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Money stolen through corruption every year is enough to feed the world’s hungry 80 times over, says former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr Navi Pillay.

Speaking at a public lecture on UKZN’s Howard College campus titled Ethics and Compliance to Prevent Corruption, Pillay said the lecture’s theme was appropriate as the issue highlighted was a burning one in South Africa at present.

‘Corruption has a direct impact on people’s human rights. Nearly 870 million people go to bed hungry every night and many of them are children. Corruption denies them the right to food, and in some cases, their right to life,’ said Pillay.

‘A human rights-based approach to anti-corruption responds to the people’s resounding call for a social, political and economic order that delivers on the promise of freedom from fear and freedom from want.

‘While we are deeply concerned with corruption and disregard for ethics in our country right now because of the immediate impact on us daily, we must view the issue in the context of global corruption that has a macro impact on us. We need to seek international, regional and national solutions. Anti-corruption efforts are more likely to be successful if they approach corruption as a systemic problem rather than a problem of individuals.’

Expanding on questions she posed to the audience about ‘What are Human Rights?’ and ‘What are Ethics?’, Pillay said human rights involved the shared perceptions of individuals regarding basic questions of right and wrong, fairness and equity while ethics was about a common sense of what is right and what is wrong.

She then outlined the different ethical standards for individuals, businesses and public officials.

Pillay said ethics was also about caring and it begins in small spaces.

Referring to the recent highly publicised death of five-year-old Lumka Mketwa, a pupil at Bizana’s Luna Primary school, who died after falling into a pit toilet, Pillay said what happened was an indictment on society, adding that teachers should act as parents.

Outlining solutions, Pillay said combining strategies for fighting corruption and promoting human rights could serve both causes. Having an efficient anti-corruption strategy had to be underpinned by the key human rights principles of clean governance, an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, access to information, transparency and accountability in political and administrative systems.

She said the protection of human rights victims and human rights defenders was equally important. ‘States have a duty to protect them as well as journalists, researchers and whistle-blowers inside institutions and also civil society actors against reprisals, violence, threats, retaliation and arbitrary action for their legitimate activity of exposing corruption and wrong-doing.

‘We lack the technical capacity to track and expose corruption and investigate the allegations of whistle-blowers. For this, we need your research and recommendations. UKZN prides itself on being the foremost research-based university in our country. The issue of ethics, corruption, illicit trade and illicit financial flows, that I have covered in this lecture are urgent societal challenges that need your attention,’ said Pillay.

Pillay advised UKZN students and all young people to get educated and to not only care about their rights but the rights of all the other people, especially in the rural areas. She said university students had the power to influence each other.

Answering a question from the audience on race representation and working for the UN and other world organisations, she said, ‘The world is still white and it needs some colour. Young people should go out there and apply.’

The lecture was the first in a series planned by the University.

Words: Sithembile Shabangu