The most corrupt of Britain’s politicians was one of her most productive leaders. He used a network of corruption to bring stability to the nation at a time of uncertain transition, and prepared the way for British greatness. Could we in South Africa turn our endemic corruption to fruitful ends?

Britain in the early 18th Century needed a new system of organisation and purpose. After the religious fervour and high ideals of the 17th Century, especially under Cromwell, the revolutionary fires had burnt out. The sense of great national destiny had ebbed away. Religion had been replaced with property, virtue with self-interest. The country was becoming richer but needed stability. Paul Johnson, the British historian, writes:

But of course political stability could not be bought merely by a foggy and meaningless ideology, a kind of constitutional opium. Something more practical was required. By accident the English managing classes found the answer: bribery.

The British turned their selfish eyes to a genius of corruption. Robert Walpole became the first British Prime Minister and was the longest serving. He led the nation well. He ruled from 1721 to 1742, wisely, efficiently and peacefully, with no ideology or religion except a worship of money. He never raised his sword to any powerful opponent but opened his wallet instead. He brought conciliation between parliament and crown. Parliament became increasingly important, but under Walpole it was not encumbered by democracy. The ordinary people didn’t vote for parliamentary seats; the rich people bought them. Bribery pacified everybody who might have caused trouble. The widespread corruption did not punish or hinder the little businessmen and inventors who were quietly laying the foundations of the Industrial Revolution. On the contrary, the corrupt system left them to prosper, and even inadvertently encouraged them.

After Walpole had finished his great work, he was replaced with progressively more honest and democratic prime ministers, culminating in Pitt the Younger, brilliant, liberal, frugal, and pure. He matched Walpole in efficiency but was otherwise his opposite.

South Africa is not ready for a Pitt but can she produce a Walpole?

The system of rule adopted by the ANC is the same as that of most governments in post-colonial Africa. The ruling party bribes the powerful and important people (the minority) to keep them on side. It fools all the poor and unimportant people (the majority) to vote for it at elections or tells them they don’t want elections at all. If this fails, it crushes them with brute force. It must be able to loot enough money from the state coffers to bribe the powerful, and it must have sufficiently strong police and army to terrorise the populace. In Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF ran out of money to steal but had strong enough armed forces to smash the people into submission. In South Africa, the ANC is struggling to find more coffers to loot and, as was shown in recent riots, its police and soldiers are too useless to resist any concerted uprising.

The ANC’s system of bribery, unlike Walpole’s, is barren. When it is combined with the ANC’s hatred of private enterprise, the result bleeds the economy and deepens poverty. Whenever the ANC sees a profitable enterprise, it punishes it as well as looting it. Surely if it stopped punishing and looted less, everybody would be better off?

BEE, for example, is legalised bribery, where any company wanting to do business in South Africa must hand over a big chunk of its wealth to ANC cronies. The same company must also be crippled with restrictive labour laws and miles of red tape. Surely if the ANC reduced the costs of business by allowing companies to hire and fire freely, at voluntarily agreed wages, the businesses would flourish and make profits? If the ANC took smaller bribes from them, everybody would be better off. Twenty percent  from a thriving business is better than forty percent  from a collapsing one.

Centralised bargaining councils and minimum wages are devices to shut poor people out of the economy, thereby placating the ANC’s powerful trade union allies. If the ANC ended these job-destroying policies, and allowed little people to trade and do business as they wished, the whole economy would flourish and the coffers would fill. Then the ANC could get sufficient loot to buy off the trade union leaders. “Listen, Comrade, if you stop this bargaining council nonsense, I promise you a new BMW by Christmas.”

Similarly with education. The ANC has wrecked the education of most black children by having to bribe SADTU, the ruinous teachers’ union, with protected jobs. SADTU leaders, like ANC leaders, make sure their own children go to private or Model-C schools with no SADTU teachers. If the ANC promised SADTU’s leaders lots of money and status if they would allow everybody to have a decent, SADTU-free education, black children could acquire the skills the economy needs and everybody would become richer.

Let the ANC leaders keep their colossal salaries, their Mercedes, their business class travel, their high status, and their private schools with white teachers, but can’t they be a bit more sensible about their corruption?

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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