Corrupt rulers create criminals

Martin van Staden / Midjourney
Martin van Staden / Midjourney

This article was first published by Daily Friend on 20 April 2024

Transparency International has classified South Africa (SA) as a “flawed democracy” in its recent Corruption Perception Index (CPI).

‘Flawed democracy’ is definitely correct – but one should argue further. SA is not just a failing republic, it is very likely a mafia state, where those in power are not only failing to address catastrophic levels of crime. They enable and profit from it.

Corrupt rulers and governments incentivise and feed into criminality. This is seen most simply in how leaders and institutions are meant to set a standard for people to follow. If leaders are perceived to be acting justly, obeying the rules they set themselves, and behaving as legal equals with the citizenry, then people are much more likely to be law-abiding.

But if a leader legislates, but then ignores the rules, then citizens grow resentful, and will become less likely to obey those laws themselves. On a petty level, when officials demand bribes, this erodes people’s trust in institutions, convincing them rather to not cooperate. They may feed into the corrupt system by paying bribes or opting out as much as possible.

On a more systemic level, citizens are less likely to pay tax when they see their rulers wasting that tax, or not paying their fair share. This further damages the wealth of the country, as politicians simultaneously loot public coffers, while the tax base shrinks.

Corrupt governments don’t just set bad examples to their citizens, they also actively participate in and enable crime – further damaging the country.

Arming criminals

Colonel Christiaan Prinsloo aided in the slaughter of thousands of people between 2011 and 2019 (with the after-effects still being felt today). As a SAPS officer, he saw millions of rands worth of firearms being sold to criminal gangs. He was aided by fellow SAPS personnel, and the police themselves tried to cover up the story.

Prinsloo is not the only government official guilty of selling guns to gangsters. Grenades, firearms and ammunition are sold to gangs by law enforcement, the military and politicians. The police have also been linked to selling weapons to terrorist groups.

Access to state resources has enabled criminals in government to make a quick buck – all the while enabling violent criminals to wage a war against peaceful citizens. More often than not, the same weapons that a corrupt cop sells to a gangster will be used to kill some of their more honest comrades.

Assassination for politics

Gaining access to public coffers has made being in politics a lucrative business. Local politicians are not only able to scrape a bit off the top from their budgets, but can also give lucrative tenders to their friends, families, and anyone willing to pay a bribe. They can also be paid to look the other way when their cronies commit crimes under their watch.

Local politics has become so lucrative for the dishonest that assassinations have become a staple of South African politics, in order to force elections and seize jobs. Nine suspects shot in KwaZulu-Natal on 3 April, after allegedly committing a string of sexual assaults, robberies, and murders, are also said to have been hired to undertake a political assassination.

These crews of thugs damage our democracy, take lives, and use their ill-gotten gains to commit further crimes. All this is facilitated by bloodthirsty politicians who just want to control tenders.

When policies create criminals

Bad laws create criminals. Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) has made it almost impossible to run a legitimate business properly. Arbitrary race quotas deny skilled individuals promotion and employment, while politicians are able to ooze their way into lucrative businesses by being BEE partners.

Many business-owners and employers have unwittingly been made into criminals by being unable to follow the labyrinth of terrible regulations. But on top of this, criminal syndicates exploit BEE to compel businesses to give them shares of their business, or face violence.

The construction mafia that has held back development, infrastructural repair and expansion across the country is an example of these syndicates, costing the country as a whole an untold fortune.

Corrupt policy-makers also use terrible laws to enrich themselves directly. During lockdown, the arbitrary and irrelevant cigarette ban was used by criminal syndicates with ties to high-ranking politicians to make a fortune.

What do we do about it?

There is always a risk that a mafia state will form. To ensure that one never arises, we must constantly erode the power of the state, allowing private citizens to take on as many responsibilities as possible.

Decriminalise the state by eliminating bad laws, like BEE, that enable syndicates to flourish and bad rulers to enrich themselves.

Depoliticise the economy and law enforcement to allow merit to rule out and reduce access to public wealth.

And decentralise the state, to increase accountability and efficiency. Especially, decentralise the police, so the rot of corruption doesn’t spread too far. We can’t expect criminals to stop being criminals just because they cause damage. As it stands, we must rely on the rare good officials in government to zealously prosecute and undermine the criminals in their midst, while also helping to elect a new government of fresh faces that have not yet been infected by the blight of corruption.


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The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author.




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