Busting corruption starts with ordinary folk

Dongcheng Qu, China. Photo: Sabel Blanco

One of the many things that was often a cause of intrigue living among the Chinese people was their ability to follow instruction. Frequently this was a cause of conflict between locals and foreigners especially. In the mind of the foreigner, the Chinese person was simply unreasonable for not allowing space to manoeuvre and compromise. 

Returning one day from the shop, I remember being met at our residence by an argument between a fellow African and the Chinese security guard. The security guard was insisting that my Ghanian brother’s temperature be taken on leaving and returning to the building, even if Kwesi had simply stepped out just for a puff. This was the instruction that was given to the young security guard by his superiors. 

Kwesi, on the other hand, couldn’t believe that a young lad, who must have been an age to be his son, was reprimanding him and insisting that he will not be permitted to enter the building, he had just left for three minutes to smoke if he did not have his temperature taken again. Having his temperature taken again was now no longer the issue by the time I met them. What had become the issue was this young lad’s audacity to reprimand and instruct one old enough to be his father. 

Together with the age-old practice of sharing gifts which can be easily interpreted by others as a form of a ‘payment’, the Chinese have had this discipline of the respect for authority for centuries. One often wondered where the world’s largest manufacturing economy would be today if everybody, all 1.2 billion of them, just did their own thing or cut corners. 

Following instructions and respect for the one whose task it is to maintain order, even if he or she be a lowly security guard, is central to Chinese culture. No matter whom one is, no matter one’s station in life, you must follow instructions and those endowed with the task of maintaining law and order are given this respect because their task is a noble one. 

Law enforcement, of any sort, must therefore be beyond any form of reproach in China. In its own fight against corruption, China has ensured that law enforcement agencies proffer no favour to anyone suspected of corruption and that these agencies act without fear or favour.

However, as Mac Maharaj has testified in his biography “Shades of Difference”, law enforcement agencies in South Africa are often used to pursue particular agendas against specific individuals. Of course, this practice did not emerge in 1994. The practice was instilled and institutionalised during apartheid. 

Not only did the Scorpions come under fire and the NPA itself brought into disrepute, but with the court order overturning the findings of the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the Arms Deal, even the judiciary has now been brought into question in our fight against corruption. 

The Chinese acknowledge that with the liberalisation of the market during the late 1970’s not only was the Chinese economy opened but so were the floodgates of corruption in China. Since 2012, President Xi Jinping himself has championed a vociferous fight against the ‘tigers and flies’, meaning high ranking and ordinary citizens, involved in corruption. 

Yet as in China, the fight against corruption must start with our law enforcement agencies and not politicians. Only when these are not guilty of favour, fear or corruption and maintain rigour as that Chinese security guard does will South Africa begin to see winnable combat against corruption. Busting corruption starts with the ordinary police person and us respecting them.

Wesley Seale has just returned from Beijing where he completed his PhD.