Mcebisi Jonas (centre), the man who would not pocket a bribe. Pravin Gordhan (left), one of the progressive faces of the South African government. (Photo/GCIS/Flickr).

The Unusual Faces Of Corruption: In South Africa, You Are Bribed To Become Minister

MOST cases of corruption reported in Africa, involve politicians, their family members and cronies, public officials, and “tenderpreneurs” stealing taxpayers’ money, taking bribes, or grabbing public property.

The case of South Africa’s deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who rejected an inducement of 600 million rand (US$44 million) to become the country’s Finance minister, offers additional insights into how corruption in more advanced economies and relatively democratic states, might sometimes play out.

The details emerged Wednesday after South Africa’s embattled President Jacob Zuma abandoned efforts to block the release of a damaging ombudsman’s report on whether the controversy-riddled Gupta family influenced cabinet appointments and state contracts.


The report was completed days before the dogged Thuli Madonsela ended her seven-year term as Public Protector, as the graft ombudsman is known in South Africa, came to an end. The Guptas are close friends of Zuma, and are alleged to be the informal financial arm of the president and his family, a charge both sides deny.

In one of the more remarkable revelations of the report, Ajay Gupta, one of three Gupta brothers, offered Jonas $44 million to take up the position of finance minister, Jonas said in his interview with Madonsela.

Gupta said if he had a bag with him, he could get 600,000 in cash immediately, Jonas said.

Jonas told Madonsela that Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma, invited him to a meeting in October last year and they then traveled together in Duduzane’s vehicle to the Gupta family residence, which Jonas had never visited before.

At the house, Gupta told Jonas he could be made finance minister, and that while the family has made a lot of money from the state, the Treasury was a stumbling block for their business ambitions and that Jonas would have to remove the Treasury’s Director-General Lungisa Fuzile and other members of the executive management.

Jonas rejected the offer and later went public with a statement.

South Africa is Africa’s most advanced and industrialised economy, and this rather unusual alleged bribe to Jonas, points to the fact that in such economies there are often more fortunes to be made from buying policy and executive decisions, than walking out of the Treasury with sacks of money.


Thuli Madonsela

In addition, while South Africa’s reputation has been battered by the corruption of the Zuma years, he has found  it much harder than his peers elsewhere on the continent to take over all independent institutions and to extinguish democratic constraints on his government.

For corruption entrepreneurs, the chances of being caught is higher in places like South Africa, than in Equatorial Guinea, Chad or Angola. This seems to force crooked players to innovate with payments off the reservation, that are harder to catch than if they are made in the state system, with the risk they will leave a paper trail.


With the latest controversy over the ombudsman’s report, the walls caved in further on Zuma’s presidency.

His leadership has been plagued by corruption scandals since 2009. The Constitutional Court ruled in March that he violated his oath of office by refusing to abide by a directive from the graft ombudsman to repay taxpayer money spent on upgrading his private home.

Calls for for him to resign have escalated since Monday when the prosecution authority dropped charges against reformist Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, with whom Zuma has battled for control of the Treasury.

On Tuesday a group of ruling African National Congress (ANC) supporters, including a 300,000-member health workers’ union and the Nelson Mandela Foundation urged him to step down. 

These pressures, and Jonas’ actions, further highlight the fact that the contest and tension between the progressive and reactionary, and honest and corrupt tendencies in ruling political coalitions in Africa, are always alive.

In South Africa, they still have a seat at the political high table. In countries like neighbouring Zimbabwe, most them are in the cemetery. The remaining few are lying low – but they are still there.

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