Corruption “the number one threat to our heritage”: South African Prelate

Heritage Day, celebrated every September 24 in South Africa.

Ahead of the annual Heritage Day celebration in South Africa, a Catholic Prelate in the country has reflected on the level of graft and expressed the fear that corruption was becoming the first threat to the nation’s heritage. 

In a statement shared with ACI Africa ahead of the Thursday, September 24 event, Bishop Victor Phalana of South Africa’s Klerksdorp Diocese says that corruption is “the number one threat to our heritage” and equates the practice to “treason and socio-economic terrorism.”

Bishop Phalana acknowledges that the country has come a long way in recognizing the rich heritage from diverse communities and, in the statement dated Wednesday, September 23, laments that the government is not doing much for the nation’s heritage.

“The excuse of our government, for not doing enough for our heritage, is that they do not have enough money for the ‘Heritage project’!” the South African Bishop says and probes, “Where is the money?”

He answers, “The money has been swallowed by a dragon called corruption!”

Bishop Phalana goes on to share his reflection about Steven Friedman’s article on graft dating back to the colonial era saying, “Corruption was a constant feature of the apartheid period. Black people were its chief victims, since they had no rights and so no way of protecting themselves against abuse. But they were not the only ones, as politicians and officials used government power for personal gain.”

“The most corrupt period in the country’s history was the last few years of apartheid when the attempt to combat the successful international sanctions campaign made corruption, protected by government secrecy, the core government strategy,” the Bishop says.

He adds in reference to graft during the colonial era, “This is the period when we witnessed corruption in the Homelands as well, where money meant for service delivery and development was used by leaders to enrich themselves and their families.”

According to the South African Bishop, there was hope for an end to graft when Former President Jacob Zuma resigned in 2018 as “all seemed well, and our nation was making steady progress.” 

“To our shock, the ruling party started announcing the redeployment of corrupt officials in various strategic positions, including parliament,” Bishop Phalana says.

Referencing the recent COVID-19-related corruption scandal in the country, the 59-year-old South African Prelate says that the coronavirus “seems to have revived sentiments of greed that swept our country for the past decade or so.”

“As millions of people had locked themselves up in their homes, knowing they may lose their jobs and income, corrupt politicians, like hyenas circling an immobilized springbok, zoomed in on the R500-billion stimulus package to help businesses cope with the economic implications of COVID-19,” laments the Bishop who heads the Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC). 

He continues in reference to politicians characterized with corruption, “Then their target shifted to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), resulting in cash-strapped workers still not having seen one cent of what is owed to them.”

“Corruption also saw other private businesses engage in illegal deals worth R2.2 billion that saw the firms produce masks, hand sanitizers and facemasks,” the Bishop says and continues, “To add insult to injury, many of these products were found to be substandard and may, therefore, have put the lives of patients, frontline workers and the whole population at risk.” 

In his September 23 statement, the Bishop says that the “former Public Protector, Prof. Thuli Madonsela was right when she recently described the corona-linked corruption as a threat to our democracy, our justice system, rule of law, and peace – with outcomes being death, hunger, anger and democratic fragility.”

“I would go a step further than Prof. Madonsela by saying that corruption equals treason and socio-economic terrorism and that it should be treated as such,” he says and adds, “I am ashamed to acknowledge that corruption is our heritage.”

As a way forward, Bishop Phalana calls for repentance ahead of the September 24 event saying, “Our nation must repent on Heritage Day.”

“The National Heritage Resources Act of 1999 states that our heritage is unique and precious and cannot be renewed,” the Local Ordinary of Klerksdorp Diocese says, adding, “It helps us to define our cultural identity and therefore lies at the heart of our spiritual well-being and has the power to build our nation.”

For this reason, the Bishop says he will “proudly wave the South African flag on Heritage Day and at the same time say to the young generation, corruption should not be our heritage!” 

Instituted in 1995, Heritage Day is a public holiday set aside for South Africans to recognize and celebrate the cultural diversity in the country.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]