Are we sliding from democracy to kleptocracy?

Writer, M Mkhabela, wrote a thought-provoking article entitled, ‘From democracy to kleptocracy: South Africa under the leadership of Jacob Zuma.’

He referred to the removal of the finance minister, the gatekeeper to the treasury. He said that this was done without consultation, transparency and lacked professionalism.

He argued that in a democratic society, decisions are not solely taken individually on the basis of anger, vendetta or any other motive. Understanding the views of others is the key to social progress and greater co-operation. The writer contends that the removal of the minister of finance not only demonstrates dictatorship but a transition from democracy to kleptocracy.

Kleptocracy is referred to as a government mechanism, where common people are burdened with heavy taxation so that the rulers and their ‘cronies’ can amass enormous amounts of money in their personal accounts. ( This kind of government is characterised by a large-scale embezzlement of funds from a nation’s treasury.

Control is maintained by unquestioning obedience to the ruling authority, which may consist of one or a selected few people. Dissenters can be silenced through smear campaigns, fired, threatened with arrest or arrested on false charges.

An authoritarian ruler appoints his close friends and relatives as his subordinates. Since this ruling class is in possession of all the power, the misappropriation of funds often goes undetected and unnoticed.

Bribery becomes common practice as the government authorities, who have the power to grant certain projects or tenders, know that the providers of service will pay to become the preferred supplier. The socio-political system becomes captured. In time, the common masses become so habituated to the immoral system that nobody finds anything wrong with it, even though they continue to experience poverty and hardship.

 Characteristics of kleptocratic governments:

  • The government authorities exercise complete control over the nation’s funds and other resources.
  • The personal transactions that people in power carry out go unnoticed because there is nobody to question the embezzlement.
  • Plundered funds often go into their secret bank accounts in other countries.
  • Exploitation and illegal trading of the country’s natural resources such as land, minerals and energy sources take place.
  • The most visible signs of kleptocracy are the widening divide between the poor and those in or connected to government. Basically, the poor get poorer and the rich richer.

The views mentioned in this column are that of the columnist. 


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