Let’s tip our hat to all the positive spin-offs of SA corruption

Brendan Seery.

Brendan Seery.

And yes, I know it’s April 1, but I’m not even joking.

Knowing what day this is, there are many who will think I am playing the fool with what I am about to say: corruption is not such a bad thing, especially in the context of a developing country like ours, where there is still a huge gap between rich and poor.

Deliberately or not, corruption is one of the ways the ANC government is slowly, but surely, transforming the country by redistributing wealth. Funnily enough, that socialist ethos is being implemented in a vigorous capitalist way, where greed is the big motivator.

Corruption is one of the ways wealth is being redistributed, but so is the hidden, second system of social grants, known as the civil service. This came to me this past week as I drove westwards from Polokwane towards Tzaneen on the R71. About 10km outside the Limpopo capital is evidence of a huge, but largely unreported and unacknowledged, boom.

Thousands upon thousands of houses are springing up on small plots assigned or sold by local chiefs and headmen. I read a piece in a Limpopo glossy magazine called Unlock’d in which a person writing under a pseudonym, but claiming to be involved in the timber business, said the boom was almost entirely cash-funded and that the big banks and financial institutions were not involved at all. Nor is all this construction reported by any construction industry bodies.

Some of the cash comes from employed people in distant places such as Joburg, but a lot also comes from the booming provincial civil service. This has ballooned in size since 1994, but its effectiveness has declined precipitously.

Doing a decent day’s work is, for many of these government workers, of far less importance than the monthly salary. So, this second system of hidden social grants – sheltered employment where the main requirement is loyalty to the ANC and where competence counts for little – is, therefore, channelling money back into the economy.

That brings benefits which spread much further than the large hardware giants selling materials for on-selling. It’s also a capitalist-driven phenomenon – by operating outside the formal system, these home builders and their suppliers are minimising their expenses by eliminating things like municipal fees and taxes.

So, there is more profit – read surplus cash – to continue to spend. Adam Smith, the arch-capitalist philosopher, would have been proud. Which brings me to the first point I made – that corruption is not such a bad thing. The bigwigs in the ANC are the ones vacuuming up the loot from tenders. So they live the dream … big house, big Range Rover, big parties.

But you only get anywhere in the ANC by buying off a host of people in the districts, regions and provinces. And those lower down the food chain have to pay off those below … and so on.

So, there is a flow of money – albeit stolen – from the top down to the lower levels. Also, other than the Guptas, who appear to have stashed their loot offshore, the ANC bigwigs have, so far (not that we know of, anyway), not done a Mobutu Sese Seko and bought Mediterranean villas.

Of course, if you are a taxpayer, you may not agree with the ANC’s wealth redistribution project …

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