Cape Town – The state capture and other inquiries have shown that while “integrity” is ordinarily a four-syllable word, in South Africa it’s often treated as a four-letter word.
It’s not easy to find hope amid a scale of corruption that is almost beyond comprehension – role models who “serve the people” appear to be in short supply.
However, the Accountability Lab, a global NGO, has found a way to unearth Integrity Icons in countries, which its director, Blair Glencorse, calls a process which involves “naming and faming” instead of the usual “naming and shaming”.
The Accountability Lab acknowledges a lack of integrity – which leads to corruption, inequality and insecurity – is a global challenge.
“We have been operating in SA now for about two years, but we have some deep experience here through previously working on the issues of accountability and open government and anti-corruption.
“To change the narrative around the negative news that perpetuates the news cycle, particularly around corruption, which has been significant, is a campaign called Integrity Icon,” said Glencorse, who was recently appointed to the World Bank’s Expert Council on Citizen Engagement.
“It is about celebrating good people within public service who are doing the right thing, using public resources well and acting with integrity for the public good. The conversation tends to end up in finger-pointing and name-calling and that doesn’t really get us anywhere in terms of solutions.
“It’s an annual event and voting has just started this week and is open for about three weeks. When it closes, we will have a big national ceremony in Johannesburg to celebrate the winners and highlight the amazing things they are doing.
“The way the campaign works is that any South African can nominate an honest government official. We have a two-month nomination period. We get hundreds of nominations and with the help of an expert panel of judges we narrow it down to five.
“We put their videos out on social media, radio and TV and we do community showings all across the country. We set up a voting system so that people can vote for their favourite Integrity Icon.
“This creates what we hope is a big national conversation around what integrity means and what kind of people we want in government and the role they should be playing in serving the public good.
“They are public servants and not elected officials, who tend to be local level bureaucrats – the hidden heroes who are doing the right thing when no one is watching.
“The importance of that is that it helps us ordinary people understand that there are others like us who are serving the public good and it gives us hope and begins to rebuild trust in the system where trust has broken down in many ways.
“The campaign itself is just the entry point and the exciting thing is that we are beginning to work with the icons to develop their profiles to continue to push for reforms, to build coalitions within sectors, for example, or around the female winners beginning to look at accountability for gender within the work they do.
“So there is exciting work being done now to move beyond just the discussion into really meaningful reform over time.
“This year the nominee from the Western Cape is a lady (Helimamy Moeng), who is a pharmacist within the health ministry doing incredible things at a very difficult medical facility to provide ARV drugs to HIV Aids patients; really pushing for integrity, making sure resources are used effectively, that people are getting the care they need.
“We hope everyone in the Western Cape will vote for an Integrity Icon, not just for those from the Western Cape, but also for others from across the country that are doing incredible things.
"We have had firemen, policemen, teachers and medical professionals, so these are front-line civil servants really doing good stuff and are the kind of people we need to highlight and role model.
“Change has to start at the base level. Integrity Icon shows that there are role models from the bottom up and that it’s not good just to point fingers at people in power.
“It starts with all of us understanding our role in being a person of integrity and living by our values. It gives people a glimpse into what can happen in government and the good things that people with integrity can do, creating hope and trust.”
Last year's Integrity Icon winner was KwaZulu-Natal policeman Captain Vinny Pillay.
Helimamy Moeng is the Manager of Pharmaceutical Services at the Southern Western Sub-Structure in the Western Cape.
She always knew she wanted to work in the health care system, and when the time came, chose to train as a pharmacist.
Helimamy started working as a public servant in Gugulethu Clinic, delivering much needed ARV and ART treatment to HIV positive patients. She now oversees the distribution of medication around the South Western Districts of the province.
Helimamy is motivated in her work in the public service by ensuring that people have continued access to medication, and is passionate about staff development in the pharmaceutical services.
Moshalagae Malatji works in the Limpopo Department of Education as the head of the province’s Library and Information Services division.
She started working in the public service as a mathematics teacher Makgofe High School and went on to become the school’s principal . Later, she was seconded to the Lebowakgomo circuit where she worked closely with school principals in the district.
In her current role, Moshalagae ensures that schools that have libraries are well stocked, and works to improve the condition of libraries. Her mission as a public servant is to improve literacy and reading for meaning, and to support schools to use libraries in addition to their teaching and learning.
Sakhile Nkosi is a clinical audiologist in Lydenburg Hospital in Mpumalanga. He was inspired to become an audiologist after growing up and seeing firsthand how isolated a deaf member of his community was.
When Sakhile arrived at Lydenburg Hospital in 2017 as a community service intern, he did not have a supervisor. A big part of his commitment to the public service is to ensure that incoming community service student interns are well trained and have someone they can learn from and be accountable to.
He works hard to provide care to patients who come from all around Mpumalanga for his services.
Gugu Mlotshwa is a Community Health Facilitator based in Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal. She works at the Eshowe District Hospital where she ensures that the community receives access to different health care systems available to them.
She is driven by a desire to serve the people around her, especially those in remote areas. Gugu is part of Operation Sukuma Sakhe - an inter-departmental group which works collaboratively to resolve challenges raised by the communities she serves.
She leads a team of 98 Community Care Givers, who work in the community to provide people with access to health care services.
Clinton Odayar is a police officer who currently works as a K9 Search and Rescue Officer at the Umhlali K9 Unit. He is motivated by a need to give families and loved ones closure when someone goes missing.
He does this with the help of his canine companion, Dante. Together, they have been instrumental in finding many people who have gone missing in the area.
Clinton supports neighbouring police stations and private health care services to give everyone missing a loved one closure. Additionally, he does safety awareness talks at schools and hosts anti-drug and anti-bullying workshops.