Dear UJ Community
Life, as we know it, is full of strange and interesting coincidences. This week, as I began reading the novel A Man of the People by renowned Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, real life began to resonate with the book. The President of South Africa, H.E Cyril Ramaphosa appeared before the State Capture Commission, albeit in his capacity as the leader of the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC).
A Man of the People (the title has biting sarcasm) is about Nigeria’s first steps towards post-colonialism, told by Odili Samalu, a teacher turned politician. In his quest for a just and accountable government, he takes on his once-revered teacher, Chief Micah Nanga, who is now a corrupt and powerful cabinet member. Samalu thinks it is possible to run the post-independence government without corruption and that he can unseat corrupt ministers and replace them with people like himself. What he does not realise is that he himself is becoming more and more corrupt. Corruption eats away at his naivety, first in his personal life, then politically.
In the same vein, it was interesting listening to President Ramaphosa testifying before the Commission about the “corrosive corruption” that is eating away the moral fibre of the South African society. Those of you who have been following the testimony would know that he specifically spoke about how the ANC has had to deal with “careerism [and] opportunism”. As he said, this has seen people appointed into government and state-owned entities through “patronage,” “cadre deployment” and “nepotism” – without the requisite qualifications and skills. As he correctly put it, these acts of corruption are “a direct violation of the laws of the Republic…” and that those who are complicit must account. He called for greater transparency. I have written extensively about this, and how artificial intelligence can be used to help combat corruption.
In this regard, I am pleased that our University remains committed to ensuring an honest and ethical working environment that embraces the values of Ethical Foundation and the nurturing and active promotion of an ethos of honesty, transparency, accountability, and fairness. We recognise that fraud affects our University, our country and all sectors of the economy, resulting in financial losses, reputational damage and lack of trust amongst our colleagues. I wish to remind you that UJ has developed a strategy to fight fraud, which is premised upon the assumption that we could effectively curb corruption if we are able to involve the entire University community in our efforts. Fraud prevention and early detection should not be the sole responsibility of only one department, faculty, or person within the university. Rather, it be shared by all employees and students.
UJ has appointed an independent Ethics hotline service provider in the form of anonymous tip-offs. The hotline provides a reporting service in various forms, including e-mail, internet reports, or free voice calls, and allows employees to report any wrongdoing in a confidential and anonymous manner. We urge our staff and students to take a bold stand and help us fight unethical behaviour within our University. Below are the UJ Ethics Hotline contact details:
- FreeCall: 0800 872 846
- Email: UJ@tip-offs.com
- FreeFax: 0800 00 77 88
- FreePost: KZN 138, Umhlanga Rocks, 4320
- Website: www.tip-offs.com
On a different note, I was delighted to attend a two-day conference that our University participated in earlier this week. It was held under the theme, Peak Performance: The COVID-19 Pandemic: Transforming Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. This event brought together more than 100 academics from across the globe to discuss the real challenges facing higher education, as we continue in this new world order with the pandemic ever present.
As I said in my opening welcome address, we are not in an ivory tower as a University. We are entwined with the very fabric of society. In years to come, when history is written, what will be said about higher education? The question that must be posed to all of us in the sector is: did we do our best to strengthen the social compact and contribute meaningfully whilst in the midst of the pandemic? Congratulations to the Faculty of Humanities, the Division of Academic Planning, Quality Promotion and Academic Staff Development and the DST/NRF South African Research Chair in Teaching and Learning for organising this conference. We need to debate and discuss these issues with rigour.
Still on matters of academia, two teams from UJ’s Technopreneurship Centre were among the top performers at the international Hacklab 2021 virtual hackathon in Accra, Ghana, earlier this month. Dubbed one of the biggest annual hackathons in West Africa, the competition was organised by the Hacklab Foundation, and was held under the theme Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to drive digital transformation in Africa. It brought together over 1,000 participants, including developers, designers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, industry partners and other stakeholders in technology to meet and discuss critical issues and develop tech-enabled solutions for emerging economies.
The two teams from the UJ Technopreneurship Centre, named the Technopreneurs and Binary Wolves, come up tops in two categories: the Technopreneurs won the “Best AI Solution in Big Data” award, while the Binary Wolves scooped the “Best AI Solution in Healthcare” award. In total, 43 teams participated in the hackathon. Thank you to all the winners for flying the UJ flag high! To read more about this click here.
Finally, tomorrow, May 1, marks Worker’s Day. It is important day that comes just three days after we celebrated Freedom Day, on April 27. We celebrate this day at a challenging time because of the negative impact the COVID-19 has had on the lives of workers ranging from reductions in workers’ wages, the loss of jobs, to serious health and safety risks within the workplace. The challenge of a changing technological economy is also discernible everywhere. Despite these challenges, I salute all the workers, who are the true heroes of our nation and the backbone of our economic growth.
Please continue to visit our COVID-19 portal on the UJ website for valuable information, including health and wellbeing. Only information issued via the University’s official communication platforms is legitimate. This information may be verified by visiting: https://www.uj.ac.za/news/corona-virus//. We appeal to all to adhere to the recommended precautionary measures, hygiene and physical distancing (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public) at all times.
Ndo livhuwa, enkosi, baie dankie!
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg
Times mentioned in this newsletter refer to the South African time-zone.