British journalist Michela Wrong wrote a very incisive account of corruption in Kenya, which detailed the life of a government worker, John Githongo who had turned whistleblower on corruption.
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Githongo had decided to abandon his comfortable life in government to change Kenya’s culture of corruption in politics. This culture had become so entrenched that it was accepted by all Kenyans that the party or ethnic group that won their national elections had just earned its turn to benefit from corruption, hence the title of Wrong’s book, It’s Our Turn to Eat. This title can easily be one that tells the story of the ANC in South Africa since taking power in 1994.
The ANC has always had internal factions vying for power and it is the dominant faction that ends up with its leader as president of the party and government. The very existence of these factions within the party is what has allowed a culture of corruption to flourish without much hindrance because the faction that has the power controls the purse strings and the faction that is out of power at the time eagerly waits for its “turn to eat” public funds.
This phenomenon of waiting for “our turn to eat” is what actually makes morally grounded individuals within the ruling party stay silent about their corrupt comrades because they will be denied their turn at the feeding if they rock the boat too much, while waiting for their turn. And their silence feeds the growth of the cancerous monster that is corruption.
In the midst of the personal protective equipment corruption scandal that is implicating so many officials in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government.
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula alluded to this culture when he warned on social media that loyalty to the ANC is not defending the indefensible like they once did with Nkandla.
Sadly, such pearls of wisdom do not form the basis of daily discussions within the ANC but only come in hindsight.
This is not by chance but by design because had Mbalula been outspoken during Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla debacle, he would have been left out of that faction’s “turn to eat”.
There is also nothing new to the revelations that the ANC’s integrity committee – an oxymoron if ever there was one – is complaining that the party’s structures have conspired to have its reports on corruption by top party leaders ignored during national working committee and national executive committee meetings.
This clearly shows that the president’s “new dawn” was built on a faulty foundation that was based on looking away when the integrity committee pointed out wrongdoings.
Wrong’s book on corruption in Kenya also points out something peculiar about an established culture of corruption – the bigger the monetary figures involved in the corruption scandals, the less likely it is that the population is going to be outraged.
Billions being looted seem to have an unreal feel whereas a health MEC and presidential spokesperson being involved in an alleged R125 million tender generates a bigger public reaction.
This should be a bigger concern to South Africa as a whole because it clearly points to a similar pattern of established corruption here. It is time South Africans woke up to the fact that President Ramaphosa’s nice-guy persona is not enough to challenge an established culture of corruption.
He is head of a party that has a deeply entrenched system of patronage that feeds on its “good” people looking the other way when the bad guys are busy looting, because they are also waiting for their turn to eat.