"The type of person who will give his life for someone else without hesitation."
That is how Umhlali community members describe Captain Vinny Pillay who was crowned South Africa's first Integrity Idol in Cape Town at the weekend.
Pillay is a police officer at the Umhlali police station in KwaZulu-Natal. Described as a pillar of his community, he engages the youth by facilitating workshops in local schools. In his role of captain, he often goes beyond the scope of his duties by attending to the broader socio-economic needs of the residents in Umhlali.
"You don't want to do a job that you're just going to do to get paid," says Pillay. "You have to have a passion, be positive and change other people."
"My work as a police officer is a lifelong calling to continue to safeguard communities in South Africa. Integrity is fairness and working to bring about justice and protection to those we serve."
Umhlali police station commander Colonel Khethiwe Makhathini says Pillay's commitment to his work is a true inspiration.
A positive conversation about public servants
"Even on his rest days, if something happens in the community he is the first one there, even before the people who are already on duty. That's the kind of person he is."
Integrity Idol was a campaign run by the Accountability Lab and partners, including the Nelson Mandela Foundation, LifeCo UnLtd and the Democracy Works Foundation. The campaign asked South Africans to nominate public servants who do their work with integrity and do "the right thing even when no one is watching".
Other finalists were Elizabeth Mkhondo, a nurse from Stanza Bopape Community Clinic in Mamelodi East, firefighters and emergency medical services responders Jocelin Flank and Deon Esau from Florida Fire Department in Johannesburg, Dr Mirja Delport from Outshoorn and teacher Natascha Meisler from PT Sanders Combined School in Trompsburg, Free State.
Faith Pienaar, who led the Integrity Idol campaign on behalf of the Accountability Lab, explained why it is important: "These Integrity Idols show the incredible work that is possible within public service in South Africa. We are in desperate need of a positive conversation about the role of public servants as a means to restore trust. That is why 'naming and faming' these heroes is so critical. In many ways Integrity Idol as a public exercise helps us to reimagine our country and its possibilities."