Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
In May 2017, the story broke that a young 22-year-old water polo teacher at Parktown Boys High had been accused of sexually grooming and assaulting more than 20 schoolboys, aged between 15 and 16 years, at this top school in Johannesburg. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident but is rather one of the many examples of what has been happening across all sectors of the world - it happens when those in so-called positions of power abuse these positions of trust, which they could have used to make a positive difference to other people's lives instead.
Power, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. But when power is combined with abuse, the problems start. Many of those who are in positions of power, such as teachers, priests, employers, politicians and coaches, abuse the power that their positions give them.
Power is a quality, a tool and a weapon utilised for a variety of reasons. When used in the form of a quality, it gives the possessor a sense of control. In the form of a weapon, power is possessed in order to produce a negative environment of hurt and punishment. When used in the form of a tool, power may be used to gain something more, something positive (www.kibin.com/essay-examples/ the-uses-of-power-TrmlThKH). Sadly, this same power and privilege are allowing people to get away with a lot. Power is operationally defined as having control over resources, which affords the ability to influence others by bestowing or withholding those resources (Magee and Galinsky, 2008). The online dictionary (www.businessdictionary.com/definition/abuse-of-power.html) describes “abuse of power” as “the act of using one’s position of power in an abusive way. This can take many forms, such as taking advantage of someone, gaining access to information that shouldn’t be accessible to the public, or just manipulating someone with the ability to punish them if they don’t comply”. Instead of wielding their power for the greater good, some people in powerful positions may be tempted to use their power in self-serving ways.
Abuse of power and corruption
Leaders, ranging from politicians to religious and educational leaders, are typically endowed with power and it is this power that can corrupt them. In this sense, the saying of "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely" is spot-on (www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/absolute-power-corrupts-absolutely.html). Once given a taste of power, many leaders are highly motivated to protect it - a phenomenon recognisable throughout the world. South Africa is no different. The case of former national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi, who abused his power to protect and help his corrupt friends including Glen Agliotti, from whom he accepted bribes worth R166 000 in exchange for showing him top-secret police reports, is one of the first examples that comes to mind (www.timeslive. co.za/politics/2016/02/08/Mbeki-tackles-trust-me-on-Jackie-Selebi-scandal-in-latest-missive-defending-his-presidency). There were also allegations that Selebi abused his position in Interpol, when he served as its president from 2004 to 2008, to protect criminals from extradition (www.security.co.za/news/4865). Another example is that of Jacob Zuma, the South African president, who is facing 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering and who has tried to abuse his power to get these charges against him dropped.
The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) decided to hear together the appeals by President Jacob Zuma and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) against a high court ruling setting aside the decision to drop 783 charges of corruption‚ fraud and racketeering against the president and has given the President and the NPA until 5 June 2017 to file their heads of argument. This happened after a full bench of the North Gauteng High Court found in April 2016 that Mr Zuma should face the charges as outlined in the indictment (www.times-live.co.za/politics/2017/04/20/Zuma-and-NPA-appeal-hearings-against-reinstatement-of-783-criminal-charges-to-be-consolidated).
In 2006, 14 ANC MPs were convicted and fined after pleading guilty to theft and fraud charges due to their abuse of parliamentary travel vouchers. The scandal, which subsequently became known as Travelgate, also implicated members of other parties. In a flagrant cover-up, Parliament decided to write off R12 million owed by the MPs in 2011 (www.fin24.com/Economy/Nine-corruption-scandals-worse-than-Nkandla-20150922). It is also common knowledge that there are municipal managers, chief financial officers and mayors in numerous municipalities around the country who also abuse their power to get away with acts of corruption and fraud involving public funds and resources. Truman Prince, the former mayor of Beaufort West, is yet another example of a person in power who was involved in a string of corruption scandals and tender irregularities. But that was not all - in 2005, Prince was suspended as municipal manager and as a member of the ANC after a television programme revealed that he had approached teenage girls for sex. In 2010, he was found guilty of drunk driving and fined a meagre R2000 (http://citizen.co.za/news/970209/anc-must-stop-protecting-criminal-conduct-and-suspend-truman-prince-da/).
More examples of people in powerful positions who abuse their power to get away with corruption and fraud include church leaders who misuse money donated to churches, while businessmen and -women take advantage of their powerful positions to get away with bribery and corruption.