Saturday, December 1, 2012

Corruption and power struggles in South Africa, right down to the lowest level of government

This front-page story in today's New York Times tells of bribery and corruption in the Republic of South Africa, with a focus on lower levels of the government.  The dateline is Oshabeni, in KwaZulu-Natal, where a local African National Congress (ANC) leader, Dumisani Malunga, was murdered in early September this year.  Malunga was killed the night he was chosen as the ANC candidate for  a seat on the local council, and the man who murdered him was a rival for that local ANC endorsement.

Journalist Lydia Polgreen briefly describes the past two decades of South African history, including profound and worsening poverty, inequality and unemployment that have plagued the nation in recent years.  Accompanying the diminution of economic opportunity has been a rise in corruption, which has trickled down to rural communities like Oshabeni.  Polgreen writes:
In the ranks of public servants, the post of rural ward council member in a speck of a town like this one would seem no great prize. The job pays about $150 a month, and its occupant must digest a steady diet of complaints from residents about the most fundamental ailments afflicting South Africa: schools that do not teach, taps that do not deliver water, crime that the police seem helpless to stop, jobs that are impossible to find. 
But ward councilors are also a conduit for development projects in their areas, and they can influence the awarding of government contracts. The potential upside — earnings from bribes or surreptitious deals — is high.
Polgreen notes that since 2010 "nearly 40 politicians have been killed" in KwaZulu-Natal alone, "in battles over political posts."  That figure represents a three-fold increase over the prior three years, while  murders of political officials and candidates have also risen in Mpumalanga, North West, and Limpopo provinces.

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