The latest Afrobarometer opinion poll showed trust in the country’s parliament stands at 27%, while trust in the president is just 38%. Trust in the courts has dropped to 43%.
Regarding political parties, the level of trust in the African National Congress has fallen to 27% and is particularly low among the most educated and young South Africans, while the opposition parties’ tally is lower. at 24%.
The Public Protector received a 42% vote of confidence, while only 36% trusted the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), with particularly low levels of confidence among younger respondents. With an approval rate of 56%, the Ministry of Health recorded the highest level of trust compared to other state institutions.
Citizens expect good ethical governance at all levels of society. In fact, it is their constitutional right as members of a democratic society. This means that politicians and public administrators are required and expected to adhere to the principles of accountability, transparency and integrity, which are the cornerstones of anti-corruption measures such as detection, prevention and deterrence.
Moreover, once the people’s trust is lost, it is regained not by wordy party manifestos, the distribution of food parcels or pre-election promises, but by the actions of politicians and administrators.
Unsurprisingly, the lack of political trust in South Africa is the result of shameless political misdeeds by political actors. Harms include corruption, lack of ethics, state capture, and perpetual violations of the law. The only logical conclusion that can be reached is that politicians deliberately and consciously ignore their responsibilities as elected officials. Their actions threaten the very legitimacy of the governance system, which leads to the aforementioned mistrust among the electoral base and may even result in citizens breaking the law.
Recently, government plans and activities have been negatively associated with a plethora of dirty dealings, including two of its ministers who spent R3.5 million on hotel accommodation, and the Covid-19 supply chain and the multi-billion rand theft based on purchases.
The impact of such actions on the relationship between government and its citizens greatly undermines the honesty, accountability, and legitimacy upon which administrative mechanisms operate in a healthy, corruption-free democracy.
Every time a new policy is announced, political trust is challenged. All levels and all functions of the state apparatus are scrutinized: from the president to the provincial premier, to municipal mayors, to the judiciary, to political parties, to “corrupt mediators”, to the families of politicians .
In most cases, personal distrust overlaps with governmental distrust, as policy, planning and implementation are in most cases personified by a specific individual. Familiar faces from politics and high administration dominate all social media, while middle managers from small towns party and drive their Maseratis.
But all is not lost. While the citizens of South Africa still have a voice, there is hope. To pave the way for social accountability initiatives, the participation of South Africans in the fight against corruption must be mobilized and this can only be done through their active involvement and coordination which leads to capacities for collective action.
A thorough study and understanding of citizens’ expectations and attitudes is necessary as this is the basis for preparing a strategic path to build activities that enable citizens to fight corruption.
And mobilization must start at the local government level. The continued engagement of all trusted and widely respected stakeholders and actors in their communities will enable them to share and articulate community voices. The creation and development of participatory budgeting leading directly to the planning, formulation, decision-making and monitoring of budget execution, especially at the local government level, is necessary.
For an example of a successful anti-corruption body, we need look no further than one of our neighbors to the north. In Rwanda, an Anti-Corruption Advisory Council is headed by the country’s Chief Ombudsman and includes nine members drawn from key government departments, civil society organizations and the private sector. A Coordinating Secretariat is responsible for a daily campaign covering the whole country and reports corruption and anti-corruption failures and successes daily on radio, television and social media.
In addition, all board members communicate daily with the media, private sector and civil society, convincing them to engage actively against corruption and to mobilize their communities and constituencies to be an integral part of the government. effort. The council operates at national level but is also decentralized to district, sector and cell level.
Civil society leaders across the country were encouraged to work with the council to raise public awareness of the consequences of corruption, investigating and reporting corruption to the police, the national prosecutor’s office and the ombudsman’s office.
An example of a similar initiative in South Africa is the Whistle-Blower Protection Unit, which is tasked with investigating the circumstances in which suspicions of wrongdoing can be reported inside and outside organisations. However, politicians and administrators who risk reporting these corrupt activities put themselves, their families, colleagues and managers in potentially serious danger.
Although there is legislation that protects against professional harm employees who disclose information about illegal or corrupt behavior on the part of their employers or colleagues, much more needs to be done. A number of changes could be introduced, such as proper training, which will have a positive effect on the structure of the workplace, or the introduction of much stricter policies with serious consequences for the corrupt.
Citizens’ trust in state institutions and their decisions, or in opposition parties, is a serious barometer of a healthy democracy. This trust embodies the very essence of democratic legitimacy which is both internalized and externalized by the taste of the people for an unreserved will to participate and act in the construction of a democratic State which rewards honesty and punishes Corruption.
To regain and strengthen the trust of its citizens, the government must take very visible steps to fight corruption within its ranks. DM
Professor Evangelos Mantzaris is the principal investigator of the Inclusive Society Institute’s study on the creation of a National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council. Daryl Swanepoel is the Institute’s CEO.