Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: SOWETAN
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: SOWETAN

CONGRESS of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Monday he was "scared" following renewed death threats against him, but he will never turn his back on telling the truth — including in his new role as chairman on the National Anti-Corruption Forum.

Speaking on Monday in Pretoria after his new appointment, Mr Vavi said death threats against him were the second in two years, adding that both cases had been reported to "high offices", but without any feedback. "This is the hazard of speaking truth to power," said Mr Vavi.

This year, South Africa ranked 69th of 176 countries considered in Transparency International’s corruption perception index — which measured perceived levels of corruption in the public sector, bribery, the abuse of public resources, secrecy in decision making, anti-corruption laws and conflicts of interest in respect of government officials.

The country had fallen 31 places in the past 11 years, and it ranked behind Ghana, Namibia, Rwanda and Lesotho in this year’s edition of the index. South Africa ranked 38th out of 91 countries in the 2001 survey.

Mr Vavi had also been instrumental in the formation of Corruption Watch — an initiative of the Cosatu aimed at creating a platform for ordinary people to anonymously report incidents of corruption.

Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said on Monday public perception that the "big fish" gets away with corruption was not wholly unfounded, saying it was, in some cases, "difficult to believe that there is no lack of will to take action".

The Nkandla case — which involved a reported R250m spent in upgrading the private residence of President Jacob Zuma — was among those highlighted as an example that high profile and powerful individuals are unlikely to be prosecuted for corruption.

Mr Lewis said the furore around Nkandla will not go away until a proper explanation is provided. "There has to be explanation of what is going there," said Mr Lewis.

On his new role, Mr Vavi said his pledge was to develop "a new sense of partnership — a new people-based campaign that must involve ordinary people to wage a relentless war against corruption irrespective of who is involved".

He said the aim was to get every government worker and manager — as well leaders of government, business and civil society — involved in the fight against corruption.

"As long as we are seen to be too scared and unwilling to challenge the growing power of the few who continue to damage the image of political organisations, business formations, civil society formations and more worryingly government, all of them will continue to be discredited".

"This task requires not just unity and new determination, but serious consistent action and resources," said Mr Vavi.