Fostering ethical governance can reboot South Africa’s derailed democracy, says former Public Protector and Chair for Social Justice at Stellenbosch University, Professor Thuli Madonsela.
Madonsela delivered a lecture on “ethical governance and constitutionalism” at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Summer School last week. Her message to attendees was simple – recovery is possible, but honesty and integrity should take centre stage.
She explained ethical governance as the action of governing an organisation or state in a manner that appreciates and consistently does the right thing the right way. Ethical governance fosters constitutionalism, she added.
And to achieve this, she told the audience, more people need to “strive to do things right all the time” and in doing so to teach ethics from the cradle to the grave, from top to bottom.
“[Teaching ethics] is important, not just through formal education, but through the books we read, the TV programmes we watch and the TV games we allow our children to play. All this will help shape a clear understanding of what is right and wrong. In the end that will determine whether our state is governed properly or not,” she said.
“Teaching ethics is important, not just through formal education, but through the books we read, the TV programmes we watch and the TV games we allow our children to play.”
Madonsela said South Africa is fortunate to have a moral compass in the form of the Constitution, which she also described as the country’s “lodestar of ethics”. She said it depicts the vision of a just society and clearly defines where the country is heading and how it needs to get there.
SA has lost its way
The Public Protector’s State of Capture Report in 2016 was the tip of the iceberg, she said. The Zondo Commission’s state capture inquiry, currently under way, demonstrates this as it continues to reveal a theatre of systemic ethical governance lapses.
But corruption didn’t start during the lost decade under former president Jacob Zuma, Madonsela stressed – it started long before then.
“What we’re seeing unfold [at the Zondo commission] didn’t start 10 years ago. Yes, things all got worse then. But people started looking the other way long before that.”
She told attendees that because everything rises and falls with leadership, leaders in all spheres of government and all sectors of society need to influence others and inspire themselves to consistently do the right thing despite the situation they’re faced with.
Greed, the need to belong, seeking to look good and getting to the top fast are the fundamental reasons for the ethical lapse in South Africa and the reason many South African leaders have failed with attempting to lead ethically.
“Once you’ve acquired the taste for living above your means ... once you [become] part of this conveyor belt of just wanting money, you start wanting more of it. That is when things fall apart,” she said.
Getting back on track
Don’t feed the crocodile. Governance fails because people feed the crocodile, Madonsela warned. Instead, leaders should adopt an ethical, purpose-driven and impact-conscious style of leadership, and always be committed to serve.
Leaders need to start thinking about where they’re going, she said, and outlining a clear plan that includes how they intend to get there and what they would like to be remembered for once they’ve departed.
She urged current and future South African leaders to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to solve challenges, but at the same time to evaluate the unintended consequences these solutions will have and establish pathways to navigate them.
“This is the ethical leadership way. It will make sure the corrupt people who have derailed our democracy don’t use a divide-and-rule strategy. We need to create the democracy of our dreams.
“When spiderwebs combine, they can tie up a lion. Our lion here is improper governance and together we can make sure our country reboots democracy through ethical governance and constitutionalism.”
“Our lion here is improper governance and together we can make sure our country reboots democracy through ethical governance and constitutionalism.”
UCT’s Summer School programme – organised by the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies and extended to three weeks for the first time in its history – wrapped up at the weekend.
According to centre director Medee Rall, plans are already under way for the 2020 Summer School. Including renowned speakers like Madonsela in next year’s line-up is a part of those plans.
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