South Africa’s population is largely made up of young people; those who are below the age of 35 years constitute about 66% of the total population. With over 54 million South Africans, 18.5% are between the ages 10-19; and 24% are aged 15-24 (StatSA, 2014).
The Population Reference Bureau estimates youth (age 10 to 24) to represent 25% of the world population in 2013 and 32% of the population in the least developed countries (PRB, 2013). Beyond 2015, the civil society campaign pushing for a new Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework estimates that 87% of the population in developing countries is under 25 (Beyond 2015, 2013). These numbers support the argument for the need to involve youth in the struggle for social change.
In addition to representing a significant part of the population, young people tend to be more exposed to bribery and therefore particularly vulnerable to corruption, as they are involved in almost every aspect of society – as students, pupils, workers, customers and citizens, (Transparency International 2009).
According to Transparency International’s (TI) Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) 2013, 27% of people under the age of 30 paid a bribe in that last 12 months worldwide. Some country results demonstrate the vulnerability of youth to corruption in specific country contexts, such as in Indonesia (44% of youth for 34% of adults), Argentina (20% of youth for 11% of adults) or Bangladesh (47% of youth for 37% of adults).
Against this backdrop, youth can play a pivotal role in the fight against corruption. They tend to be more open to wide-scale socio-political transformation and have less vested interested in maintaining the status quo (Transparency International 2009). Young people are an integral element for the success of a cultural change in attitudes and behaviour towards corruption and in the shaping of the values of tomorrow, since they represent the future of their countries.
While every citizen has to play an effective role in the fight against corruption, the youth, by virtue of their very nature and in their own self-interest as young people, should go the extra mile in the fight against corruption.
The immediate question becomes where does one begin? In order for us to root out corruption, we must have a conceptual frame work of what we mean when speaking about corruption.
According to Hyslop, (2005:4), even though corruption is something which is hard to define, the the salient feature would seem to be that corruption necessarily involves illegal or unprocedural activity. The National Planning Commission Diagnostic Report, defines corruption as the misuse of an official position for personal gain, (2010: 26). Hyslop however continues in stating that corruption must involve the breach of laws or administrative rules governing the allocation of public resources for purposes of political or economic gain, or in order to gain coercive power over individuals or groups, (2005:4).
An action is corrupt in so far as it transgresses particular laws or regulations. Whether we think those laws or rules are politically or morally correct is irrelevant to whether or not an action can be considered corrupt. However heinous a particular action by state officials, we cannot technically consider it corrupt if it is taken according to due legal and administrative process. (Hyslop, 2005: 4).
Depending on one’s position in society and affiliation and ideological orientation, young people’s perception of corruption varies in South Africa. Some believe the current ANC government is extremely corrupt, other believe the private sector is more corrupt and the perception of government corruption is ill-informed and other believe that corruption is an issue of race and class. Regardless of these varies views, what is evident is that there seems to be a general consensus amongst South African youth and the general population that corruption is a problem in South Africa.
The 2014 Corruption Perception Index which measures perceived levels of corruption with the first country being the least corrupt and the 178th being the most corrupt, ranks South Africa 67th out 175 countries.
Even though the perceived corruption in South Africa is higher than the actual proven cases of corruption, one still has to ask the question as to why corruption occurs in the first place.
According to the World Bank (1999), corruption refers to private wealth seeking behaviour by officials representing the state and the public authority, or the misuse of public goods by public officials for private gains; whilst in the private sector, corruption is associated with the payment of bribes to circumvent laid-down procedures. Thus, corruption is prevalent in situations in which people in positions of trust have monopoly to use their discretion in executing their roles with less accountability to their superiors or stakeholders to the extent of abusing the monopoly for their private gains. While corruption is a global problem, the impact is felt more in poor and underdeveloped countries, where corruption results in the diversion of public resources into private hands to the detriment of the poor.
In the case of South Africa where unemployment is highest amongst the youth, corruption has a detrimental effect especially on the youth. The youth is particularly affected by the distribution of jobs and government tenders along political and/factional and sometimes even racial lines.
To this end, young people are drawn into corrupt activities and contribute to the maintenance of the status quo. To the extent that many young people in South Africa are currently deeply involved in corrupt activities.
A study done by the Institute of Security Studies (2015) indicate that young South Africans are increasingly conscious of fraud and corruption and the negative impact it has on their future. However, for some young South Africans the perception has been created that a job in government means access to lucrative business and an ‘easy way’ to make money.
The latest 2014 National Victims of Crime Survey (NVCS) results show that the number of households who have been asked by a government or public official to pay a bribe (money, a favour or a present) for a service that he/she was legally required to perform, has more than doubled since 2012 at 4% to 10% in 2014. The results in the 2014 NVCS also show that a large majority (43%) of households believe that it is pointless for them to report instances of corruption because ‘nobody will care’.
So what is to be done? The role of youth in the fight against corruption should happen at two levels. One, at their personal level and secondly, their professional level.
As the youth, it is up to us to look up for the role models and derive inspiration and keep their heads high. We should have higher ideals in life which goes beyond the self-centered boundary and the precinct of the narrow mind. The higher the goal, the greater the potency in action and fruitful results rather than those of lower ideals towards accumulation of wealth and indulgence in earthly pleasure. This is the first and foremost step the youth has to take in the fight against corruption at their personal level. This process is intrinsically linked to consciousness and the importance of having a socially conscious youth.
As young people, we must now allow ourselves to become money making machines at the detriment of the social wellbeing of our society. We must become leaders through right action. We must start to see the importance of human values and human good over and above material gain at all cost even when it is an the expense of the poor.
Once the youth of South Africa recognize corruption as a weed to be destroyed from our midst and show themselves as determined to fight it and not be passive, we can, indeed, hope for a good future for the country.
By Nonceba Mhlauli
Nonceba Mhlauli is a member of the National Executive Committee of SASCO and the NEC Communications Coordinator
- ‘2013 Corruption Perceptions Index’, Transparency International, 2013, http://www.transparency.org.
- ‘Helping countries combat corruption and the role of the World Bank’, World Bank, http://www1.worldbank.org.
- ‘Mid-year population estimates’, StatsSA, 2014 http://www.statssa.gov.za
- ‘Victims of Crime Survey’, 2014, StatsSA http://www.statssa.gov.za
- ‘When I grow up I want to be corrupt!’, 2015, Institute for Security Studies http://www.issafrica.org/iss-today/when-i-grow-up-i-want-to-be-corrupt