By Donnelly McCleland

President Cyril Ramaphosa has described COVID-19 corruption as “an unforgivable betrayal” for the millions of South Africans who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. In a letter released on Sunday [23 August], issued to African National Congress (ANC) members, the president said the party remains deeply implicated in South Africa’s corruption problem. He further said the ANC and its leaders stand accused of corruption, describing his party as “accused number one”. Mr Ramaphosa called on the ANC to confront corruption and to live up to the legacy of freedom fighters, like former president Nelson Mandela. (EWN)

Mounting pressure

For several months outrage has been mounting against the apparent corruption within the ANC’s well-connected ministerial ranks. Many have wondered if, and how, the president would address the matter. Sunday’s letter appears to be that “first shot across the bow” of the ANC’s leadership.  Stephen Grootes (in the Daily Maverick) argues that Mr Ramaphosa may, in fact, have “gone over the heads of the national executive committee (NEC) in general, and secretary-general Ace Magashule in particular”.  It is no secret that Magashule’s viewpoint on personal and familial betterment within politics differs from that of Mr Ramaphosa. It raises the question of how one would go about reporting Ace Magashule for corruption? One could put a list together as Mr Ramaphosa has suggested, and submit it for review – only for the Secretary-General be the one to have the final say on his own case. Therein lies one of the biggest challenges Mr Ramaphosa currently faces – whether to focus on rescuing a nation or a fractured and disgraced party? There are many analysts who are convinced that he cannot do both.

Response to letter from opposition and public

Responses to Mr Ramaphosa’s letter have been mixed. Former minister Derek Hanekom said that the country had reached an all-time low and that the African National Congress (ANC) and the rest of South Africa needed to take action now. EFF spokesperson Vuyani Pambo said the president’s letter to ANC officials was “nothing but cheap posturing” due to the South African leader’s “own baggage” which he has not been forthcoming in clearing with the government. DA leader John Steenhuisen maintains that ANC cadres must be jailed, not simply given a harsher slap on the wrist. Earlier in the month, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) leader Kenneth Meshoe said his party was totally opposed to Mr Ramaphosa’s appointment of a ministerial committee to investigate allegations of corruption related to the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Meshoe went on to say that if the president was serious about fighting corruption, he should allow the investigation to be done by independent institutions and units such as the Hawks and Special Investigative Unit (SIU) in order that the root of the problem could be exposed and that independence would possibly instil the courage and will to identify any ministers or cabinet ministers who were also involved in corruption.

A new study by Ask Africa, titled Covid-19 Tracker: Unpacking the significant social change brought on by the pandemic, examines the perceptions of over 9000 South Africans during “advanced level 3” between 5-11 August (published in IOL). The survey shows that 76% of those surveyed felt dealing with the issue of corruption was “all talk and no action”, while one in three felt Mr Ramaphosa was not doing enough to prevent Covid-19 corruption. Over 80% of respondents said the president should make an example of those who are corrupt to send a message to future perpetrators

Dealing with corruption

Corruption has often been termed, “the scourge of humanity”, said to have been around since society organised for the first time. It is not unique to South Africa or developing nations. It inhibits economic growth, affects business operations, employment, and investments, while dramatically reducing public trust in government. The arduous task of proving cases beyond a shadow of doubt in a criminal court is not the only mechanism used to address issues of corruption.  Independent political and economic analyst, JP Landman, prepared an in-depth political research note for Nedbank Private Health as reported in Biznews ( In the report, he gives examples to show that actions have been taken and are being taken to tackle corruption in South Africa. However, he does emphasise that “getting rid of people, replacing them with better ones, and building up institutions take time.” It is also pointed out: “A lot of action is being taken through civil proceedings (sequestration, asset seizure, and civil claims). This does not have the drama of orange overalls, but there are still consequences for the perpetrators and public money is being recovered.”

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is currently investigating 17 tenders involving “politically exposed persons”, worth R1.2 billion (or 60% of the R2 billion it is probing), according to the tax collector’s commissioner, Edward Kieswetter, as reported to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Friday [21 August].

