we have lowered the moral bar as a nation

AMERICAN statesman Benjamin Franklin once noted: "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it."

AMERICAN statesman Benjamin Franklin once noted: "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it."

The ANC government has done many good deeds that have earned this country a good reputation. Among other things, it confounded predictions of a bloody transition to majority rule by extending a hand of brotherhood to brutal apartheid rulers and led the country on a path of reconciliation and nation building.

It enacted laws and put in place independent state institutions aimed at preventing and fighting corruption. A free press was ushered in and discrimination and hate speech were prohibited. Adherence to ethics, values and the moral high ground was the new way of doing things.

The poor were put at the centre of the nation's agenda. Those who yearned for wealth left politics for business and deployment to government positions was about sacrifice and serving the people. At last Africa had a giant as an example to prove that corruption and maladministration were not part of the genetic make-up of the African.

One wonders whether our rulers are struggling with managing the country's hard-won reputation, or whether they have since deviated from the very values that have made us the pride and hope of Africa. Facts may be different, but perceptions suggest that we are on a downward spiral.

Sixteen years into democracy there are now debates and litigations about divisive struggle songs whose relevance today exists only in the minds of some in the ruling party.

State institutions that fight corruption appear weak and their independence watered down.

This happens while the fiscal purse is looted by unscrupulous civil servants and tenderpreneurs who build collapsing houses for the poor and hinder the economy with pot-holed roads and suppliers who fail to deliver much-needed materials and services to hospitals and schools while pocketing government payments anyway. Prosecutors known for fearlessness and integrity are shown the door.

The gap between the rich and poor is at its widest. But some of our leaders, their families and associates appear in the society pages of newspapers where they display the grossest forms of materialism.

No regard is shown to the plight of the poor and the millions who have lost their jobs in the past 16 years.

ANC youth leaders, who wield enormous power and influence, visit Zimbabwe to "study its policies", seemingly blind to the presence of millions of Zimbabweans who are in this country as economic refugees. Assurances that Zimbabwean-style land grabs will not happen in this country are being contradicted.

Many of our municipalities seem dysfunctional. Top positions are the prizes that local squabbles are all about. Qualifications and merit are the least considerations and political connections and the willingness to dish out tenders seem to be the real job requirements.

As a nation we seem to have lowered the bar on ethics, our moral high ground and values. Politicians and state officials are awarded government tenders directly or via proxies. The ruling party - which gets a lion's share of funding for political parties - quibbles with its alliance partners over its involvement with a company that does business with a state enterprise, notwithstanding an adverse finding by the Public Protector.

South Africa is suffering serious reputational damage and the mood in the country is pessimistic. Our government must seriously attend to the country's brand and reputation. This must entail the governing party and its subsidiaries saying and doing the right things and holding on to its values that have made our country great.

One good lesson to learn from Zimbabwe is that allies like labour unions - and in our case the SACP as well - can wrest power from a ruling former liberation party if it deviates from its founding values.