Opinionista Johann Redelinghuys 17 August 2014

What the heck, Jonathan Jansen?

In a bizarre statement, the outspoken Vice Chancellor of the University of the Orange Free State, Professor Jonathan Jansen has proposed that the disgraced Pallo Jordan should be awarded an honorary doctorate.

Even in South Africa, where we have developed the habit of rewarding dishonesty and promoting people who have told blatant lies, this is bewildering. That a man who is renowned for his high minded turn-around of the institution after a racist episode in the life of UFS should be capable of such muddled thinking is surprising and disappointing. Never one to miss a spotlight opportunity, Jansen said, “Should a South African university not do the right thing and award Pallo Jordan an honorary doctorate?”

By what convoluted process of reasoning could a respected academic institution do the “right thing” and reward someone who has admitted to such an academic fraud? How could it possibly be “the right thing”? Should an accolade like that not be reserved for a personality that is known for distinguished service and exemplary conduct; for integrity and high moral standards? Why would Jansen even be thinking this? What does this say about his judgment?

In a time when CV fraud has become an endemic problem and corruption flourishes at the hands of people who have fake qualifications, how could the head of a degree-conferring university not only by implication sanction such abuse but create some misguided initiative to reward it? For students everywhere to see that dishonesty in the end doesn’t matter? That the highest recognition for outstanding academic achievement could be made the subject of such a cheap misadventure? Cheating at universities is rampant and the authorities are fighting a losing battle to prevent students from cribbing, buying exam papers and lying about their qualifications when they leave. Now the esteemed head of a university is saying that we should look the other way while he wants to do his own cribbing.

Forget for a moment that Pallo Jordan, with his sharp intellect and pseudo-academic hauteur, could easily have been in possession of a real doctorate. The fact is that he not only slipped into the title, as he said, when it was once assigned to him by accident. He actually created a whole fiction around the grand academic institutions he was supposed to have attended.

This is followed in the social media by the ridiculous demonising of Gareth van Onselen, who discovered the fraud, imputing all kinds of dark motives to him; specifically that Jordan is to be punished by some third force for criticising and speaking out about the Nkandla debacle. Can we imagine such a conspiracy with Van Onselen being the instrument of the conspiracy?

It’s the pernicious South African habit of assuming that the heroes who have been found to have feet of clay are innocent when caught out and that there is someone out to get them. The truth is that Jordan could not resist the self-aggrandising slip-up when it happened and simply built a whole ego-propelling edifice around it. And now a conscientious journalist has found him out. The clamouring masses in the ANC don’t want to believe it and will try to spin their way out of accepting it for what it is.

Jordan is everywhere, being congratulated for coming out and admitting his fraud, and it certainly has been the honourable thing to have done. But the admission does not detract from the seriousness of the crime and the goodwill he has enjoyed up to now should not soften the judgement against him.

This has not stopped Thami ka Plaatjie, adviser to Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and head of research for the ANC, to write a long and breathless piece in which he expresses his awe and admiration for comrade Jordan. He says, “Pallo Jordan has given form and meaning to our struggle. His vast contribution cannot be allowed to perish.” He ends it by saying further, “I will be writing to three South African universities with the request that they should consider conferring the status of Honorary Professor or Doctor to Zwelindinga Pallo Jordan.”

That an ANC sycophant should be advocating this is one thing. That the Vice Chancellor of a major university should be doing so is entirely different.

Far from it being harsh to hold only this man accountable, the time might have come to examine more of the qualifications of our leadership and the bloated CVs that give them access to so many privileges. We are frequently reminded of the sloppy rigour in the selection and appointment process of senior functionaries.

Jansen compounds the extraordinary dereliction of his authority. He claims that he is in agreement with many South Africans that there should be a “zero tolerance policy toward dishonesty” but at the same time, unbelievably says, “I do not believe that one act of deception cancels out the life-long contribution of this man.” What!?

Do all long-serving officials now qualify to be forgiven for “one act of deception?” and to be excused from their lying because they have been loyal to the party? DM


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