Corruption has been a much-discussed topic in South Africa for many years and there are many who believe that it will take a seismic shift to alter the situation. In an article, “To recuperate from the injurious legacy of state capture, South Africa needs to adopt a comprehensive amnesty process”, authors Robert Appelbaum, Gavin Rome, Sechaba Mohapi, and Ryan Hopkins maintain: “Ridding South Africa of deep-rooted corruption will require an innovative and multifaceted approach. We suggest that a structured corruption amnesty could serve as one necessary aspect of such an approach. The systemic nature of corruption in South Africa, together with the influence and power of many of its (corrupt) government officials, has effectively prevented any tangible success from being obtained by conventional anti-corruption measures. We submit, therefore, that South Africa should adopt a comprehensive amnesty process in order to facilitate a rapid institutional, political and cultural change that will enable South Africa to commence a long-term process of corruption eradication.” They go on to stress that amnesty ought not to be the primary anti-corruption measure, but that “a more long-term solution is necessary, in which robust and professional investigation and prosecution of corruption offences, committed post a determined cut-off date, will be paramount.” This would not be an easily-accepted approach, it would require extensive engagement with the citizens of South Africa, together with public interest associations, to agree on the conditions required to be fulfilled by an applicant for amnesty, the extent of the privacy for the amnesty process, and duration for which the amnesty is available to the public.

South Africa has an established legacy when it comes to amnesty processes: firstly, an amnesty process assisted in bringing about a political transition from apartheid to a democratic dispensation; thereafter, amnesty was also used as a means to regularise the tax affairs of those South Africans who had contravened various exchange control laws. The process was then taken further in order to assist in the goal of overcoming historic and systematic State-administered racial oppression under apartheid, by granting conditional amnesty to perpetrators of various apartheid-era crimes through the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act 34 of 1995 (“the Act”) and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Despite many criticisms over the years, the TRC represented an important moment in the history of South Africa – where the intended purpose was to begin a process of healing, not only for the individuals who had been victims of gross human rights violations but for the whole of South Africa.


Jesus addressed corruption among the scribes of His day (who occupied influential positions in society) when He said: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretence make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”(Luke 20:46-47) In Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, it is explained that “devour widows’ houses” meant that “They did under the pretence of counselling them in the knowledge of the law and in the management of their estates took advantage of their ignorance and their unprotected state, and either extorted large sums for their counsel, or perverted the property to their own use.” Jesus is very clear that those guilty of corruption would be held to account.

However, there is also an account of the beautiful work of the Spirit within the life of someone who was known to have become wealthy through ill-gotten gain – Zacchaeus. The short narrative in Luke 19 explains that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. Tax collectors were despised as traitors (working for the Roman Empire, not for their Jewish community), and seen as corrupt. In the account we see Zacchaeus reach a point of deep conviction where he commits to repaying those he had cheated. He does not simply meet the letter of the law; he offers to repay four times as much as he has defrauded others! Zacchaeus found his salvation in Jesus, and it transformed his life.

Many South Africans are professing Christians, and many have interceded for their nation through deeply troubling and dangerous times. There is concern that the corrosive impact of corruption could even impact South Africa’s legacy as the leading missionary-sending nation in Africa. If one reads the many comments doing the rounds, it appears that South Africans have become exasperated by the apparent rampant corruption, and lack of a breakthrough in addressing the issue. The current – deeply resistant – impasse in the physical realm requires a monumental shift in the spiritual realm.

Former South African MP, Cheryllyn Dudley, suggests quite a radical approach in her book, Through My Eyes: “While President Ramaphosa has prioritised the rooting-out of corruption and state capture and the recovery of stolen public monies, efforts to prosecute the corrupt and recover funds looted is proving more difficult than anticipated. A new approach, like offering amnesty for corruption and an opportunity for offenders to make amends, could be just what the doctor ordered.” She goes on to explain: “Amnesty would not condone the actions of perpetrators, but provide an opportunity for restorative justice. In addition, the reparations would be of greater benefit to society than simply locking people away.”

Please pray with us:

  • For Mr Ramaphosa and all those in leadership, that they will be able to take the necessary steps towards effectively addressing this issue
  • For there to be a deep work of the Spirit – that there may be many ‘Zacchaeus’ moments
  • For believers to effectively wage the spiritual battle required of them in this time


IMAGE: The Telegraph