Just weeks after an attempted hit on the University of Fort Hare’s vice-chancellor for exposing corruption, one professor is the latest to raise concern and ire over the matter.

In his book, Corrupted: A Study of Chronic Dysfunction in South African Universities, Jonathan Jansen examines what makes some South African universities “dysfunctional” and others “functional”. He considers how, at “dysfunctional universities”, the academic project, which should be the primary concern of a tertiary institution, has been abandoned, with lucrative procurement opportunities pursued instead.  

Jansen, as a “former vice-chancellor and administrator of universities had seen his fair share of institutional implosion”, the book states. As an academic, Jansen holds both an emotional interest in the African university, in “wanting to see it work”, and a curiosity as to why some universities do not, he told Wits Vuvuzela.  

Corrupted: A Study of Chronic Dysfunction in South African Universities, by Jonathan Jansen. Photo: Wits University Press

Many reasons for functional failure are explored from students to taxi operators, and South Africa’s apartheid past is not exempt. Jansen posits that former apartheid homeland universities are the institutions where dysfunction is primarily experienced at present, although there are exceptions such as the University of the Western Cape. Jansen weaves connections between the past and present, for instance in chapter five, “Casting Long Shadows: How History Shapes the Politics of Universities in South Africa”, protest action is under the microscope, as the author discusses the protest demands from different student groups during apartheid and compares these to the #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall student protests of 2015/2016. 

Gripping anecdotes are often placed at the beginning of a chapter to share the experiences of others. In most instances, the events are shocking (such as “the warlord who became a vice-chancellor”) or emotional (in the case of the academic engineer whom a vice-chancellor beat with a sjambok). Nonetheless, Jansen also ensures the reader finds some humour in a book full of bombshells, in one case, referring to Stellenbosch University as the University of the Free State’s (UFS) “wealthy Afrikaans cousin” or mentioning regular meetings at the local Wimpy between himself, as UFS’s vice-chancellor, and the university’s chair. 

Despite these interesting experiences, many of the chapters are theory-driven, which requires sustained attention. Jansen told Wits Vuvuzela that he wanted to “write in a way that the general public can enjoy the book without losing its academic strengths, in other words, there still has to be theory”. The first rule of writing, for him, is to “communicate”, which he has done successfully in this 320-page paperback. 

This book would appeal primarily to those in academia, however, Jansen has ensured that the book is accessible to all with sufficient reading capability. Copies are also easily accessible, being published by Wits University Press on February 1, 2023, and available for purchase online at R350. 

Jansen’s writing style exudes experience. He ensures the text flows by linking the last thought of one paragraph to the topic presented in the next, making for an easier read. Overall, understandable language is used, however, words such as “nefarious” or “haranguing” may require the reader to have a dictionary on standby. 

This book provides thought-provoking details, with an in-text table and graph as well as 56 pages of appendices, notes and references for a reader craving more information. Despite the level of detail in this non-fiction read, Jansen has taken care to protect the identity of sources. In many instances, he avoids using names and leaves out some identifying information. Jansen told Wits Vuvuzela that he, however, has not been concerned for his safety despite writing a book of exposés. 

This book, which required two years of research and three months of writing, provides an enriching look into the inner workings of many of South Africa’s 26 universities, making sure that the reader truly grapples with the state of not only the country’s tertiary education sector, but reflects on the pervasive nature of corruption in South Africa. 

Vuvu Rating: 8/10 

FEATURED IMAGE: Author of Corrupted: A Study of Chronic Dysfunction in South African Universities, Jonathan Jansen. Photo: Supplied