Choices once the hype around corruption blows over

The most important thing to know is that we all have a choice of which scenario to build, together.


Many comments have been made about how nothing will come of the various South African commissions of enquiries into corruption. There are also a fair amount of writing by analysts and experts on what to expect. I’d like to explore further what could happen after these commissions have completed their work (and even before then) and the energy around corruption dissipates and people go about their business as usual.

Dr. Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director of Social Impact and Transformation at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, sketches two possible scenarios. The first one is where the country simply lives with corruption, where people accept that tax money gets filtered but perhaps enough flows through to keep things going one way or another. People learn to play the game, and hope that things might change over time. Those who can afford to live independently, do so.

Alternatively, after long and persisting effort, a revitalized country can be created and we overcome corruption. People realize that corruption does not inform or guide everything around us, and that it requires effort from all of us and not only from one leader or a few leaders. Everyone contributes and systematically the system gets cleaned up until the entire country adopts a healthy rhythm to which things happens.


Let me reframe the two scenarios.

The first scenario is where people operate from dependence (“You serve me” and I accept it as the way things have always worked), independence (“I serve me” and I will continue to act in my own interest, follow my own way and manage on my own) and co-dependence (“I serve you, so you can serve me”, so let’s work together to serve each others’ interests).

These three places are also known as the toxic triangle, where we find criticism, blaming, suspicion, stonewalling, contempt, sarcasm, and a number of other toxic behaviours. Corruption is a symptom of toxic relationships at any or all three of the toxic corners. This scenario is clearly not what South Africa, or any other country in the world, needs.

The second scenario is where people operate from strategic interdependence. This is where we think and behave in a manner consistent with “we serve us, so we can serve others”, meaning that we act in a manner that demonstrate that the greater good is of primary importance to us, and that we bring all we could offer (our strengths and our weaknesses) to contribute in transparent ways until trust gains momentum.

Dr van Rooi is spot-on that it would take time and persisting effort. I would add that it would take persistent effort from everyone to get there. All of us as citizens need to learn new behaviours and unlearn old (and sometimes bad) habits, and re-learn forgotten behaviours that once served us well. Once people play here, their focus is on what’s possible and they adopt an abundance mindset – this is when corruption will disappear by itself.

The most important thing to know is that we have a choice of which scenario to build.

The question is how we get there.


As the Southern African partners of People AcuityHuman Capital Business Solutions can now bring a way of getting away from toxic corruption to Interdependence (the ‘go-to-place’ where we all want to serve in the interest of all South Africans). This is possible if we understand that we all have unique strengths that, if we apply it effectively and embrace the fact that we also have weaknesses, it would open us up to explore and act on opportunities for complementary collaboration.


Imagine a world where most relationships are from interdependence instead of the toxic triangle. What would be different for you? Your relationships? Your results?

And for others?


About the author:

Tinus van der Merwe is a Strengths Strategy Certified Coach, Certified Strengths Strategies for Optimal Performance (SSOP) Facilitator and a co-thought leader at People Acuity. He has an infectious passion for coaching and abundance of care for his clients. He has completed over 13,000 hours of coaching and facilitating solutions (over 1,300 hours of coaching alone) with clients from a wide variety of cultures and countries, from specialists to top executives.

To learn more about the toxic triangle and how to ShiftUp to Strategic Interdependence, contact Tinus on



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