Universities grooming the next generation of corrupt politicians

2012-10-24 10:49

Elections are there for voters to choose their representatives in decision making structures within institutions, because of how complex the decision making process is, we’d probably die before we can actually make the decision if each one of us were to share how we feel about a particular issue before a decision can be made hence it is necessary for us to elect people who share our views to represent us.

The process of organising elections might be simple for some of us, but it has proven to be difficult for some institutions of higher learning.

The process is quite simple, you first draft and approve a constitution that sets out the rules to be followed by both candidates and voters in the election process, how they conduct themselves, the constitution should also establish an ‘Independent’ body to administer this process, finally the constitution must provide a criteria for both candidates and voters to comply with in order to participate in the elections, and when the elections should be held.

This looks easy enough but sadly because institutions are run by people, and people have different views on everything, they can easily manipulate the rules of the institution to further their own agendas. This is what has happened at 2 universities namely the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and the University of Pretoria.

Both universities had trouble managing the SRC elections, and they could easily say that the elections are managed by an ‘independent’ body but university management does get involved often resulting in the entire process being undermined.

At UWC, university management approached the courts to get permission to undermine election regulations. The university filed a court application asking the courts to set aside decisions taken by the ‘Independent’ Electoral Officer (IEO) which were guided by the election regulations.

The IEO had no choice but to disqualify most of the candidates after they had failed to meet the requirements in order to participate in the elections, only the Democratic Alliance Students Organisation (DASO) met the requirements therefore in terms of rule 5.4.5. of the university’s SRC election regulations which states that “nomination forms and/or study records received after the closing date and time will not be accepted”

The other two student organisations failed to comply with this rule leaving DASO as the only party eligible to contest the elections, meaning that DASO wins before going to the polls. That would have been the case if the university truly believed and upheld its own rules under which the elections are organised.

After protests from the two parties, UWC management then went to the Cape High Court to ask for permission to undermine paragraph 1, and paragraph 5.4.5 of its SRC election regulations to include the two student organisations who had failed to comply with the election regulations.

This did not make sense to me at all, but it did to Cape High Court Judge Dennis Davis who granted the application in the name of participatory democracy. Can you imagine the precedent set by this judgement? How the judge forgets that to participate in a democracy, certain regulations which serve as a foundation of that democracy must be upheld or else their entire process becomes a joke.

This judgement, whilst granted in the name of democracy, peace, and all things good, it undermines the very values it seeks to promote. Because the first paragraph 1 of the SRC regulations states that “all stakeholders must familiarise themselves with the Election Regulations to ensure a credible, free and fair election” So if the two parties had actually prepared for the elections, there would have been no need to go to court.

The paragraph further states that “elections also foster students’ faith in democratic principles and practices”, how does the university asking the courts for permission to break its own rules foster faith in democratic principles and practices?

This decision to approach the court means that the university cannot uphold its own rules; it only upholds the rules when it suits them. This is the problem in politics everywhere, when rules and regulations are undermined to further individual agendas instead of upholding the principles and practices of democracy. When institutions undermine the very system that they are meant to preserve, all hope of a free and fair election is lost.

Many people would simply dismiss SRC elections as nothing more than youth playing grown-ups, forgetting that its youth growing up, being introduced to the participation in the process of governance, that is why it is critical for Universities such as the University of the Western Cape, University of Pretoria who were forced by the courts to release SRC election results, and University of Cape Town to fulfil their role in shaping tomorrow’s leaders; the kind of leaders that our country desperately needs, not corrupt ones, we have more than enough of those.

There are many former members of the national executive who were heavily involved in Student Politics such as Minister of Communications Ms Dina Deliwe Pule, who served as SRC Deputy President in her youth, Minister of Public Enterprise, Malusi Gigaba, who founded the Education Student Society at the University of Durban-Westville, he was also a member of COSAS, SASCO & ANCYL, Adv Ngoako Ramatlhodi who served as SRC president at the University of Lesotho where he sought refuge after the banning of SRC at the University of the North. Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi also served in the SRC at the University of Natal, and many other members of cabinet who served on SRCs at the various institutions of higher learning in their youth.

Hence it is so important to ensure that our academic institutions foster the principles of democracy during SRC elections because some of the SRC members could very well end up in government, and we wouldn’t want them thinking that it is acceptable to break the rules as long as it’s for a good cause; can you imagine minister Gigaba thinking that it is ok for Transnet, Eskom, SAA, SABC to ‘dish-out’ tenders to the minister’s family and close friends because he can justify it as helping friends and family out of poverty?

We make rules for a very good reason, without them, there would be chaos; we already have too many politicians thinking that because they make the rules, they are free to break them. We do not need academic institutions breeding another generation of public servants who believe that rules are meant to be broken, in a constitutional democracy, rules are meant to be preserved not set aside as per UWC management court application. No matter how the university 'sugar-coats' the court application was unnecessary, a fellow UWC student asked "who goes to court to ask for permission to break the law?". Hey judge, please give me permission to vote in the general elections without an ID book "within the participatory democracy framework" as per UWC court application. I should not be denied the right to vote simply because I do not have an ID book, the governing party failed to ensure that I get an ID book on time so that I can enjoy my democratic right and vote them out...

This makes sense? Not in my world it doesn't.

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