Corruption has been at the core of the national conversation in South Africa over the last few months.


By Blair Glencorse and Faith Pienaar

Leadership at the top is key, but fighting corruption will only be possible when we understand that what is needed is a collective push for change, a generational shift in behaviours and a wholesale rethink of the approach.

First, a collective push for change. Too often what passes for discussion about corruption is finger-pointing and name-calling around theft or patronage, often for political purposes. This is not to let anyone off the hook for misdeeds, but it gives the sense that corruption is something that happens only at the highest levels of government or business.

We know that this is not the case. In fact, corruption begins with all of us in our daily lives at home, with our families and at work. Addressing it means turning up on time, telling the truth and keeping our promises. Integrity trickles upwards.

Next, a generational shift. Over two-thirds of the South African population is under the age of 35 and engaging them in this struggle requires creativity.

It is not good enough to repeat the approaches that have failed in the past, like tired lectures and trainings about better behaviour, or the creation of organisations without the mandates to implement reforms. Youth-driven accountability comes from developing new ideas with technology, using social media to drive movements and finding new, popular voices that can influence this debate.

Finally, a rethink of our approach, which highlights the positive, not the negative. We at Accountability Lab, along with many other civil society partners including Democracy Works, Life Co, and the Nelson Mandela Foundation recently launched Integrity Idol South Africa, a national campaign to find, celebrate and support public officials with integrity across the country.

1Integrity Idol is a collective, youth driven and constructive effort to harness the power of honesty.

Anyone across the country can nominate an honest civil servant working in education, healthcare or safety and security at the local level. There are some incredible officials in South Africa demonstrating integrity even in the most difficult conditions – from the school teacher who uses her own income to supplement a school’s feeding scheme, to the social worker who is an activist for children’s rights, to the policeman who politely declines even a cup of coffee in fear that it may be perceived as a bribe.

We have already received hundreds of nominations across all nine provinces that reflect the incredible diversity, courage and resilience of South Africans.

What matters about Integrity Idol is that it generates a very different type of discourse. Instead of “naming and shaming” corrupt individuals we are “naming and faming” honest officials. We’re not focusing on the wrong-doers, we’re celebrating the do-gooders.

We’ve seen with #LifeEsidimeni that civil society in South Africa can build movements to hold those in power accountable. Let’s build on these successes in collaborative, constructive ways.

In March we will work with an esteemed panel to narrow down the field to the top Idols and record these change-makers in their workplaces, with their families and in their communities. Episodes will be put out on national TV and radio stations across the country, and people will be able to vote for their favourite through Whatsapp and online.

In May we will celebrate the winners in front of the media at a ceremony in Cape Town, and then begin to support the Idols to share ideas, collaborate and build a network for integrity.

Imagine how powerful it will be to lift up these everyday heroes and highlight them as role models. We look up to famous musicians, actors and sport stars. Why not look up to the people going that last mile to deliver services for the public?

In other countries around the world, Integrity Idol has led to real change. In Nepal, a former winner now advises the government on education policy. In Pakistan, a winner fired 30 corrupt officialsand in Mali a 2016 Integrity Idol is running youth leadership sports camps. In Liberia, healthcare workers like Rebecca Scotland are coming together to educate students about the importance of accountability.

Once we show publicly that integrity counts – that it is something that matters – we can begin to shift behaviours. A movement like this can tap into the current frustration around corruption in South Africa and channel it towards positive thoughts and actions.

Integrity Idol will not solve South Africa’s problems – there has to be a continued push to support strong, impartial institutions, the rule of law and more transparent government systems – among much else. But Integrity Idol can flip the script and provide a glimpse of a different reality which we can all help to build.

– Blair Glencorse is executive director of the Accountability Lab. Faith Pienaar is a fellow at Accountability Lab. Follow Integrity Idol South Africa on: TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

South Africans can use their phones to nominate their idols by sending the nominee’s full name, contact number and place of work to the competition WhatsApp line, 078 195 8385 or by using the upload platform.

This article appeared on 8 February 2018 on New24