Corruption is a term that many South Africans are familiar with. It has become synonymous with the Gupta name and heard in daily conversation, but not enough is heard about the impact it has on ordinary people.
As part of its youth intervention series, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation hosted a webinar on Thursday to discuss corruption in South Africa and its impact on the youth.
“Corruption is not just the stuff we see in the State Capture Commission, but it affects us on a day-to-day basis, from our education system, to how we access employment opportunities or whether we have fair access to the market,” said the webinar’s facilitator, Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar. “What many of us already know, [is that] young people are being exploited and taken advantage of.”
Panellist Kirsten Pearson, a project specialist at CorruptionWatch and member of Budget Justice Coalition, discussed how personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement in schools and the irregular expenditure of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding has affected the youth.
The Special Investigation Unit’s (SIU) ongoing probe into the government’s expenditure of PPE procurement in schools has uncovered how billions of rands have been lost to corruption.
Pearson said one of the SIU’s biggest ongoing investigations is into the fogging at schools, where the Gauteng Department of Education allegedly spent R117 million on fumigating classrooms.
The World Health Organization does not recommend fogging as a method of sanitisation for Covid-19, but the department went ahead anyway, allegedly using it as a cover so several companies could pocket the money.
“That’s a kind of situation, where fogging is the perfect crime,” said Pearson. “It’s really hard to prove that someone was there in their white suit, disturbing the microbial environment with a method that isn’t recommended.”
This had consequences, forcing pupils to remain at home instead of being in school, which not only affected their education but also their nutrition and development, as many pupils rely on the daily meal provided by the National School Nutrition Programme, which was put on hold while schools were closed in 2020.
Pearson said the pandemic has worsened the kind of cracks that were in our society already, and hunger was a pre-existing issue. “We have a great problem with nutritional stunting and it’s hard to live in a society where that isn’t really taken as a serious issue.”
Additionally, the R117-million that politically connected companies pocketed could have gone towards genuine protection for students, scholar transport and rebuilding crumbling school infrastructure.
“Another aspect is that school infrastructure is a challenge,” said Pearson. “There are schools that do not have adequate ablution facilities. The school infrastructure budget was part of the budget that got reprioritised. So we swap out making better, safe spaces of learning, for pandemic priorities.”
Pearson also looked at spending at NSFAS which according to the Auditor General racked up R6.8-billion in irregular expenditure. The auditor general’s 2019/2020 annual report also raised concerns around a further R50-billion that was irregularly spent, but not disclosed.
In the foreword of the report, Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, stated, “Evidence of syndicated fraud and corruption led to
‘ghost students’ being funded, students entering the system without eligibility checks with the improved validation using South African Revenue Service [SARS] data, identification of students from high-income families receiving NSFAS bursaries.”
The impact of this corruption on the youth was evident, as earlier this year university students across the country who were not getting NSFAS funding took to the streets to protest.
Mcebisi Kunene, from Equal Education, said during the panel discussion that corruption has a real effect, on the ground. “I remember going to KZN to advocate for scholar transport and just thinking that politicians sleep well knowing that children have to walk long distances to school, I’m hearing stories of children not being fed at school. And so I’m hearing the issues of corruption first-hand and they always impact the youth, which is crazy because we’re not the ones [part of the corruption].”
Corruption also affects social and worker grants, transport (collapsing the rail system in major cities), access to WI-FI and data, educational opportunities and accessing credit.
“We need to stand up and we need to encourage active citizenship because the current government does not work for us,” said Kunene.
“We as youth, are sort of seen as custodians of tomorrow, and we hold that custodianship for a very short amount of time and then we move forward,” says Pearson.
“So we need to engage our own critical faculties in these issues… define your own research questions and add to the discussion… because I think we’ve become quite disengaged and disenchanted, but we need to re-engage.” DM