A chance chat while walking dogs in the milkwood forest on the flank of Chapman’s Peak with a human rights lawyer specializing in gender issues set off a chain of thought that is aimed at pulling together the scourges of gender based violence, joblessness and corruption as they are experienced in SA today. Some tentative suggestions on what to do about the confluence of factors are also offered for consideration.
Gender based violence, or GBV, has reached intolerable levels in SA over recent years and appears to have been exacerbated since the pandemic struck our shores. The recent crime statistics released by the Minister of Police show alarming rises in contact crimes such as murder, rape and assaults of all kinds. All too often the victim knows the perpetrator; victims are mainly female, perpetrators mainly male. So serious is the threat that special courts have been set up for the scourge.
We have an allegedly dysfunctional Chapter Nine Institution called the Commission for Gender Equality set up in the Constitution to promote respect for gender equality and the protection, development and attainment of gender equality. The commissioners have the power to monitor, investigate, research, educate, lobby, advise and report on issues concerning gender equality.
Other organs of state must assist and protect the Commission to ensure the independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness of the Commission which accounts annually to the National Assembly.
It is clear that gender inequality was identified by the founders of the new SA as a burning issue worthy of special attention. The issue continues to burn more explosively now.
Joblessness in SA is at an all time high, having recently been measured at 44.4%. Nearly three quarters of young people under 35 are without jobs. Some are unemployable because the education system has failed to prepare them for the marketplace. Some are graduates for whom there is no space in the job market at present due to the lack of opportunities.
Corruption with impunity is endemic. Up to R1,5 trillion in loot was taken during the Zuma era state capture projects. “Covidpreneurism” continues to this day and the criminal justice administration is not equal to the tasks of investigating, prosecuting, convicting and punishing the corrupt. Nor are steps available to recover the loot taken often enough because the looters are too powerful, too scary or too well-connected to hold to account for their thieving from the poor. The Minister of Police himself is a suspect in a corruption inquiry arising from his involvement in irregular leases for police headquarters. The matter is under investigation by the Investigating Directorate of the National Prosecuting Authority. He sails on, unaffected, despite having been fired as police commissioner because of findings that he is “dishonest and incompetent”.
What then is the relationship between GBV, joblessness and corruption?
The argument is that in our society the self-image, self-esteem and sense of identity of males revolves around their ability to provide for those they love in their families and clans. A well satisfied man is one who is proud to be the provider. Men deprived by the state of the economy from providing for their families suffer an identity crisis. They are scorned by their peers, criticized by their hungry wives and children, demeaned by their elders and end up feeling considerably “less than” those who are able to meet the expectations that society lays on them irrespective of the state of the job market at any given time and regardless of their ability to “bring home the bacon” for their loved ones.
The frustration, boredom, fruitlessness of seeking jobs ( many give up on this activity) the deprivations of being without income and without a social security net mount up to turn those involved into angry people whose anger is expressed in the form of GBV.
Joblessness in SA has many causes. The structure of the economy is a contested terrain. The ability to grow it in a way that creates jobs is elusive. The sheer numbers of job-seekers exceed available jobs by far. The inescapable fact is that too many are dysfunctional as jobless work seekers who could be much better citizens if only they had a job.
The role of corruption in the phenomenon of joblessness is more obscure but nevertheless potent. For jobs to be created investment needs to be attracted. For investment to take place the investors, both local and foreign, need to feel confident that there is a good prospect of making a profit out of their new ventures. Why else invest? The profit motive is what drives new investment. Some may regard that as ugly, but it is real and it won’t go away any time soon. Properly regulated in a free market or mixed economy, the profit motive is a force for good. When, as is the case in SA, the state runs out of funds for job creation, the only viable alternative is to incentivize private investment. Our private sector employs about 13 million people, the state only 2 million. The incentivising is best done by creating conditions that nurture business confidence without which new investment (and with it more jobs) does not materialize, leaving the jobless in a state of low self-esteem, frustration and anger at life. These factors all too often lead to GBV especially after pain dulling alcohol and drugs have been ingested in a vain bid to make men feel better about themselves.
If corruption with impunity is regarded as a factor dampening enthusiasm for new investment, job creation and the upliftment of those currently expressing their displeasure with their lot through GBV, then what is to be done to end the vicious cycle?
On the desk of President Ramaphosa and in the inboxes of the Constitutional Review Committee of parliament are two suggested draft bills aimed at ending the impunity currently enjoyed by the corrupt in SA. They come compliments of Accountability Now (available on its website) and they envisage the establishment of a new body to prevent, combat, investigate and prosecute serious corruption. The kind of corruption which is such a terrible disincentive to those who are contemplating investing in SA. Investing comes in many forms, whether as casual tourists who spend their money in our hotels, game parks, restaurants and transport facilities or as major industrialists building the manufacturing potential of the country.
Reform of the criminal justice administration is eminently doable. The political will to carry out the necessary legislative and administrative preparatory work is emerging. For example, a resolution of the NEC of the ANC was taken a year ago and instructed cabinet urgently to form the independent, stand-alone specialist permanent entity needed to deal with serious corruption. The loot is recoverable if the right skills and the necessary will is brought to bear. The country could do with the money.
The drafts from Accountability Now seek to put flesh on the bones of the ANC resolution. This is how they are introduced:
(a) Serious forms of corruption like grand corruption, state capture and kleptocracy in South Africa are criminal violations of fundamental constitutional and human rights. They are literally killing many South Africans, mostly the poorest.
(b) The anti-corruption machinery of state in SA is currently not fit for purpose especially regarding serious corruption in all its forms. The NEC of the ANC has called for the urgent creation of a new entity that is permanent, specialised, independent and stands alone to deal with corruption.
(c) Our prosecutors and police, due to the ravages of attempted state capture, lack the required capacity to counter the corrupt efficiently and effectively
(d) The Constitutional Court, in the Glenister cases, has provided binding criteria for the establishment of functional corruption-busters who are fully able to carry out the international treaty obligations of SA
(e) That court has called upon parliament to make “the reasonable decision of a reasonable decision-maker in the circumstances” regarding the countering of corruption.
(e) The current circumstances in SA dictate that a best practice reform is urgently required in order to bolster the country’s vulnerable culture of respect for human rights and boost confidence in its governance and economic prospects.
(f) The ANC, DA and IFP all favour the notion that a new body needs to be established to deal with corruption.
(g) Accountability Now has already prepared draft enabling legislation and a constitutional amendment so that the necessary constitutionally-compliant next steps can be taken to save the country from the scourge of serious corruption — and the imminent potential of failed state status.
The opposition in parliament is sure to support anti-corruption steps in an election year. No politicians should be open to criticism that they are soft on corruption. The time for reform is now.
If more jobs eventuate from the reform and fewer men feel so bad about themselves that they no longer feel driven to express their anger at their lot in life via GBV then the corruption reform will have increased the workforce and decreased the GBV in the country, if the line of argument suggested above is correct.
There is so much to gain from connecting the dots between GBV, joblessness and corruption and so little to lose that the reform process suggested should be put in place diligently and without delay. Recovering loot, clipping the wings of the corrupt, creating jobs via new investment and reducing GBV. What’s not to like about the idea?
Paul Hoffman is a director of Accountability Now.
5 September 2021.