UNIVERSITIES are hallowed spaces dedicated to a relentless search for truth, knowledge and the acquisition of skills and expertise. It stands to reason that university campuses are environments where scholars and intellectuals flex their brain powers, train the young and provide society with new knowledge and the ability to advance through know-how.
They are therefore not sites for violence and shooting of guns. Physical violence and thuggery of any description should have no place in an institution of higher learning.
Not only South Africa, but the whole world must be shocked beyond words by the attempted assassination of the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Fort Hare, Professor Sakhela Buhlungu recently. The bullet meant for him ended up killing his bodyguard, Mboneli Veseli.
During our days in the seventies and early eighties, universities, especially the black ones, were hotbeds of activism and resistance against oppression. But the mainly Afrikaner leadership of these institutions were not moving around with bodyguards. It’s bizarre that Vice-Chancellors at our universities now under a democratic dispensation need bodyguards.
It is generally held that the main cause of this ugly phenomenon is the issue of corruption relating to the awarding of tenders at our institutions of higher learning. Apparently, it is not only Fort Hare that faces this conundrum, but many of them.
There is more. Rumours have been swirling about prospective students being asked to pay bribes for admission at some of the institutions. At Fort Hare in particular, it has come to light that some senior degrees were being issued improperly and/or corruptly. Professor Buhlungu’s attempted elimination is because he is fighting these ills.
The import of all this is that we are not always getting students admitted for study purely on merit and that we might be having bogus graduates in our midst.
This is truly tragic. Employers in South Africa and elsewhere in the world should be able to accept the qualifications of graduates from our universities at face value, without hesitation.
They should be confident that somebody presenting himself/herself as an engineer can actually build bridges, roads, electricity pylons, generate electricity, etcetera. And a young person approaching a bank or insurance company as a graduate in accounting can actually competently work on the accounts of the company.
Generally speaking, society must have full confidence in the integrity of our universities and their products. Can you imagine being unsure whether a doctor operating on you is qualified or not? Wondering whether the anaesthetist putting you to sleep for that critical operation bought his/her degree or not? We should never have to worry about such questions.
Tendering and the corruption it spawns in our country are a terrible curse that challenge all of us. We have seen it raising its ugly head even on issues of life and death, such as the Covid-19 pandemic where the crooked saw an opportunity to enrich themselves. They didn’t care whether health workers and their patients were dying or not. They had to get that PPEs tender and rig it in such a manner that they get insane profits out of it.
We should fight tooth and nail to prevent corruption from overtaking our institutions of higher learning. People like Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, who are holding the line against corruption at an institution of higher learning, should be valued, strongly supported and protected against harm.
Those who made an attempt on his life and murdered Mboneli Veseli in the process must be hunted down and punished severely.
Simultaneously, all necessary measures must be taken immediately to prevent similar dastardly occurrences at other South African universities.