South Africa’s first Integrity Idol, police officer Captain Vinny Pillay, has been hailed a true paragon of virtue and a man who would give his life for someone else without hesitation.
Pillay, lauded by his Umhlali community in KwaZulu-Natal, was named the country’s first Integrity Idol winner at a ceremony at Artscape Theatre.
Integrity Idol is a campaign run in Nepal, Liberia, Pakistan, Mali, Nigeria and South Africa by citizens in search of honest government officials.
It aims to generate debate around the idea of integrity and honesty with the hope of inspiring a new generation of effective public servants.
The project draws on the successful implementation of Integrity Idol since 2015 in Nepal, Liberia, Mali and Pakistan, which garnered a significant amount of public interest.
Pillay said he believed that it was important to examine integrity in an effort to restore morals and values that are vital to a functioning society.
“I am hoping to make a bigger difference in my community and work with the other Integrity Idols in realising more concrete change in South Africa.
"I don’t see myself in another occupation. I love my work and my community,” he said.
Umhlali resident Avil Pershad said Pillay had the qualities that every community would want in their officers.
Pershad said he was "so dedicated to his job that he would place his life on the table for others".
Faith Pienaar, who led the campaign on behalf of the Accountability Lab, said those chosen to be Integrity Idols show the incredible work that is possible within public service in South Africa.
“We are in desperate need of a positive conversation about the role of public servants as a means to restore trust.
“That is why naming-and- faming these heroes is so critical. In many ways Integrity Idol as a public exercise helps us to reimagine our country and its possibilities.
"We saw the energy that this can create and the vision South Africans have for a better future,” Pienaar said.
Pillay was up against nurse Elizabeth Mkhondo of Mamelodi East; team entry Deon Esau and Jocelin Flank, a fireman and EMS responder from a fire department in Johannesburg; GP Dr Mirja Delport from Oudtshoorn; and teacher Natascha Meisler from the Free State.
In January, the Accountability Lab and partners - including the Nelson Mandela Foundation, LifeCo UnLtd and Democracy Works Foundation - asked South Africans to nominate public servants who are working with integrity and “doing the right thing even when no one is watching”.
Volunteers gather nominations from citizens, host public forums and generate a national discourse on the need for public officials with integrity.
The nominees were narrowed down to a final five in each country. After a six-month campaign, Pillay was nominated for going beyond the call of duty to help the aged, disabled and others in need in his community.
Accountability Lab is now working with them to expand their integrity networks to do everything from developing national policies to redesigning curricula for civil service training schools.
The team is also building up the campaign in preparation for Integrity Idol 2019.
Details of next year’s competition, including how to nominate and vote, will be available on the website later in the year: www.integrityidol.org/