By Nicky Rehbock
The students of Rhodes University, Rhodents as they are affectionately known, recently demonstrated just how serious they are about fixing South Africa when their SRC president Sakhe Badi publically committed to fighting corruption in the country.
For taking this bold initiative and showing that an activated youth is the key to the future, we make the students of Rhodes University in Grahamstown our heroes of the week.
Badi was addressing members of the university at the second annual Corruption Watch lecture, which took place at Rhodes in Grahamstown on Tuesday 14 May.
“We as civil society need to be concerned about the exercise of any individual’s power whether in the public or private sector, and in particular with the abuse of that power which undermines our constitutional values,” he said.
“More importantly, we as a youth are the leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow, however … if we are devoid of a renaissance in our outlook of leadership, we will inherent this calamity.”
Badi said it was his and his fellow students’ responsibility to strengthen accountability systems, and name and shame those who abuse their power “whether it is in this institution, Grahamstown or South Africa as a whole”.
“We as the SRC are certainly making a commitment to the Corruption Watch programme and also encourage all students and SRC substructures to partake in it,” he said.
Rhodes makes history
Speaking at the event, deputy vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela said Rhodes had made history a year ago when it became the first South African higher education institution as a whole to sign the Corruption Watch pledge. Read about this here.
Mabizela praised Rhodes’s vice-chancellor Dr Saleem Badat for having the vision to get all role-players at the university behind the fight.
Badat said he hoped this year’s lecture would challenge other institutions in Grahamstown, and the town as a whole, to commit to become corruption-free zones and that “a multi-stakeholder and multi-pronged approach to fighting corruption was critical”.
“Rhodes is the first institution to sign the Corruption Watch pledge and we call on the mayor and the municipality to do the same,” said Badat, adding that the corruption fight needed to be tackled by a united front of economic and political role-players, as well as individuals from the private and public sectors.
“We need to keep these issues in the public eye,” said Badat. “We are currently dealing with three cases of fraud in the university". The university hopes to team up with the local Grocott’s Mail to expose the details of the investigations and its outcomes to create a culture of transparency. Grocott’s is the oldest independent newspaper in the country.
A voice that cannot be ignored
Delivering his speech at the lecture, Corruption Watch’s director David Lewis reminded students and university leaders that the central approach to the organisation’s work was encouraging the public to report their experiences of corruption through various channels.
“First, this generates vital intelligence without which it is not possible to fight corruption. This intelligence ranges from understanding the public’s perceptions – and misperceptions – of the nature, extent and impact of corruption through to providing empirical data of hotspots of corruption.
“Secondly, it provides the public with the opportunity to actively engage in combating corruption.”
Analysing the trends in tip-offs Corruption Watch receives means the organisation can make its campaigns a real reflection of what the public is experiencing. Two hotspots that have come out strongly in these analyses are corruption in small towns and that in schools.
“This dispels the myth that corruption is a suburban pre-occupation. For those in the leafy suburbs, corruption is, more often than not something that they read about in the Sunday papers, but for those in the townships, corruption is the extra class room that didn’t get built, and the sports team who didn’t get their equipment because a school principal or a school governing body spent the money on a weekend team building exercise in Mozambique,” he said.
Lessons learned by the organisation in its first year have included a realisation that corruption is a fragmented and decentralised problem: “Each province, each school, each public hospital constitutes a semi-autonomous site of corruption, often better organised and more easily hidden from scrutiny than in the case of a big national acts of corruption.”
Lewis said that in the Eastern Cape alone, there were 9 000 procurement points, making it easy for the perpetrators to abandon one site without compromising others. This also avoids exposing those at higher levels who often have interests in many sites of corruption.
Corruption Watch, as an independent platform, must become a voice that can’t be ignored if its volume is amplified and its targets are focused, he added.
“The real point of our campaigns and investigations is to demonstrate to the public that there is point in talking out, in reporting, in the hope that more will talk out because it is the volume of noise generated by this talking that will make the authorities sit up and listen.”