The country scored among the least corrupt countries in sub-Saharan Africa – the most corrupt region in the world, according to the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
According to experts, this indicates that while wide-scale corruption has significantly harmed the country’s economy, SA’s recent history could provide lessons for the corruption-addled countries listed in the survey.
This was not to say SA was not considered highly corrupt, as the survey’s authors, Transparency International (TI), indicated. This year’s CPI was evidence of a world which had not come to grips with burgeoning corruption.
South Africa continued to languish with a score of 43 (out of 100) – the same as the previous year. The Seychelles’ score of 66 put the island nation at the top of the list for the sub-Saharan region, while South Africa came 9th out of the region’s 46 countries.
Worldwide, SA ranked 73rd out of 180 countries, with Somalia taking the honours as the world’s most corrupt country, and New Zealand being the least corrupt.
The index ranks countries by region, and use markers such as the independence of democratic institutions and the media.
Corruption Watch CEO David Lewis said strong democratic institutions like the media, the courts and civil society organisations have held up “pretty well” and have prevented SA from sliding further down the ladder.
Other African countries, as well as some European and Asian countries which did not do as well, can take a lesson from South Africa, Lewis said.
“Clearly corruption is undermined by democratic institutions like parliament, city councils, key regulators, and we can take a lesson there … Corruption has seriously undermined certain institutions like the Hawks, the NPA and crime intelligence… Those need to be protected if they are to remain robust and independent.”
But politics and governance expert Ralph Mathekga said opposition parties in South Africa demonstrated that electoral competition was the key to curbing corruption.
“On the African continent, the opposition parties are not very strong. In most instances there is one-party domination, which is the same thing we are having here in South Africa.
“It doesn’t mean it’s completely wrong, but the whole idea of an opposition party as an essential component of well-functioning politics is not yet fully embraced in the continent.
“Oppositions are usually shunned and accused of collaborating with foreign bodies who give them money,” Mathekga said.
“While this was a wider issue on the continent, in South Africa, the DA and, more recently, the EFF have been credited with exposing widespread corruption in government. In South Africa, we do appreciate the opposition, like Ghana, which is another country that does well and is outstanding when it comes to electoral competition.
“Strong opposition and the division of power is where it all starts. Think of where we would be if the opposition had not exposed so much corruption and kept the governing party in check,” Mathekga said.
Transparency International echoed this, pointing at Zimbabwe, which was effectively a one-party state ruled by Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF until the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), outpolled Zanu-PF in the elections of 2008. These elections were, however, declared undemocratic under dubious circumstances and South Africa was castigated for failing to intervene.
The recent political violence in the neighbouring nation, sparked by dire economic constraints, brought to light the increasing role of the MDC in keeping the still-ruling Zanu-PF on its toes.