It is a sign of how messed up we are as a society that, when someone does something decent, s/he is turned into a hero. Doing the decent thing should be the norm, but we have become a society where we expect politicians to be corrupt and everyone else to be bad and, when someone does something nice, we are surprised.
One example is the outpouring of support that has been shown to Nkosikho Mbele, a petrol attendant who paid R100 out of his own pocket to buy petrol for motorist Monet van Deventer, who had left her card at home.
She started a crowd-funding account for Mbele as a token of appreciation and the social media campaign quickly generated just under R500000.
The company that Mbele works for offered to match the online contributions by making a donation of R500 000 to a charity of his choice. They have also earmarked him for one of their special company awards and are flying him to Tanzania to receive it.
But Mbele did not do what he did because he expected a payment in return. He did what he thought was the right thing to do and the reward was totally unexpected, but well-deserved.
Unrelated to this, but similar in nature because of the response from the public, has been the way many people have reacted to Northern Cape Premier Zamani Saul and his promise to deliver “servant leadership”. He has banned new cars for his MECs and bought ambulances instead.
Unlike his counterparts in other provinces, who were inaugurated in plush provincial legislatures, Saul’s inauguration took place in an informal settlement. He has also banned pictures of the premier and MECs at provincial buildings.
Saul’s behaviour, while commendable, should have been the norm after we became a democracy. After all, our struggle was never about creating opportunities for the few, but bringing dignity to the majority of our population.
Maybe, when the ANC took over the government in 1994, they should have revisited all the apartheid-era practices and not just adopted them. Just because they were now applying to a democratic government, did not make them right. Under apartheid, public representatives were put on a pedestal. We should have done differently in our democracy.
I remember in the early 1980s, my political mentor, Johnny Issel, started a few trade unions and one of the rules for those who worked there was that they could not earn more than the workers they represented. If they wanted to earn more, they had to make sure that the workers they organised, also earned more.
Some people would argue that this was false socialism, but the principle is important. Imagine if our politicians’ salaries depended on how well our economy was doing or how many jobs they were able to create? Imagine if politicians earned as much as the lowest earners in our society?
For many politicians, it has become about how much money they can earn, how many benefits they can generate and how they can use their positions to benefit themselves and their families in other ways. For instance, by becoming involved in businesses as shareholders or directors.
The primary purpose of becoming public servants should always be to serve, as Premier Saul has reminded us. One would hope that those in other provinces, and also in national government and local government, would take note of what he is doing and look for ways to emulate his actions.
I hope that soon we will get to the point where the actions of a Nkosikho Mbele and a Zamani Saul are what we expect to happen naturally.
We should be holding everyone, but especially supposed public servants, to higher values than we do at the moment. We did not struggle for kindness and servant leadership to be the exception. It should be the rule in our country.
* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media. He’s on Twitter: @rylandfisher
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.