% of respondents). In addition, about one-third of citizens see “some” officials in the Presidency (33%) and the SAPS (36%) as corrupt.

“Progress in the anti-corruption fight will require political will, more assertive independent oversight, and safe reporting channels for both whistle-blowers and ordinary citizens. Without
these, it appears that South Africans will remain unconvinced that change has come,” Afrobarometer said.

Read: Types of corruption you can expect in every major metro in South Africa

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South Africans think corruption is getting worse under Ramaphosa