#AngeloAgrizzi: The Mirror We Should All Be Holding Up?

Angelo Agrizzi has put a new face to the rot of corruption in South Africa. He is forever stuck in our minds as a corpulent manifestation of the excesses he so minutely detailed at the Zondo Commission into State Capture.

But BOSASA, the Guptas, Jacob Zuma and any other high-profile individuals or organisations that emerge from these commissions represent only a part of the corruption story in South Africa. Over the past few years I have worked with and/or mentored several SMME’s – businesses that typically turnover less than R10 million per annum. Each one has told me their own painful stories of how they have had to play the “tender game” to survive. Whether they are in waste management, building, consulting, electrical contracting you name it, if they are supplying government (or indeed the private sector for that matter), they have a story to tell of corruption.

Corruption is our malignant cancer that doesn’t just exist amongst the big players. It has spread into every province, every city, every municipality, town and village. It is a part of South African’s every day, lived reality. It has infected every sector from construction to music (allegedly, bands have to bribe judges to win a SAMA music award.)

This stuff will never make it to the Zondo Commission and most of it will never see a courtroom.  But it is killing us. Because corruption is not something we do per se, it has become a part of who we are – of what makes us South African. If you don’t believe me, ask a small business owner. Or easier yet, ask your friends and family.

The good news is that at our end of corruption – the “little people’s” end – there is stuff we can do to put an end to it. You may not like what I am going to say, but if we all do our bit it will help to save our country. We will need to be prepared to spend time in jail if we are caught drinking and driving, because we refuse to pay a bribe. We will need to be prepared to report anyone who asks us for a bribe. I suggest SAPS plus the Corruption Watch hotline 0800 023 456. The more detail we can provide the better. We will need to do the same with our friends and family who are engaged in corruption.

If we are not prepared to tackle corruption ourselves, then we can’t say that the likes of Agrizzi, Watson, Gupta, Zuma or anyone else is solely to blame for the ruin of South Africa at the hands of the corrupt.

We are too.

Losing Hope for South Africa?

In his best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl describes how the smoking of cigarettes came to denote a loss of hope in concentration camp prisoners.

Given the lack of even the most basic necessities in World War 2 camps like Auschwitz which Frankl endured, cigarettes were a luxury reserved for the SS captors and the “capos” – SS appointed prisoners who headed up labour squads. Being this scarce, cigarettes became part of camp currency and prisoners could be rewarded with a few sticks for performing especially taxing or unsavory tasks. But the prisoners didn’t smoke the cigarettes; they would use them to buy soup or a mouthful of bread to sustain their lives. Cigarettes of themselves had no use beyond a means by which to barter for life-giving items. So, when one witnessed a fellow prisoner smoking, it was an ominous sign. You knew that all hope had been lost and it was only a matter of time. You see hope is not a nice-to-have. It is essential to our well-being and even survival. We simply must have something to believe in; a purpose or faith in the broadest sense. Some call it a “why” we live. Frankl quotes Nietzsche who said: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”. I think we can all understand why a prisoner in a World War 2 concentration camp would lose hope and smoke their cigarettes. But what about us? How quickly and easily do we lose hope? The answer to this question recently came at me in the form of a good many responses to a column I wrote about the great hope that can be found in South Africa right now. Many people just didn’t want to hear it. One person’s words were particularly startling: “If you are still hopeful about this country then I feel sorry for you.” Now let’s be blunt here; we are not comparing our loss of hope to hope that finally slips from our grasp like the smoke rising from the gas ovens that we have witnessed for months and even years. This is quite simply the hope that is given up because we – and I include myself in this – don’t get our way. As soon as things get too hot in the kitchen (i.e. we are downgraded to junk status, our political party doesn’t win, our political party doesn’t look like it used to, we get the wrong Councillore, our President doesn’t get arrested on our timeframe, we discover that corruption goes beyond us paying cops the odd bribe, our roads get potholes, our currency devalues, our pension is eroded  etc.), we threaten to leave; we refuse to vote; we engage in anarchic and disruptive violence like the flinging of poo; we kill one another; we turn on our country and her people by engaging in negativity and racism. In Frankl’s terms, we sit down, light our cigarette and declare that all hope is lost. Really? Where is our resilience, our much-praised South African spirit and work ethic? Where is our willingness to fight for what we believe in as so many before us have done? How can we expect anything to change if we are not willing to do the changing? If we don’t change it, guess who gladly will: the corrupt and the criminal – to suit their greedy needs. How do we even begin doing this when all around us is doom and gloom? According to Frankl the only freedom that camp prisoners had left was the freedom to choose the attitude that they had to any given situation.  And of course, this is ultimately true for all of us: what attitude will I adopt in this situation – in South Africa nearing the end of 2017? Will I choose to give up hope, or to grab every hope I can and make the absolute most of life in this incredible country? And having adopted a positive attitude, what actions can I take to better the situation for me and mine and for us all? Positive actions – however small – are catalysts for hope to grow. And as hope grows so our desire to do more hopeful stuff follows. For all humanity the learning is clear: if people like Frankl and millions of others could find hope in the worst possible conditions, then we can all do it. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.

