First published in Daily Maverick 168.
The news cycle has been busy this week – dominated by the usual headline-grabbing stories such as the grand escape of fake prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife. Former President Jacob Zuma’s cameo appearance at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture also kept thousands glued to their TV screens.
But an important story that made a fleeting appearance on news bulletins and on social media was the leak of the matric mathematics paper two exam. We quickly moved on.
The reasons for such interest in stories like Zuma and Bushiri are quite obvious. Firstly, the issue of South Africa’s poor border control is one that requires immediate attention. How did a high-profile criminal accused slip through the fingers of our law enforcement agencies without being detected? Clearly our police were, once again, caught napping.
In the Bushiri case, the most obvious questions have to be asked: why would law enforcement not keep an eye on him knowing that he had already obtained his South African permanent residency through corrupt means? Surely, it is not rocket science that such a person would cheat the system once again? But, then again, there is the grand old South African problem of rampant corruption that continues to gnaw away at our moral fibre. Bushiri managed to leave the country with the help of someone – or some people – with some level of authority, be they a low-level official at Home Affairs or a high-ranking police official.
In the case of Zuma, his bizarre application for Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to recuse himself as the chair of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on the wobbly grounds that the two had met on a few occasions was always going to be a crowd-drawing affair. The strategy of Zuma’s legal team was clear – to delay, obfuscate and frustrate the commission. Zondo has to conclude the work of the commission, including its report, by March 2021.
The application for Zondo’s recusal was a red herring to shield Zuma from accountability. It was always bound to fail. But I digress.
The story of the leak of the matric maths paper two exam is a serious matter and a worrying reflection of the state of affairs in our country.
On Monday, the Department of Basic Education issued a statement that revealed that the question paper, which was written on the day, had been leaked in at least two provinces, Limpopo and Gauteng. But in this age of technology, it soon dawned on them that the leak was more widespread than initially thought, with indications that the paper, shared via WhatsApp, may have reached Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
The issue here, if it is not so obvious, is that some matriculants, who are likely to be between the ages of 17 and 19, have participated in the cheating. It is a criminal case, one that the Hawks are now investigating.
That makes it a serious matter.
Surely the leak would not have happened without the assistance of a corrupt adult at some district office somewhere? But the point here is that in a country where corruption is so pervasive, it should worry us when teenagers, our country’s future, are involved in such acts of dishonesty.
Now, the question is how widespread was the cheating? Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga was quoted as saying that their investigation into the origins and extent of the leak will determine whether the entire paper will have to be rewritten by the entire matric class of 2020.
One can only imagine the frustration of thousands of honest pupils who studied hard and went to write the paper without having cheated. It’s unfair on them – especially at a time when they have been learning under the most stressful conditions, with Covid-19 having already disrupted their schooling year.
That is always the issue with corruption: a few people are involved in the corrupt act, but the ramifications are felt by thousands more innocent people.
This is the case for the communities in Giyani who are still without water after billions were spent on the Giyani Bulk Water Project. In 2018, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni referred to the R3-billion project as “a cesspool of corruption” after the 55 villages who were meant to benefit from it were left without running water. The same can be said about the black farmers in Vrede who lost livestock through corruption when more than R200-million meant for the dairy farm project ended up in the pockets of the Guptas.
The matrics who were involved in the leak will most likely end up at universities that are hotbeds of political activity, where the culture of dishonesty will continue. Not only are university students learning in their different fields of study but, outside of the lecture halls, they are also schooled in the politics of patronage. That is why SRC elections are so fiercely contested as the elevation into office is a gateway to resources.
The actions of the young people involved in the maths paper two leak are a direct reflection of the corrupt state that we have become. A country where corruption starts at the highest office, during the Zuma years, and cascades all the way down to the passport-stamping clerk at a border post.
We should ask ourselves what kind of future we will have if our teenagers are involved in such acts.
It starts with cheating in an exam and soon develops to grand scale corruption amounting to billions.
That is why we should all take a moral stand and fight corruption in our little corners – in our homes, stokvels, schools, churches and community organisations. All forms of corruption are wrong. DM168
Sibusiso Ngalwa is the Politics Editor at Newzroom Afrika and is the SANEF chair.
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