public Protector Thuli Madonsela, in a seminal public address in Stellenbosch, intimated that if corruption was not dealt with decisively, it had the potential to “distort the economy and derail democracy”.
She explained further that we are “at the tipping point” and that corruption had become “endemic in our country, both in the public and private sectors”.
She added that SA needed selfless leadership and an end to impunity in its battle with maladministration and corruption.
Madonsela, as the public protector, is not a party politician, but in accordance with chapter 9 of the constitution, occupies an independent office mandated with the obligation to expose and redress mal-administration and corruption in the body politic and public administration of SA.
We ignore her warning at our peril. What is so urgently needed in SA is moral regeneration at every level of society.
There is probably unanimity among political, religious and civil society leaders concerning the urgent need for moral regeneration in this country.
To his credit, President Jacob Zuma has repeatedly indicated that a discourse and strategy are required for that.
We need an urgent summit so that an action plan can be formulated by leaders in the government and private sector. What is required, says Madonsela, is “selfless, committed and unwavering leadership”.
When the ANC came to power in 1994, and during the period of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, the ANC occupied the moral high ground. The Mandela presidency, although short-lived, was indeed a golden age. Mandela bequeathed to us an inestimable legacy of moral integrity and selfless service, which has been squandered.
In both the government and private sector there is manifest corruption, fraud and dishonesty. Government leaders admit that this is indeed a very real problem.
A moral code
Moral regeneration must start with the recognition and formulation of an acceptable moral code. A good place to start is the constitution, which in section 1 sets out the values on which the constitution is based.
These values include human dignity, equality and freedom, the most important being human dignity, accorded to all in SA.
There is, however, a fundamental difference between liberty and licence. As SA citizens, we are bound to respect the rights of fellow citizens, and are not at liberty to violate their rights, and vice versa.
The Bill of Rights is thus not merely an enumeration of rights, but implied in their limitations are the awesome responsibilities of citizenship, involving basic honesty and integrity.
If we are intellectually and morally honest, we must admit that endemic corruption and fraud are occurring to the detriment of SA, and that it needs a powerful strategy to counteract it.
Indeed this constitutes one of the most formidable moral and political challenges facing us as a nation. A concerted effort in this regard is required in both the public and private sectors.
If the vast majority of black people of SA continue to live in abject poverty, the political human rights, such as freedom of expression or religion or association, enumerated in the Bill of Rights have very little significance. Such a situation is exacerbated by endemic corruption and could contribute to or precipitate a populist revolt that could overthrow the democratic order, with disastrous consequences for human rights.
The moral, political and social issues in SA are interrelated and it is necessary to have a wide-ranging discourse on these.
Democracy, although imperfect and embryonic, has taken root in the native soil of SA and in all three government spheres.
Nevertheless, SA is confronted with formidable socio-economic problems.
Debilitating and inordinate poverty, vast unemployment, profound inequality and HIV/Aids cannot be addressed adequately if there is widespread corruption and dishonesty in the government and private sector.
A plan of action
Moral regeneration is essential, both in the private and public sectors.
Action needs to be taken and our political, religious, economic and moral leaders must take an unequivocal stand, come together and formulate a dynamic and comprehensive plan of action involving a moral code. This plan must be put into operation in different parts of the country involving the three spheres of government – national, provincial and local.
Ordinary citizens must bring inexorable pressure on our leaders to fulfil this important task of moral regeneration.
If state leaders fail, religious and civil society leaders must seize the initiative.
South Africans, having achieved and created an authentic democratic system of government, premised on the values of equality and liberty for all, at great cost, need to deepen it and extend its benefits to all the people of this land. It must be protected from the predations of the corrupt, unscrupulous, uncaring and avaricious.
Political and social integrity must triumph over brazen political expediency and naked ambition so that a genuinely compassionate and caring society can emerge, facilitated by a dynamic plan for moral regeneration.
l SA needs a plan that reflects the needs of the people on the ground, implemented by the highest authority. The National Planning Commission and LeadSA invite you to be part of that plan by writing to make email@example.com. Get The Star every Tuesday to be a part of the national conversation.