How to Perfect Corruption

You may remember an old advertising campaign for SAA that featured the somewhat benign strapline: “We didn’t invent flying, we just perfected it.”

This line sprang to mind recently whilst talking with a group of people at a work function. One of our group was talking quite openly – if a tad sheepishly – about how he had bribed a municipal official to help make something or other go smoothly in some or other area of the country where he is involved in some kind of business. I am of course protecting him and his company’s identity because – other than this little indiscretion – he is quite a nice fellow and I also happen to do some work for him that I would prefer not to lose. The conversation caused the above-mentioned advertising strap-line to resurrect itself from the deep recesses of my memory and I began to chuckle quietly to myself as I replayed it over-and-over in my mind replacing the word “we” with specific people’s names: “Shabir Shaik didn’t invent corruption, he just perfected it.”; “Jacob Zuma didn’t invent corruption, he just perfected it.” On-and-on I went, working my way through our cabinet, their friends, our state-owned enterprises and our sports teams. It was fabulously amusing in a sick kind of way.    Then the crash-boom-bang moment. I suddenly felt a little uneasy as my attention swung back to the conversation at hand and away from the ones who have become celebrities on little more than the grounds of their own corruption. There we sat, a group of hard-working, “upstanding” citizens – all of us relative unknowns, just getting about life in South Africa, contributing to the perfection of corruption; we nodded at the news of the infraction, smiled, drank our wine and ate our food and remained quite quiet. Now, even as I write this it sounds like I am being rather critical – perhaps over critical – of our reaction. In the context of a civil and polite gathering, what is one meant to do? It would be rude to tackle the person and make an issue of the thing. In addition to this it might also have been hypocritical: “Let he/she who is without sin cast the first stone” and all that. And apart from all that, the bribe itself was not millions (“shouldn’t we be focusing on catching those who are corrupt on a grander scale?”), it was a few thousand. Well actually a few tens of thousands. But it wasn’t chicken coop large or even fire pool large, it was just a decent amount to smooth a path; get things done nicely if you like. Also, it would have paved the way for jobs to be created and communities to be sustained. But this line of internal argument proved insufficient to assuage my guilt. So, I chose to get personal. I reminded myself that I might not be brave enough to speak out in person, but I do my bit; I write about citizen participation; about each of us being co-architects of a better future for all and playing our part in creating peace and stamping out corruption and other crime; I tell people to blow the whistle on corruption all the time. Is this not enough to be allowed to claim that I am doing all I can to prevent corruption being perfected in our country? Let’s forget about the above-mentioned bride for a moment because to be honest, in itself that bribe will have done little to perfect corruption. What perfects corruption is when people hear of corruption and do nothing. My mind wandered off again to an altogether less chuckle-inducing place: “Justin Foxton did not invent corruption, he just perfected it.” My self-justifying self now took over the argument: “That is not fair!” I simply cannot be accused of corruption let alone perfecting the jolly thing!” But now came the most piercing personal revelation of all: The thought process behind ignoring corruption is as devious – perhaps even more so – than the thought process that drives the corrupt act itself: I will pay this person with my silence to secure his business. He will give me money and I will give him protection. She will give me friendship and I will give her my faithful silence; he will be a brother to me and I will protect him come what may. It becomes so easy for me to point the finger at others when I am involved in the perfection of corruption all the time. We will overcome the nation-slayer called corruption as we acknowledge that we are all in some way complicit in its perfection. This is not about flogging ourselves. It’s about getting quite honest with ourselves and asking what we can personally do to turn the tide on corruption. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens and Emmanuel Josias Sithole.