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Real moral courage means putting your career at risk for the greater good, writes Eusebius McKaiser.
Most of us are born with a solid backbone but, shame man, some of our politicians only grow one the morning after they become politically irrelevant.
I’m not sure if Gogo Nature is to blame for this biological discrimination or whether the bloody agents ripped out their own backbones early on for the sake of long political careers.
In either event, I take the newfound moral courage that someone displays in the twilight of their career with a giant bag of salt!
Two examples have been on my mind recently. The first is Mathews Phosa, the former treasurer-general of the ANC. He recently urged ANC supporters to be vigilant about the impact of corruption, and insisted that he is flagging the issue because corruption is an ill that is destroying our society’s foundation.
For a day or two, the media lapped up his remarks, as any critique of the ANC in government, from a senior ANC member, is, I guess, newsworthy.
But I chuckled when I heard these reported remarks, including Phosa’s insistence in some interviews that his comments were well meant.
Here’s the thing though, Mr Phosa. You had a gigantic opportunity for many years inside the ANC, as a top six leader, to do something decisive about it. Why didn’t you, sir?
What's particularly sad is that Phosa could have helped us deal with the sordid link between money and politics. He was the ANC’s money man, after all.
Instead of helping to develop a political culture in which political parties are transparent about party funding, Phosa helped to keep the lid on the shadowy world of money and politics.
We still don’t know how it has come about that the ANC is a financially well-lubricated machine.
Corruption – which Phosa is now concerned about – is minimised only when you promote transparency. What did Phosa do to institutionalise and entrench transparency around money’s odious links with politics?
The other example of a backbone the morning after is that of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who recently encouraged ANC members to hold their government accountable. I almost choked on my breakfast. Where were you, sister Winnie, when we needed MPs who could hold the ANC government accountable? Why have you not been role-modelling on how to hold the Cabinet accountable?
Instead you’ve been more absent from Parliament than Schabir Shaik has been from prison.
You’ve already tweeted more often than you've posed a pointed question in Parliament to the ANC government you now ask citizens to hold accountable.
This is particularly unfortunate, given how weak Parliament often is in its oversight role.
Someone like sister Winnie had the political capital that many others lacked. She could have been a democratic hero demonstrating how to be an effective MP.
Instead she role-modelled absenteeism.
Two points here are crucial. First, you have little moral authority as an elder to preach to citizens if you didn’t demonstrate a deep commitment in your political career to the issue you are preaching about.
Second, it would not be good enough either to say it’s easier to speak out once you’re no longer politically active.
This defence assumes that a political career is more important than blowing the whistle on corruption and entrenching accountable government.
Besides, you have less influence later in your career, so speaking out then has less impact. It’s a no-brainer that you can only change the world while you wield influence.
Unless, of course, you don’t want to lose friends.
Real moral courage means putting your career at risk for the greater good. Preaching when you’re in retirement or in the wilderness isn’t good enough.
Show a backbone while you wield political power. - The Star
* McKaiser is the host of Power Talk With Eusebius McKaiser on Power 98.7, weekdays 9am to noon.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.