Azwi Mboyi’s protestations keep unleashing important lessons. When I was the Statistician-General, Azwi served in human resources. He was, and I am sure still is, a well-mannered official like many of us, with neat hair, a clean-shaven-face and softly spoken.
Something unprocedural had happened with his promotion, and I objected to approving it. There have been moments when I have exercised the option of refusal. But I would go further and say to the staff member, go ahead and take this matter up so that it gets adjudicated by a neutral authority, because I realise you are not satisfied. No staff member would really be satisfied with being denied a promotion. But for some reason they would feel uneasy to do so. Obviously because there would be a power relation at play.
However, I would insist that the matter be taken up by the aggrieved as there can be no repercussions for such an action. If I lose the case, there will be some humble pie to munch and some reflection on the blind spot that comes to light. I had once eaten a humble pie and there was no way I was going to have a second humble pie.
The first instance of humble pie was a matter of accumulated leave that a staff member had, and sick leave days he had exhausted. My beef was those accumulated leave days should be used for sick leave, when the latter have been exhausted. But the staff member argued the accumulated leave was an entitlement. So, I encouraged the staff member to take this matter through the grievance procedure outside the organisation and we would abide by the outcome.
After months of persuasion, the staff member ultimately took the matter outside the organisation. The labour relations team had assured me the case was winnable. So the hearing was held, and I lost. I had to honour the legal outcome.
I had a discussion with Tiltman after I lost. I congratulated him for fighting for his rights, but asked him why he took so long to take the case up. He did not give a straight answer, but essentially he felt that if he did, he would have broken the bond of trust we had built over almost 15 years.
I said to him: “This is endorsing the trust bonds, so that at any material time we have to explore what is just. And what is just may not readily be visible from what is morally appropriate. The line between just and morality is often so thin.”
Azwi gathered enough courage and came in as usual with materials I had to attend to, and guided me through all that. Little did I know that this time around he had a strategy.
Risenga Maluleke, the current Statistician General, had just walked in and Azwi had wanted to talk, and probably felt maybe not in the presence of another staff member.
So I said, Azwi one day you might need a witness just in case you leave the office very aggrieved. Azwi drew deep in the matter of fairness. He asked the question that if my parents had put me through school with stolen money, would that render my qualification, whether I passed or failed, invalid? That was a moral question on the input side, but morally neutral on the outcome.
The question was, would you invalidate your qualification had you come to know that your parents took you through your education with stolen money? The issue was, the certificate was neutral to the source of funding.
I returned a favour and asked, would you remove Mamelodi Sundowns from its standings in the knowledge that it enjoyed a Disney Robin Hood effect of Zola Mahobe? Can you blame the players who knew little about the other game, tha Robin Hood was playing? If you were to address this, how would you start? So from my answer, Azwi proceeded to take the matter up. I lost the case. What is the matter of Tiltman and Mboyi to do with my rant?
In his much-published YouTube intervention, Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Warren Goldstein, raises a matter of inappropriate behaviour by South Africa, and says there is another alleged inappropriate conduct by President Cyril Ramaphosa that he is following up on and investigating because South Africa has taken an inappropriate step in taking Israel to the International Court of Justice.
Azwi asked me the question, if my parents take me through school with stolen money and I succeed in my career, will my certificate represent stolen education that should be expropriated from me as a beneficiary of education? In this context, can the judgment by the International Court of Justice in favour of the Gazan people at the insistence of South Africa and its President ,who took Israel to the ICJ, be invalidated because of the allegations the Chief Rabbi referred to in relation to Iran? Even if the allegations against the President are true, can this invalidate the ICJ judgment?
Azwi’s lesson of judgement rings true in my ear and mental faculty as I explore this much more volatile and politically-laden issue. But at the heart of it, is this metaphor that Azwi threw at me: “Is the certificate I obtained invalid because my father paid the fees with stolen money?” As I lost on this matter, I am convinced that in similar ways the Chief Rabbi has no leg to stand on. He must heed the advice of Azwi.
Dr Pali Lehohla is a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, a Research Associate at Oxford University, a board member of Institute for Economic Justice at Wits and a distinguished Alumni of the University of Ghana. He is the former Statistician-General of South Africa.