Experiencing corruption first hand has made one feel that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before there is any transformation in our society. Experiencing corruption through Local Government has made our work as Social Justice Workers very difficult.

“Social Justice refers to the overall fairness of a society and the manner in which it divides its rewards and burdens upon groups of people. A government, for example, is generally charged with maintaining the welfare of all citizens; however, welfare is often not equal amongst all groups within society”, Writes Lilly Cohen and Dennis Young.

As Social Justice Workers our aim is to ensure that we work towards that fairness, equality and justice for all people. As Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) we need to partner with the government to ensure that some of the work we do benefit people in local communities in order to improve the lives of the marginalised.

Recently, as we entered a particular city and visited their Local Municipality Offices. We were referred to the office of the Community Development Worker (CDW), where we had to get all information necessary to work in the community. We informed them that we needed participants, venues and catering for our workshops, followed by an event, which would combine two youth groups from different cities. The partnership was working nicely until we refused to give in to corruption. The person from the municipality arranged all the necessary logistics that we needed but the prices were unreasonably high. We informed them that we would be organizing all logistics ourselves and get cheaper services.

Later, we realised that they were not willing to assist us with anything since we didn’t agree to the suppliers they brought to us. The most important information we needed from them, was to obtain youth participants that were unemployed in the townships as we didn’t have any contacts (yet) in the communities. They never provided us with that information either and they were unreachable ever since. Upon our arrival a day before the intervention workshops we had to source participant’s ourselves. We had to approach people on the street looking for unemployed youth individuals and transport services to take them for the three days to the venues.

Maybe a mistake we made was to not highlight what we can do and cannot do. But it still is no excuse for exploiting us. They knew we were an NGO and didn’t have any means to provide more than what we can offer yet they still felt that they needed to be compensated for assisting. For a local government official it is very unprofessional and unethical. As Civil Society we need that collaboration with government to do our social justice work. This makes you question the kind of people that are placed in positions to serve the basic needs of the people.  They seem to be focused on the status of the position because they don’t care about the interest of the people.

Corruption at municipality level is an injustice to our society. People are missing out on opportunities and are suffering at the hands of local government officials who only care about their personal gain. What does this mean to us as Social Justice Workers? If we aren’t able to work with local government officials, we will be blocked from doing any work in the communities. We need their assistance to get access to communities and as well through to people. In many cities we also need their approval to do any work in the areas. Without NGO’s partnering with local government we will not be able to improve the living conditions and the lives of people in society. If we aren’t able to trust and maintain a good working relationship with government, we are going to struggle to sustain our work in society.

Corruption has also spread through to young unemployed individuals in the community. They are also using NGO’s for personal gain. In the process of us assisting them through these intervention workshops, some have also tried to extort money from us when we asked for services around in their areas.

When dealing with corruption, we need to keep in mind that it has no skin colour. The level of corruption is so pervasive that it is even thought of as high level state capture. The reality on the ground is that it gets in the way of meaningful work to build South Africa into a place where everyone, especially the marginalized, can strive.

Caroline Hlekiso is an intern within the Sustained Dialogue Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Nosindiso Mtimkulu is a Senior Project Leader at the IJR. 

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