The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) founding congress in April 2017 warned our members and the entire country that both of the ANC’s contending factions were corrupt in varying degrees. Both factions, however, used each other’s corruption scandals to draw a picture that they were not evil and the only ones corrupt were their opponents in the opposite camp.
This style of tit-for-tat blame-passing is what a CityPress reporter yesterday termed “what-about-ism” in which one side distracts attention from its misdeeds by pointing out the other’s.
Literally every day, new evidence emerges about the massive, shameless looting by elites connected to both factions of the ANC. In their desperate attempts to show that the other side has all the thieves, they are exposing the loot stocked away in each other’s greasy, filthy cupboards.
SAFTU has consistently pointed out that corruption is rife in all capitalist-oriented political and economic systems.
The capitalist system breeds corruption because it is based on promotion of individualism as against collectivism; it is centred on the mentality of dog eat dog, the law of the jungle and me first – to hell with everyone else. The system we live in envisaged by one of the most prominent ideologues of the liberalism and capitalist system, Margaret Thatcher who once declared: “there is no such thing as society”.
Under the ANC rule, society has been destroyed in favour of the notion of the survival of the fittest. The phenomenon of the tenderpreneurs and today’s COVIDpreneurs is the expression of the society envisaged by Margaret Thatcher. In that society, even the pandemics threatening to kill millions is seen as the opportunity to advance personal ambitions to ill-gotten wealth. The Personal Protective Equipment that is in such demand, because it saves our health workers’ lives, is just one case in which emergency products are being used by the heartless and soleless COVIDpreneurs to loot the state.
This practice is not in any way confined to the public sector. The Competition Tribunal has been kept busy as it is flooded by complaints that corporations are, in the middle of this human tragedy, inflating prices beyond the reach of the working class. This is deliberate, so that the possibility of you not dying of COVID-19 is directly linked to your ability to pay inflated prices.
SAFTU insist that the most significant corruption is taking place in the private sector. One example we keep on quoting is that between according to the Financial Intelligence centre, a staggering $10-25 billion (R178-R445 billion) is annually shifted out of the economy through illicit financial flows. Judge Davis’ Tax Commission argues that at least R50 billion per year – a “very conservative” estimate – is lost due to tax-dodging schemes.
Recall that Margaret Thatcher supported the apartheid regime, and it was no coincidence that in its prime, the system offered white capitalists – whether local, British or from other Western powers – one of the greatest opportunities the world has ever seen for structured corruption. Apartheid offered the highest profit rates on earth in the 1960s once opposition was repressed. But due to the deals done in the early 1990s that allowed for these same capitalists to restore ‘investor confidence,’ the profit rates – which had fallen dramatically during the 1980s people’s struggle – rose right back to among the world’s highest. The International Monetary Fund found only four countries whose companies had higher profit rates that South Africa in 2015, even though that year the mining industry collapsed due to the commodity price collapse. During the whole era of the 2010s, indeed, the SA capitalist class led the bi-annual PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of economic criminals, higher even than perennial competitors from France and Kenya. It was not only a matter of illicitly transferring profits to tax havens; Treasury’s top officials will also admit that on local procurement contracts, overcharging occurs by 35-40% on average. Yet Treasury turns a blind eye to both.
Aside from the Competition Commission, the government is unwilling to call out the thieves. The only reason for the government to close its eyes to this biggest criminality is that every second government leader if not more, is a businessman or businesswomen. Taking a hard stance against illicit cash outflows and other nefarious activities such as tax dodging schemes will conflict most of our government leaders. Even President Ramaphosa was repeatedly implicated in Illicit Financial Flows, through companies he influenced including Lonmin, MTN and his own Shanduka, as the Panama Papers revealed. As another example, the 30 financial institutions caught manipulating the currency, to the detriment of the economy, are not yet held accountable, even though several paid massive fines in the United States for their destruction of the South African rand. So too are companies which were in cahoots with the Guptas, including media, lawyers and international audit firms. The society is just sick of the lack of accountability.
Hence the next-generatoin COVIDpreneurs are learning from the best in the country – the ruling class itself.
Issuing presidential condemnations will not convince the thugs to stop robbing South Africans and our future. What we need now is unity under the leadership of the working class to occupy the streets, to demand that all the thieves be held accountable. In the short-term, SAFTU calls for the convening of a special conference of civil society formations to chart the way forward, before our country is condemned as a typical example of a failed state where only the politically connected benefits from our democracy while the masses of the people are trapped in degrading poverty, inequality and unemployment.