Mpumelelo Mkhabela

The dangers of knowledge without ethics

2018-08-16 11:54
Dr Ben Ngubane.

Dr Ben Ngubane.

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One of the wonderful things to look forward to at graduation ceremonies is the singing of Gaudeamus Igitur. Whenever the celebratory piece is sung by a competent choir, there would be solemnity and a sense of deep reflection in the graduation hall.

With Latin having long been phased out of our education, you need a translation. But you cannot miss the "vivat" part because the word (pronounced "viva") has become part of our political lexicon.

Part of the song contains the following lyrics and I attach my googled Mark Sugars' translation.

Vivat nostra societas, (Long live our society)
Vivant studiosi; (Scholars wise and learned)
Crescat una veritas (May truth and sincerity)
Floreat fraternitas (Nourish our fraternity)
Patriae prosperitas. (And our land's prosperity)

Also exciting at graduation ceremonies are the ululations. Aunts, cousins, spouses, uncles and friends would be colourfully dressed for the occasion. As the candidates are called to the stage to have their degrees conferred, there would be a burst of ululations, dancing and recitations of praise poems.

Now to the point: I don't know whether Siyabonga Gama, Transnet chief executive officer, attended the graduation ceremony for his "Trium Global MBA". The prestigious degree was jointly awarded by New York University Stern School of Business, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and HEC Paris School of Management.

It has since been revealed a consultant for McKinsey – a company that enjoyed lucrative work with Transnet – helped Gama with some of his MBA assignments. While students are not prohibited from seeking advice (but ghost writing is strictly prohibited!), there is a conflict of interest issue about Gama's MBA. The relationship between Gama, Transnet (his employer), McKinsey (his employer's contractor) and the McKinsey consultant could easily fall within the description of corruption.

If Gama attended a graduation ceremony, it would be interesting to know how if Gaudeamus Igitur was sung. It would also be interesting to know if he understood the essence of the lyrics –  Crescant una veritas/ Floreat fraternitas/ Patriae prosperitas. (May truth and sincerity/ Nourish our fraternity/ and our Land's prosperity).

But this is not about the small matter of Gama's MBA. The architects of state capture, who almost collapsed the whole country and its governance systems, are highly educated people.

Some have been called many times to take the podium to have degrees conferred on them. They have heard Gaudeamus Igitur sung many times. But they have hollowed out its meaning as well as the meaning of a university degree itself.

In the rogue lists of South Africa's state capture architects, only two people are known to have never set foot in a lecture hall: Jacob Zuma and Hlaudi Motsoeneng. The rest are very educated people. Take for example, Ben Ngubane. He is a medical doctor (MBChB). That, surely, should carry weight. But his record at the SABC and Eskom has brought such noble qualifications into disrepute.

Consider Anoj Singh, the former chief financial officer of Transnet and Eskom. He is a chartered accountant. There is a need for more black chartered accountants in South Africa. But one of the few decided to use his skills not to ensure "our land's prosperity", as Gaudeamus Igitur urges, but to achieve the direct opposite.

Singh's boss, Brian Molefe, the former chief executive of Transnet and Eskom, is one of those whose education and skills made him a shining star. But what has he got to show for it today other than illegally obtained pension benefits from Eskom and providing a propitious environment for Gupta looting?

President Cyril Ramaphosa has launched a wide-ranging investigation into corruption at the state attorney's office. At least R80bn was reportedly stolen from the state through dodgy legal settlements and downright corruption. Needless to say, the people involved are highly educated lawyers employed by the state who colluded with the equally highly educated counterparts in the private sector.

Many of them would have attended graduation ceremonies where they had degrees conferred on them. Their relatives would have ululated. Some would even have struggled to get a job. The rate of unemployed graduates is rising. But once the fortunate ones got employment, they set their eyes and fingers on the state's coffers.

The people who collapsed VBS bank are very educated people. So are those who presided over the malfeasance at Steinhoff. In fact, at the time of trouble the Steinhoff board was staffed by top chartered accountants whose high-level qualifications are something worth marvelling at.

All of these examples go to show that the degree, while equipping people with the competency of a profession, does nothing to equip them with the necessary ethics. State capture in South Africa clearly demonstrates technical competency without ethics is actually dangerous. Rather not have technical capacity if it's going to be used to threaten the country and upset its constitutional edifice.

As competent choirs render beautifully the Gaudeamus Igitur and as we ululate for our loved ones who are obtaining their degrees, we have to think about whether they add any ethical value to society.

- Mkhabela is a political analyst with the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa.

* This article has been edited after publication. News24 incorrectly referred to Dr Ngubane's degree as a PhD. Dr Ngubane has a MBChB degree.

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Read more on:    education  |  state capture


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