Public Protector Thuli Madonsela

Johannesburg - Personal interest has no place in ethical leadership and good governance, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said on Friday.

“It is putting public interest first and personal interest last, in fact it (personal interest) should not be there,” she told a University of Johannesburg young African leaders' forum.

Last month, Madonsela released a report on security upgrades totalling R246 million to President Jacob Zuma's private homestead at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal. She found that Zuma gave the nod to all the upgrades and that he and his family unduly benefited from them.

She described the amount spent as unconscionable, and recommended that Zuma pay back a percentage.

On Friday, Madonsela compared South Africa's journey from oppression through 20 years of democracy, to the biblical story of Moses leading the people of Israel out of Egypt and their 40-year journey to the promised land.

“The issue we have to ask ourselves, should we be where we are, or could we have covered more distance?

“... We have covered less ground than we could have if it wasn't for maladministration,” she said.

Ethics were simple rules about how people needed to behave, to live together for common good.

To do this, people had to abandon some individual freedoms or limit them.

Those in positions of public power had a particular responsibility in this regard because they needed to lead by example.

“Those in the highest positions have the responsibility to regulate themselves and regulate others,” she said.

“Judges are always judged more harshly... Chapter Nine institutions (such as the Public Protector's office), that's what happens to us,” she said.

These institutions did not make the rules. These were guided by the Constitution, but it was interpreted differently by different people.

“We need to get the finer details, much of it relies on interpretation. We need a code that is more specific in terms of dos and don'ts.”

Responding to calls for her resignation, she said: “Are we going to criticise the referee or the red-carded?”

Good governance was about “doing the right things right”.

“Processes do matter. If you ignore the processes, everyone ignores the processes.”

This would inevitably lead to anarchy. Service delivery protests were a symptom of this and ultimately led to an undermining of democracy.

“Most organisations do the right thing when a cleaner fails to clean.... But most organisations struggle when it is one of the leaders who has done something wrong.”

Consistency was critical for the health of such an organisation or society.

Madonsela said chapter four of the National Development Plan offered guidance for revitalising ethical leadership and good governance.

“Let us make sure we don't take 40 years to make sure no child studies under a tree, no child dies in a pit toilet.” - Sapa