The rot at the head of state leadership has proven disastrous for nation's moral fibre

Just as SA was beginning to see law enforcement officers start doing the work they were hired for, Zuko Mbini and fellow officers at Ngcobo were shot dead by members of a church. /Simphiwe Nkwali
Just as SA was beginning to see law enforcement officers start doing the work they were hired for, Zuko Mbini and fellow officers at Ngcobo were shot dead by members of a church. /Simphiwe Nkwali

Sometime last year, a lawyer related to me how he was stopped by a traffic cop in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, for talking on the phone while driving. When the cop asked for a bribe, the attorney explained that as a lawyer and an officer of the court, he could not pay or accept bribes.

In turn, the traffic officer explained he would not issue a traffic offence ticket because the money would go into state coffers and then straight to Nkandla to benefit the Zuma family.

With a straight face, the cop asked why he could not gain by accepting a bribe or the lawyer benefit by not paying a fine if the president of the country is stealing from the state. Brazenly, the cop gave the lawyer two choices: pay the bribe or drive on. Stunned by the weird reasoning and the choices, the lawyer drove on.

As the saying goes, a fish rots from the head. Indeed, the moral credentials of the leadership tends to set the tone in society. Moral and ethical decadence at the top, sometimes rubs on others in society to follow suite. It is refreshing to see how, after the election of the new leaders of the country, law enforcement agencies are suddenly buzzing around giving looters of state resources a hard time. Probably, the traffic cop would not hesitate to issue that ticket if it were today.

The constitution and laws of the country are important in regulating our lives and providing us with rules governing our interactions with one another, but without morality and ethics, the laws are worth very little.

Most of us do not drive badly on the roads, take other people's property or injure others because we fear the police. On the contrary, we drive properly, respect our fellow human beings and their property simply because it is the right thing to do. We are guided by our consciences and our sense of right and wrong in the conduct of our daily lives.

If most of us were to take leave of our consciences and only behave properly for fear of officers of the law, there would be no police force or army big enough to keep the peace. There would be no enough courts to try us or jails big enough to accommodate us. So, the constitution and related laws can only be effective if we are a moral and ethical society.

Although we are reputed to have the best constitution in the world, we are one of the most unsafe societies on the planet. Violent crime is on the rampage, and the murder rate is unacceptably high.

Corruption and the looting of state resources have reached frightening proportions. It is as if all ethics and morality have gone to the dogs and the furious race to the feeding trough has many foaming at the mouth.

It seems too many people are looking for a way to make money at the expense of others. Those in state institutions and state owned enterprises loot, the priests make their congregants eat grass or rats, or attack police stations to rob the police of guns as in Ngcobo, Eastern Cape. Metered taxi drivers kill technology-based taxi operators, all driven by an almost demonic desire to get rich at the expense of other human beings.

It is true that there are other factors at play here, such as poverty, inequality, unemployment and the legacy of our violent past. It is also true that the democratic dispensation has not delivered on its promise to improve the lot of the majority. However, there are societies all over the world that are much poorer than us that are not ravaged by ills present in our situation.

There is no doubt the moral and ethical decadence at the top of our state leadership contributes to this rot. With the right noises being made at the top of late, we might just begin to turn the corner.

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