Unlike Nigeria, is South Africa living in denial of its Kleptocracy?


Kleptocracy, alternatively cleptocracy or kleptarchy, (from Greek: κλέπτης – kleptēs, “thief”[1] and κράτος – kratos, “power, rule”,[2] hence “rule by thieves”) is a term applied to a government seen as having a particularly severe and systemic problem with officials or a ruling class (collectively, kleptocrats) taking advantage of corruption to extend their personal wealth and political power. Typically this system involves the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service.

For most of its Military era, Nigeria was akin to a Kleptocratic state. The most notable administration amongst all, was perhaps Late General Sanni Abacha’s who stole so much state funds that Nigeria is still reaping from his “foresight” of putting them in different Swiss banks before he died. And when the Military handed over to Democracy in 1999, the looting continued. Nigeria’s incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari has spent most of his tenure fighting corruption, and recovering stolen funds from the previous administration. However, Nigerians know better than to say corruption and kleptocracy began in the last administration. It was just something our democracy inherited from the military era. And the nation has been the butt of jokes, the type the media of other African nations, like South Africa, use to warn their government not to emulate (like this).

Last month, the South African Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, during a speech at South Africa’s 2016 budget presentation in its parliament, delivered this message to the nation: “There are many parts of transacting between government and business which have gone seriously wrong and if we don’t stop it, we’re going to become a kleptocracy.” “The government and the private sector in South Africa must change the ethical system,” he said. However, recent events seem to not only confirm that South Africa is running a kleptocracy under President Jacob Zuma, but he has even helped to reinforce that notion.

A few days ago, the country’s Deputy Finance Minister, Mcebisi Jonas, claimed he was offered the post of the Finance Minister last year by the Guptas, a family of wealthy Indian businessmen who allegedly wield influence on President Jacob Zuma. Jonas claimed that after President Zuma sacked former Finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, last year, the Guptas offered him the job with the consent of President Zuma. Although Zuma has come out to deny ever being implicit in the scandal, it is going to be very hard to believe him. For a man who has been accused of building a private mansion with state funds, paying all of his four wives salaries, giving his daughter a job in a government parastatal and making appointments with cronyism, it is hard to see why his government shouldn’t be called a kleptocracy.

Perhaps, the level of kleptocracy in South Africa is not as fully fledged as that of Nigeria. However, the writing on the wall even before Zuma became president. Zuma was Vice-President under the previous administration was charged to court then for corruption (general consensus was that he was guilty), before his charges were declared unlawful and he was let off. A year after that he was elected president through his party, the African National Congress (ANC).

The ANC, South Africa’s monument to its victory against apartheid and arguably the most respected party in Africa, has seemingly lost its way under Zuma. Its inability to censure its leader bears close resemblance to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),  Nigeria’s former ruling party’s inability to control former President Goodluck Jonathan or tamp down on corruption within its ranks. And like the way PDP was ousted, being pushed to the wall has a way of bringing a reaction from the victim. In a country where most of its youth population cannot really identify with ANC’s fight for freedom from apartheid and so don’t really owe any allegiance to it, it would be best for the ANC and South Africa to cut ties with Zuma and kleptocracy. And that should be sooner rather than later especially now that Presidential elections are close.

While Nigeria is desperately engaged in a war with kleptocracy, perhaps, fellow African giant South Africa, should first accept it is under one, even if its not been for long, and then look for ways conquer it.

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