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Vigilantism is not the solution to rampant corruption

Corruption Watch, which has kept watch over corruption
in SA since 2012, has reached, and published, a
somewhat startling conclusion after surveying the terrible
ravages of grand and petty corruption in the country,
especially as these twin scourges impact on the lives of
the poor. As the population is made up of a majority of
poor people, the conclusion is also worrisome, even
though it is true that the poor suffer most due to those

Here are the exact words of the conclusion published by
Daily Maverick (
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“While we hold onto the Constitution, the Bill of Rights,
and the few pillars of democracy that were not eroded
completely by State Capture, we have 25 years of
liberation to reflect on, centuries of oppression to
contemplate, and the recognition that collective people’s
power is the only solution to fight the scourge of
corruption in South Africa.”

Corruption Watch does not explain quite how “collective
people’s power” is to be exercised as the only solution to
the criminal activity that constitutes corruption, whether
in respect of petty or grand corruption.
Indeed, while corruption is described by Corruption
Watch as a “culture” a “normalised act” and a “scourge”,
it is not recognised for what it is – a crime and a threat to
our constitutional democracy, a form of governance that
all good South Africans, including the staff of Corruption
Watch, hold dear.
In our constitutional dispensation, to which Corruption
Watch very properly refers approvingly, the task of
dealing with crime, all crime including corruption, is that
of the police, the prosecution service and the criminal
justice administration, which includes our prisons and
our courts. The provisions of section 205(3) of the
Constitution could not be clearer:
“The objects of the police service are to prevent, combat
and investigate crime … and to uphold and enforce the
It is fundamental to the SA social contract that
countering corruption, as a form of crime, is the work of
the police service, not some “collective” people’s effort.
Where the police service itself is corrupt, there is an
independent body, called IPID, which must “investigate
any alleged misconduct of, or offence committed by, a
member of the police service.” Without a properly
functioning criminal justice administration not one
corrupt individual can be brought to justice.

“Collective people’s power,” whatever that may mean, is
not constitutionally recognised as a solution, let alone the
“only solution to fight the scourge of corruption.”
Individuals who are aware of, or have evidence of, any
corrupt activity have a civic duty to report it to the
nearest police station. The police have a specialised unit,
called the Hawks, which is supposed to investigate
corruption. Dockets prepared by the Hawks are referred
to the National Prosecuting Authority for a decision on
the prosecution of the corrupt. The staff members at the
police stations are trained to refer corruption
investigations to the Hawks, which have taken the place
of the Scorpions, an independent NPA unit. This position
has obtained since the ANC urgently resolved to disband
the Scorpions because too many of its senior members,
including Ace Magashule, were under investigation by
the Scorpions back in 2007. All big corruption cases
referred to the Hawks that involve politically connected
individuals die of unnatural causes in the system due to
“state capture”. No prosecution of such miscreants has
ever followed a Hawks investigation, either before or
after the end of the Zuma presidency. This is why so
much reliance is placed on the “innocent until proved
guilty” principle in ANC politics. The leadership knows
that no trial is even contemplated, let alone allowed to
The human rights guaranteed to all in the Bill of Rights
are legally regarded as worthy of protection via
adequately independent, effective and efficient anti-
corruption machinery of state. This protection includes
protection against the ravages of politically based

corruption. Accordingly, corruption, as well as being a
crime, is a human rights issue.
The state is obliged, in terms of the Bill of Rights, to
respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights guaranteed
to all in the Bill of Rights. The Constitutional Court has
not, in its various judgments on the topic, ever suggested
that the exercise of “collective people’s power” is the
constitutionally proper way to deal with the corrupt.
Indeed, the system of governance has to deal with
criminals, including those guilty of corruption; not the
people. Encouraging people to exercise undefined
“collective people’s power” could be construed as an
invitation to engage in vigilante action. Heaven forbid.
Resort to self-help against the corrupt is downright
dangerous, and ought not to be encouraged. The unhappy
lot of whistle blowers and corruption related political
murders in SA serve as a warning to us all.
The inability of the state to deal effectively with the
scourge of corruption is attributable to the lack of
political will in SA to put proper anti-corruption
machinery of state in place in the criminal justice
administration as well as to the capture thereof by the
The courts, without being prescriptive about solutions,
have described the qualities of structurally and
operationally sound anti-corruption machinery of state. A
single entity (not a collective of entities) is required to
give dedicated and specialised attention to combating
corruption. Its staff members require expert training,
adequate guaranteed resourcing and security of tenure of

office. They must be sufficiently independent to
withstand political influence and interference. They
should not be under the control of the executive branch
of government. Oversight is better exercised through our
multi-party parliament, as is done in the case of all
existing Chapter Nine Institutions and IPID. It has been
suggested that a new one-stop-shop – the Integrity
Commission should be established under Chapter Nine to
comply, in a best practice way, with these criteria.
When asked, during parliamentary question time in
March 2019, about the suggestion, the President found
the idea “refreshing” and undertook to mull over it.
Neither the law nor the politics appear to have crossed
the minds of those proposing the dangerous notion that
“collective people’s power” is the “only” magic bullet
solution to the scourge that corruption indubitably poses
to the country. Sadly, there is no magic bullet for the
corrupt. Nor is “collective people’s power” armed with
any such bullet with which to fight the corrupt.
It is unlikely that the expression “collective people’s
power” is a veiled reference to voting differently on 8
May for a party which has a legally and constitutionally
sound policy platform for its anti-corruption plans in the
sixth parliament of the new SA. People do not vote
collectively; they cast their votes in secret and
individually. They may, individually using their votes,
generate the necessary political will to get the state to
function with openness, accountability and
responsiveness, in the manner contemplated in the
Constitution, not in a manner that reflects the capture of

the criminal justice administration by those who
currently enjoy impunity.
Equality before the law is for everyone, including the
politically connected who have benefitted from corrupt
Furthermore, note must be taken of the recent heartfelt,
albeit misguided, contribution to the columns of Daily
Maverick by the Chairman of Corruption Watch,
Mavuso Msimang, in which he broadcast his intention to
vote ANC in the “belief” (a veritable article of faith is
needed) that it will somehow find a way (once again
unspecified) of overcoming the pervasive corruption
which holds the ANC in its thrall. In the light of his
statement it seems improbable that the staff of
Corruption Watch would encourage a vote for a party
with a better corruption fighting record and position than
the atrocious record and position of the ANC and its
allies in parliament. If that is what they were trying to do,
they could have unpacked manifestos on anti-corruption
policy of the best of the 48 political parties contesting the
general election to assist and inform those they enjoin to
exercise their “collective” power.
If some form of revolution is being espoused in the call
to exercise the people’s “collective power”, let’s all hope
that the national democratic revolution of the tripartite
alliance is not what Corruption Watch has in mind.
Adherence to the tenets of that particular revolution,
particularly its illegal practice of cadre deployment in the
public administration and SOEs, is what has put the

country in the corrupt mess from which it is now
haltingly trying to recover.
Fortunately, none of the major political parties has
suggested that the only solution on countering corruption
is that proposed by the Corruption Watch staffers.
Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now
10 April 2019.

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