The governments of Germany, the United Kingdom, the USA, the Netherlands and Switzerland have written to the presidency through their missions in Pretoria, warning that South Africa needs to make clear moves against corruption.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, an official in the presidency said that the move was ‘unprecedented’ as foreign countries typically only step in when governments violate their laws or commit human rights violations.
The memorandum – signed by all five countries – states that there should be a ‘clear, unqualified and manifest political commitment to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and to honest and ethical business practices’.
The five countries also said that they were concerned about the challenges of foreign investment, referring to the ‘constant changes of the goalposts’ in the regulatory framework for mining, BEE targets and intellectual property rights.
The countries also called for a change in South Africa’s current visa practices.
Because of these issues, the countries – which make up 75% of foreign investment in South Africa – said it would be impossible for any investor to come to South Africa ‘without proper and comprehensive guarantees for his investment’.
Presidency spokesperson, Khusela Diko, confirmed that Ramaphosa had received the memorandum and ‘regards it as part of the very important and ongoing dialogue taking place amongst South Africans and the investment community’.
Corruption in South Africa
South Africa has gained international attention in recent years due to the breaking of several high-profile corruption scandals, which has not been limited to the widely-reported Gupta state capture saga.
In recent weeks, damning testimony by former Bosasa executives have brought to light the extent to which government officials have been implicated in bribery and corruption, spreading across almost every state department.
While several investigations are underway, no high-profile arrests have been made as yet.
Corrupt practices are also not limited to the state, with several auditing firms and consultancy groups having been found to be embroiled in kickbacks and contract irregularities, too.
According to David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch, the high levels of corruption experienced in South Africa threaten and undermine democracy and the rule of law in the country.
“We have seen how in order to loot public funds, the perpetrators have had to undermine those key pillars of democracy that are responsible for holding those in power to account,” he said.
“The undermining of Parliament and the criminal justice institutions are key cases in point.
In the most recent Corruptions Perceptions Index published by Transparency International, South Africa failed to make any progress in improving its image as a corrupt nation in the eyes of other countries and international businesses.
South Africa’s corruption score remained dormant (43/100), showing that the country clearly needs to intensify its efforts to make serious inroads against corruption.
“On the other hand, we have also seen how institutions that reflect the strength of our democracy such as civil society organisations, the media and the courts have been critical features of the fightback against state capture,” Lewis said.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) said it noted with disappointment the dispatching of the memorandum to the Office of The Presidency.
“In terms of acceptable diplomatic practice, protocol and convention, diplomatic missions are expected to communicate to the receiving state by means of a note verbal (diplomatic note) conveyed through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation,” it said.
“All embassies, regional and international organizations accredited to South Africa are aware of this protocol and universal norm.”
“South African diplomatic missions abroad consistently observe this protocol by directing official communication to the respective foreign ministries in the countries of accreditation.”
It added that the South African government is intensifying its efforts to deepen and expand economic relations with a number of countries around the world.
“All matters that have been raised by investors are being addressed by the respective clusters of our government,” DIRCO said.
“We are satisfied that all the branches of our democratic state, including state agencies, are vigorously pursuing their respective mandates to address our current challenges.”
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has instructed DIRCO to demarche the concerned Ambassadors with a view to discussing substantive matters contained in their correspondence, and to reiterate acceptable protocol in addressing such matters.