SA our land: Another corruption scandal, another day

The Special Investigating Unit told parliament this week it had identified over R1.4 billion in fraudulent grants made by the National Lotteries Commission (NLC).

The public yawned. Been there, seen that. Let’s move along. Admittedly, South Africans have a lot on their plates at the moment.

And to be fair, at times SA feels like a scrambled jigsaw puzzle. One is so overwhelmed by distracting detail the brain cannot comprehend the full picture.

The NLC matter pulls together several strands of how corruption operates in this country. Most importantly, it shows its scale and pervasiveness.

First, the issue of scale. The SIU investigation covers only the six years from 2015 to 2021. The R1.4 billion stolen involves only three dozen grants.

However, each year the NLC dispenses more than R1.1 billion to about 3 600 charities and not-for-profits. As the DA’s shadow minister of trade and industry, Mat Cuthbert, tells me: “We will never know the full scale of the looting at the NLC.

Take that R1.4 billion and double it or triple it.” Second, the issue of pervasiveness. Corruption is deeply and perhaps inextricably embedded in government and corporate structures.

They are two hands washing one another. The government peddles the fiction that state corruption is a regrettable anomaly, a feature largely of the nine years – 2009 to 2018 – that Jacob Zuma was president.

The reality is that at least from 1999, the ANC at the highest levels colluded in the looting. That continues to this day, under self-described anti-corruption crusader President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Equally threadbare is the fairy tale of morality and social responsibility spun by Big Business. Many of the corporate world’s historically august institutions not only participated in, enabled or ignored state looting but they’ve long been doing the same in the private sector.

Think Deloitte at Tongaat Hulett (at least R3.5 billion fraud at board level) and at Steinhoff the evaporation of about R180 billion of inflated assets.

The NLC looting was not uncovered out of the blue. From 2017 onwards, two feisty journalists – Ray Joseph of GroundUp and Anton van Zyl of the Limpopo Mirror – wrote at least 90 substantive articles detailing the criminality and mismanagement at the NLC.

They were steadfastly ignored by the NLC board and jeered by ANC politicians. Their lives were threatened.

GroundUp and the Mirror, small operations with few financial resources, were harried with cripplingly expensive court actions, designed to stall their revelations.

The Auditor-General gave the NLC five successive clean audits because, as it explained when challenged by Joseph and Van Zyl, the state audit did not involve ever examining whether the grants were going to legitimate entities.

Joseph tells me that he agrees with Cuthbert that the full scale of the NLC scandal will never be known. “It’s like journeying in an unknown land with no map,” he says. “You have no idea of its size or where the cities are.”

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