Corruption and state capture: Research gives 'voice' to ordinary South Africans

Posted on December 07, 2017


The Centre for Communication and Reputation Management at the University of Pretoria commissioned Ask AfriKa (South Africa's largest independent research company) and Infusion Knowledge Hub to explore the views of ordinary citizens regarding corruption and state capture. The research delved into how citizens define themselves within the broader context of the population, their views on what the most pressing issues within government are and the extent to which they perceive corruption and state capture to be prevalent in South Africa. It also aimed to assess satisfaction with political performance, determine South African voting patterns and tendencies, and gain a scientifically-verified understanding of how the majority of South Africans believe corruption and state capture will affect the future of the country.

It was clear from the qualitative results that citizens used the focus groups as a platform to voice their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs in the country. The discussion themes and language in the focus groups informed the quantitative questionnaire, which covered a variety of issues, including the current mood of the nation, voting patterns, satisfaction with government, corruption, state capture and hope for the future. 

Study highlights:

  • Two thirds of respondents feel that living conditions improved after the end of apartheid.
  • Most respondents are confident that there is a happy future in store for all races in South Africa.
  • More than half of the respondents are confident in a happy future for all immigrants and South African citizens, working side by side.
  • 62% think progress has been made to transform sport, while 55% think this is true of business and 51% think it is true of the workplace.
  • However, 77% think their country is currently going in the wrong direction.
  • Significantly, poor satisfaction levels were reported with government – from the highest office in the country to ward level. Magistrates and judges were rated best in terms of doing their jobs well.
  • Leaders are regarded as failing to live up to values that citizens deem important, such as trustworthiness, honesty, listening to the people and competency.
  • The majority of citizens are aware of corruption and 68% think state capture happens in South Africa. 
  • Most South Africans believe that with employment comes dignity and self-respect, but that currently, corruption is responsible for declining jobs.  Irrespective of their background and despite their differences, South Africans believe in:
  1. fighting corruption,     
  2. employment for all, and                     
  3. fighting poverty.

Is the government serving the people?

After four months of qualitative and quantitative research, the results represent the voice of 37 million South Africans aged 18 years and over, with 80% of the sample focusing on the poorer communities within the country. Dr Melani Prinsloo from Infusion Knowledge Hub, who managed and executed the qualitative research, said: 'The focus group discussions gave ordinary South Africans a safe platform to share and discuss their experiences of government, corruption, state capture and political party performance. In doing so, South Africans provided an ethical framework to consider corruption and state capture. In addition, a set of key indicators on an ideal government, drivers of corruption/state capture and the impact of corruption/state capture were produced. These formed the basis for the quantitative study.' The value of the qualitative phase is in the themes reported by citizens themselves, and these were used to design the quantitative questionnaire section facilitated by Ask Afrika. 

The survey highlighted high levels of distrust and dissatisfaction with government performance. The majority of citizens believe that their basic needs are not being met as a result of corruption and state capture, with 77% feeling that the country is moving in the wrong direction. Despite this, 84% of the respondents remain proudly South African, with 46% of them choosing to be identified first as South Africans before any other demographic descriptors like race, gender, religion or culture. The findings showed that a minority of South Africans will continue to follow political leaders even if they do not do their jobs well.

Poor satisfaction levels were reported and leaders are failing to live up to the people's values. Government is not expected to be perfect, but the performance gap on issues such as house/land ownership, fighting corruption, creating employment and providing basic services to citizens is significant. The fight against corruption remains a top priority for citizens and they expect government to listen to their needs and wants.

Corruption degrades the fibre of society

High-level politicians and business people are regarded as the main actors in corruption and state capture, but this has a direct negative impact on ordinary citizens. Citizens agree that corruption and state capture result in:

  1. a personal sense of loss and psychological disempowerment,
  2. reduced trust in government,
  3. poor service delivery, and
  4. hindrance to economic growth.

Respondents were strongly in favour of active citizenship against corrupt individuals, with 62% expecting jail sentences and criminal charges against corrupt individuals, and 41% planning to vote corrupt politicians out of power. 

The national psyche that binds citizens together

The data indicates that a national psyche exists that ties citizens together, irrespective of background and despite differences: they are willing to fight against corruption (51%), they want to see employment created for all (46%) and they are dedicated to fighting poverty (43%). In addition to confirming that they are willing to fight against corruption, racism, state capture and xenophobia, the overwhelming majority of respondents say corruption will affect their voting behaviour.

The survey clearly shows that South Africans will unite for the following reasons:

  1. 84% are proudly South African.
  2. 63% feel that living conditions improved after the apartheid regime.
  3. 61% are confident that all races will have a happy future in South Africa.
  4. 56% are confident that immigrants and South African citizens will be able to work side by side.
  5. 54% are confident that all immigrants will have a happy future in South Africa.
  6. 62% think progress has been made to transform sport, while 55% think this is true of business and 51% think it is true of the workplace
  7. 77% think their country is currently going in the wrong direction.

The results of the research will be unpacked at The Nation's Voice on State Capture and Corruption, an exclusive workshop and panel discussion attended by academics, editors, senior journalists and high-level delegates at the Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel in Sandton on 6 December 2017.

Prof Ronel Rensburg from the Centre for Communication and Reputation Management, said: 'This project aims to make research accessible to the general population and to encourage all individuals or groups with a willingness to further investigate these concepts and practices, to utilise the research findings. This will bring us a step closer to the democratisation of research in South Africa. The data and results will be used to give voice to ordinary citizens and to be used as a catalyst for positive change in South Africa.'

Ask AfriKa CEO and founder Andrea Gevers said the company 'is passionate about social impact and was honoured to have been commissioned to undertake this survey, which not only amplifies the voices of 37 million people, but will also serve as a catalyst for change.'


The research findings will be housed in the database of the Centre for Communication and Reputation Management (CCRM) in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of Pretoria. The study data and findings will be available as public domain information to allow access for all who wish to use it.



- Author Centre for Communication and Reputation Management

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