Apartheid and colonialism were and continue to be the biggest heists and cases of corruption to ever happen in South Africa. There cannot be a debate and a discussion around whether or not apartheid was predicated on the mass exploitation of the resources of our country.
Quite honestly, apartheid was the theft and looting of the wealth and land of black people. It is only people like Helen Zille, who are still reminiscent of apartheid, who can even begin to make assertions that suggest that there was any good that came out of the cruel system of apartheid. Such people must not even be entertained lest we forget Toni Morrison’s caution that racism works with distractions.
We are at a point where we should be finding ways to solve the consequences and effects of apartheid, some of which still find expression in the present. In this article I want to argue that corruption is increasingly used to obscure and silence discourses around land and racism that still exist in the country.
Racists in South Africa have been successful in distracting us from focusing and finding solutions to the heinous crimes of apartheid. One trope they have been using is that of corruption. It was not long ago that AfriForum, a right-wing civil organisation, was marching for Jacob Zuma to be removed as president and arrested when they have never said anything about former president FW De Klerk and all the white people who were involved in oiling and sustaining the machine of apartheid.
Corruption is undoubtedly a problem in any society, even more so in a developing society like ours. It stunts the social and economic growth of the country and subjects the people to extreme poverty. Corruption must be dealt with regardless of the colour in which it manifests. Whether a black person is behind corruption or whether it is a white person, corruption has an unavoidable consequence which is the stunting of development. This must nonetheless not be used to obscures the reality that white people still continue to own our resources with impunity.
It has become difficult in South Africa to speak about corruption without the mention of Jacob Zuma and leaders of the African National Congress (ANC). Corruption in this country has been made synonymous with the ANC. In less than a year, two leaders of the ANC were forced to discharge their duties because they were allegedly corrupt. This might very well be true, and the law must play its part and bring the guilty to book. But in dealing with corruption it must be borne in mind that black people are not the only ones who are capable of this crime.
White people are also corrupt. In fact, their continued presence in South Africa is possible through centuries of corruption. What is interesting though is that white corruption is rarely called corruption but is often euphemised and given names such as “collusion”, “price-fixing”, etc.
When white people are found guilty of running cartels they not arrested but often have to pay fines and penalties.
The removal of political leaders from their positions because of corruption charges is not specific to South Africa. It has also happened in quite a number of African countries. Libya is the most immediate example where Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was removed and murdered because he was accused of being corrupt.
Often it is when black leaders start speaking about the return of land and taking the wealth from the hands of the colonisers that charges of corruption surface. This then invites us to think critically about where these charges come from and what invokes them.
The discourse of corruption clouds certain important realities about the condition that black people are still in as a result of colonisation and apartheid. It obscures the reality that blacks are still subjected to living in cramped spaces like townships because white people still own most of the land in South Africa.
People are shot in Marikana because there is a group of white people that continues to make super profits even if it means that blacks are exploited all the way to the grave.
The corruption discourse has the potential to obscure the important reality that in South Africa wealth remains a preserve of white people. It is important, therefore, that if we are to speak honestly about our abhorrence of corruption we should also pursue all the old white men who were involved in oiling the machinery of apartheid and its sustenance.
This is not to say that corrupt black leaders must be impugned but we should not continue as if corruption is an inherently black disease. The vigour used to persecute black people who are corrupt must be applied equally to the persecution of white corruption.
Dlamini is a former Wits SRC President and student activist. He writes in his personal capacity.