It’s a dichotomy South Africa has lived since the end of apartheid: The proud standard-bearer for democracy’s triumph in Sub-Saharan Africa is a state beset by chronic, debilitating corruption. The New York Times reports that in a recent audit only 3 of 39 government departments were found clean of corruption.
Corruption is a particularly serious problem in South Africa’s provincial governments, which are responsible for delivering many of the services needed by the poor. Many powerful regional politicians use their offices to enrich their friends, forming a coterie of wealthy elites reminiscent of the tribal chieftains the apartheid government used to administer the Bantustans where blacks were forced to live.
Corruption truly is a cancer eating away at the prospects of improving the wellbeing of the 62 percent of the country’s population living in poverty. Some poor South Africans are now able to move into small, government-built houses, but those residences are often poorly constructed, with pipes and electrical sockets connected to neither supply nor grid.Don’t be fooled by arguments and statistics that South Africa is the cleanest country in Africa. The rest of the continent isn’t real competition.If a people cannot build a reasonably honest and competent state, they will wallow in misery and poverty until that somehow changes. This cannot be imposed from outside. But while there are sharp limits on what the outside world can do for South Africa, there are almost no limits on what South Africans can do for themselves, if they make up their minds to do it.