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S. Africa's New Media Effort Targets Corruption

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe addresses delegates and the press attending the launch of Corruption Watch in Johannesburg, Jan. 26, 2012.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe addresses delegates and the press attending the launch of Corruption Watch in Johannesburg, Jan. 26, 2012.

South Africa has launched a new independent organization Thursday to combat corruption. Corruption Watch will use the Internet and social networking media to encourage citizens to get involved.

The website went live Thursday with a launch here in Johannesburg. The initiative sprung from efforts of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU, which calls corruption a “pernicious cancer.”

Corruption Watch aims to give citizens the information they need, in a form they are comfortable with, to become part of the fight against corruption explained David Lewis, executive director of the new and independent body.

“I think what we will become, if we are to be successful, is a gatherer of information, an analyzer of that information and a disseminator of that information, in forms that are useful to the public, and in particular to the organizations of the public -- be those anything from street committees, to trade unions, to rate payers associations, to lobby groups, whatever the case may be,” he said.

The core of the project is the website and social media accounts, where South Africans can report their experiences of corruption as well as engage with each other, with civil society groups and even with the government on these issues.

Lewis says Corruption Watch will evaluate the information and, where appropriate, pass it on to law enforcement agencies and monitor what is done about it.

“I suppose the implicit notion behind it is that we would be more vigorous in monitoring the progress of what further investigations or prosecutions may arise from it than an individual citizen reporting those cases to those authorities may be able to do,” Lewis explained, adding that Corruption Watch will in some cases litigate to protect the rights of individuals, groups or communities.

“We are giving quite a lot thought to the possibility of civil litigation where we can identify a community or even an individual or group of individuals," Lewis said, "that have been palpably harmed by some corrupt activity and on whose behalf or who can sue with our assistance for damages and that is not something that has often been done.”

There are still many South Africans, the poor and those who live in rural areas, who do not have access to modern technology such as the Internet. Lewis says his organization will work with those communities using other networking options such as text messaging.
COSATU says the launch of Corruption Watch comes just in time.

In the past few months, the national finance minister has had to respond to mismanagement, fraud and corruption in local government by taking over the administration of various departments. They include the Health Department in Gauteng, education in the Eastern Cape; and five separate departments in Limpopo.

In addition, the auditor general has given only three of 39 government departments, 106 of 272 state-owned enterprises, and seven of 239 municipalities a clean audit in his most recent reports.

The former head of the unit that investigates official malfeasance, estimates that some $3.75 billion in state money is lost to corruption each year.