Web of corruption ensnares South Africa: There is much suspicion that people in positions of power are looting the shop before it is sold. John Carlin reports from Johannesburg on the rising tide of fraud

THE PORTABLE toilet, a plastic contraption shaped like an old British telephone box, has become a favourite subject of after-dinner conversation at white South African tables.

After crime, corruption is what everybody is talking about. And the portable toilet has become a national symbol of corruption, following the revelation last year that two government employees had sold contracts for the manufacture of several thousand such devices, all of which stand unused, in regimental formation, in townships around the land.

The toilet scam formed part of a far wider scandal involving the misappropriation of hundreds of millions of pounds by officials of a government department whose purpose was to improve the lives of black communities.

One scandal after another in the past six months has led local editorial writers painfully to conclude that corruption, obscured over the years by the greater sin of apartheid, is as endemic in South Africa as it is elsewhere on the continent. The difference between the South African variant and that of, say, Zaire, is that no one has accused President F W de Klerk or any other member of the cabinet of having become the richest person in the country. This in turn has prompted some to argue that a better analogy might be found in the institutionalised graft of the old Communist regimes. The difference here, of course, is that a great deal more cash has flowed through the South African system.

In the last month it has emerged that a state-run motor accident fund, to which motorists contribute every time they buy a litre of petrol, is 3bn rand ( pounds 700m) in the red; that the Department of Transport had mismanaged hundreds of millions of rand, an example of one of the lesser crimes being the practice of renting out state-owned farms to officials for 10 rand a month; that senior officials, white and black, of Soweto City Council had conspired with contractors and consultants to misuse tens of millions targeted for township development.

As for the black 'homelands' and their Pretoria-sanctioned leaders, stories of corruption are rife. One, about 700 government cars in the Ciskei which went missing, is a typical case. In another 'homeland', scores of unused Mercedes vehicles were found simply to be gathering rust in the open air. Rather more seriously, an independent body engaged in drought relief revealed at the end of last year that only a fraction of a 300m rand government package aimed at rural blacks in the rain-starved north of the country had reached its destination.

In addition, there have been a number of exposes surrounding the use of public money by the police and the army to set up under-cover outfits whose purpose it was either to carry out murders or to mount campaigns aimed at supporting the government's black allies and discrediting the African National Congress. In this climate, a newspaper story two weeks ago claiming that the government planned to use 200m rand of treasury funds to provide MPs - most of whom face the prospect of redundancy as democracy beckons - with pensions and golden handshakes, did not go down well with the taxpayers.

The Cambridge-based Centre for International Documentation on Organised and Economic Crime, which is staging a symposium this week in South Africa, remarked in a statement that the process of political transition had been marked by an alarming decline in ethical standards.

'Political uncertainty and social unrest have shortened the time horizons of all economic players and created a motivation to get rich quick, no matter what,' the centre said. An analyst at the symposium added: 'Fraud . . . is the only industry that is really thriving in a poor economic climate.'

There is a generalised suspicion throughout the country that people in positions of power everywhere are looting the shop before it is sold. But, as the Johannesburg Sunday Star said in an editorial shortly after the toilet scam was uncovered, the problem is neither new, nor should it have come as any great surprise.

'What can you expect from a government that has been absolutely corrupted by 40 years of power?' said the Star. 'The deeds done in the name of apartheid - the Nats (National Party) called it patriotism - are hideous, and under the cloak of secrecy many of them filled their pockets at the expense of a nation of white sheep and a nation of oppressed blacks.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'