Lies, scams and fraud: SA's 'dirty' politicians get a merciless drubbing

By Adiel Ismail  

First published in News24 on 26 December 2023.

Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa Thabo Makgoba levelled a stinging attack against South Africa's politicians, while at least one analyst said the government's failures are eroding the support it found in certain sections of civil society.

"We've been captured by lies," Makgoba said in his trademark frank manner at the Midnight Mass at St George's Cathedral in Cape Town on Christmas Eve.

He used most of his sermon to speak about the war in Gaza.

"Let me end this reflection on Palestine by simply stating: This war must stop. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Hamas leaders must go to the table. The Americans must stop arming Israel. Iran must stop arming Hamas and anyone else supplying weapons to those killing fields must stop doing so," he said.

"Neither soldiers nor civilians are machines; cannon fodder to be used for other people's ends. Arms never win peace, no matter who the enemy is – they only enrich the arms manufacturers and their shareholders, whose shares on the stock exchanges of the world will go up and up."

A trust deficit

Turning to South Africa, he lamented the lack of trust between political leaders and South Africans as he underscored the 2023 South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB) survey results.
The SARB, one of South Africa's longest-running public opinion surveys, was first conducted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in 2003.

It found that trust in the national government had dropped to 32% in 2023, from 63% in 2007. Confidence levels in political parties placed the ANC at 37%, the DA at 25%, and the EFF was on an upward trend, with confidence levels climbing to 32% from 20% in 2017. 

"In 2013, two out of every 10 South Africans said they found it difficult to trust that our leaders would do the right thing. A decade later, the figure has quadrupled – in 2023 eight out of every 10 people agree that leaders are untrustworthy," Makgoba said.

The upcoming 2024 polls are set to be highly contested, with a coalition of opposition parties vying for the electoral majority.

Worn down by lies

Makgoba said it was frightening to realise that society had become so worn down by lies while politicians were holding on tighter than ever to power ahead of the national and provincial elections.

"[A]s politicians begin to realise they may not be in power after the next election, their deception, scams and fraud grow more blatant by the day as they grow hungrier and hungrier for the ill-gotten proceeds of power."

He added: 

They walk shamelessly and brazenly with their dirty feet through every aspect of our South African lives.

Makgoba said it was alarming that 55 000 public servants earned more than a million rand a year, while scores of South Africans were languishing in poverty. "Fifty-five thousand! This when eight and half million desperate people receive a social grant of R350 a month!"

After almost 30 years of democracy, South Africa remains among the most unequal societies in the world and this was echoed in the SARB results, which found that in the past year one in four South Africans experienced food insecurity.

This as hard-pressed South African consumers have been weighed down by a weak economy, high interest rates and stagnant wages.

Adiel Ismail is the Prime News Editor of News24.