Apartheid Era Crooks Exposed: A Damning New Report Exposes Instances of Deeply Entrenched Grand Corruption Involving High Ranking Politicians and Businessmen during the Apartheid Era. the Report Gives the Lie to Perceptions That Corruption in South Africa Is a Post-Democracy Era Phenomenon. Tom Nevin Reports

By Nevin, Tom | African Business, July 2006 | Go to article overview
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Apartheid Era Crooks Exposed: A Damning New Report Exposes Instances of Deeply Entrenched Grand Corruption Involving High Ranking Politicians and Businessmen during the Apartheid Era. the Report Gives the Lie to Perceptions That Corruption in South Africa Is a Post-Democracy Era Phenomenon. Tom Nevin Reports


Nevin, Tom, African Business


The damning report Apartheid Grand Corruption--assessing the scales of crime in South Africa from 1976-1994 is a compilation of investigated cases of corruption during that time. It documents and describes instances of corruption that took place during apartheid, in particular between 1976 and 1994.

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The report names not only former South African government leaders but also some leading businessmen. The report, prepared on behalf of civil society, was welcomed by the South African cabinet and some leaders in the business community, and came as a timely counterpoint for the current government.

Twelve years of democratic rule has been plagued by revelations of corruption in the government creating the impression that misrule and dishonesty in high political office is far worse now than it ever was under apartheid rule.

The administration has consistently protestated that much of the rot is the result of a culture of corruption deeply ingrained in the bureaucracy by the previous government.

The problem with government corruption in the days of apartheid was that everyone knew it was going on, but no-one knew the extent of it and it was impossible to probe anyway; so effective was the state security apparatus that it kept dark deeds away from prying eyes.

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The research focuses on large-scale corruption or maladministration involving members of the private sector or functionaries of the apartheid state.

Skilfully masked corruption

The report makes the point strongly that the apartheid government of South Africa was not as innocent of corruption as it liked to make out, but its misdeeds were skilfully and forcefully hidden from the public eye.

Perceptions of corruption are also the result of greater transparency in the current administration's dealings than was ever the case under the apartheid regime, the government argues.

This assertion is endorsed by the report. "In closed societies, which are highly militarised under dictatorial rule, the truth is hidden from public view by design," it says, pointing out that the issue of grand corruption under apartheid had not been publicly debated to any great degree.

The author of the report, Hennie Van Vuuren, says that since the advent of democratic rule, scant attention has been paid to the possibility that leading apartheid-era functionaries (in government and business) may have used the cover of authoritarian rule to illegally acquire vast sums of wealth in defiance even of the legal 'norms' of the time.

In the author's view, the old government was remembered as "brutal" in the way that it governed, but "honest" in the way it managed its finances.

The well-researched document turns that assumption on its head and shows conclusively that the apartheid government was a corrupt system of governance.

"A near monopoly on money, power and influence were in the hands of a minority," says Van Vuuren, "and they used this to either violently suppress the majority or, at best, transfer resources in order to stave off the inevitable revolution.

"In such a scenario the politics of apartheid is trivialised as misguided idealism and the role of the business community in such a system was primarily about legitimate shareholder profit."

In an overview of the report, the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) says it highlights an aspect of South Africa's past that has never been fully explored under the country's 12-year-old democratic dispensation "neither through a process of a truth commission nor importantly through investigations and prosecutions".

Stressing the need to explore these options, the report also calls for the country to learn from an inherited culture of impunity and recognise the inter-generational nature of corruption. It also contributes to the African debate on plunder and the need to return wealth stolen from Africa's people.

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Apartheid Era Crooks Exposed: A Damning New Report Exposes Instances of Deeply Entrenched Grand Corruption Involving High Ranking Politicians and Businessmen during the Apartheid Era. the Report Gives the Lie to Perceptions That Corruption in South Africa Is a Post-Democracy Era Phenomenon. Tom Nevin Reports
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