What is a 'vote against corruption' in 2019?

by Prof Deon Rossouw | Published on 25 April 2019 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

Jacob Zuma was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa as President of South Africa in full view a little more than a year ago: we all watched the dramatic scenes from our couches and on our smartphones. Such is the nature of our system – major decisions are in the hands of political parties. But now, for the first time since, it is the voter’s moment.


The information is out there to decide which ANC is the most credible.

Shortly before that, The Ethics Institute conducted its annual Citizens’ Bribery Survey, and asked almost 5 000 respondents the following question: “If the political party you supported was enabling bribery and corruption, would you change your vote?” Astonishingly, 7 out of 10 (71%)  said “yes”. This figure should be comforting, because it implies that voter agency isn’t dead. On the other hand, the statistic seems hard to believe, given the high probability that the African National Congress (ANC) will retain its majority even after having been unambiguously implicated in state capture.

Can a vote in favour of the ANC be a ‘vote against corruption’ at the same time?

The truth is that, though there may be one ANC listed on the ballot paper, there are two very different ANCs in reality. If seven out of 10 people will cast a vote against corruption, and still vote ANC, then this will be the clearest indication that the nation is convinced by Ramaphosa’s version of the party. If, however, we see a substantial drop in support for the current ruling party, it will be clear that the 71% corruption-averse voting public fear the ANC of Zuma, Magashule and co., and are turning to other parties.

Take a citizen who has historically voted ANC, but who is morally opposed to corruption. How will such a person decide which ANC is the real one?

The ANC, according to Cyril Ramaphosa, is in a process of regeneration. Hard evidence for this claim can be found, firstly, in the various commissions of inquiry exploring institutional breakdown at multiple points over the past decade. Without these processes – expensive and time-consuming as they may be – we would still be ignorant about shenanigans at Bosasa, for example. Secondly, tainted leaders at the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Revenue Service have been replaced with people of integrity. And the Asset Forfeiture unit has also been revived. These latter changes, taken together, mean that the country again has the teeth to punish corruption and enforce the rule of law. Thirdly, lifestyle audits for government officials are to be introduced, with a ten-year backward-looking scope. The anti-corruption logic of this is clear: expose and recover, where possible, the ill-gotten gains of the past, and make upfront exposure mandatory going forward.

Then there is the other ANC. This is the ANC of the Secretary-General Ace Magashule, whose activities have inspired one investigative journalist to write an entire book detailing his unscrupulousness. This is the ANC who is infamous for milking the public coffers through the Estina dairy farm project, and rewarding those closely associated with the Former Premier of the Free State with lucrative contracts irrespective of service delivery. This is the ANC that threw its weight behind the Former President, and that is consequently now in the hotseat at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. It is the ANC at whose feet can be laid the breakdown of South Africa’s state-run entities and, by extension, the funds siphoned away from the citizens it was supposed to serve. 

Given the way the ANC has handled the publication of its own candidates list, it is clear that the party is itself aware of a split personality. Responding to the outcry against the presence of implicated officials (chief among them, Nomvula Mokonyane, Bathabile Dlamini, Malusi Gigaba and Mosebenzi Zwane), the party first bought some time by batting concerns to its own integrity commission. Then, alarmed at that body’s red-flagging of none other than Deputy President David Mabuza and National Chairperson Gwede Mantashe, it promised to ‘settle the matter after elections.’

Clearly, the party also doesn’t know who the real ANC of 2019 is going to be, and will have wait and see, just like the rest of us.

All of this results in an increase in the responsibility of each voter to make an informed decision. We would do well to heed the call of the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, who encouraged voters to examine the candidate lists of all parties and to vote for parties whose candidates represent the values they stand for. The responsibility holds for supporters of all political parties to ensure that their vote is against corruption and for a more ethical society, but it is particularly cogent this year for those who have historically identified with the ANC. The information is out there to decide which ANC is the most credible.

Deon Circle 

Prof Deon Rossouw is CEO of The Ethics Institute. He holds a Doctorate in Philosophy from University of Stellenbosch.