Shivambu must take remedial action to show remorse
The test of character is not in the absence of provocation but in how one reacts when provoked. It is then when the true character is revealed.
As John Tillotson, a 17th century theologian put it, "To be able to bear provocation is an argument of great reason, and to forgive it of a great mind".
Floyd Shivambu's assault of a journalist this week is very telling.
It is true that public representatives are human like the rest of us. They have good days and bad days.
This has a bearing on their behaviour and conduct. It may lead them to be highly strung, short of patience and easily provoked.
Nevertheless, what distinguishes them from the rest of us is that they bear a higher responsibility of leadership. They should at all times seek to embody and demonstrate those principles and values that constitute a high ethical standard.
Shivambu is not only a public representative but a senior leader of the third-biggest party in parliament.
This mantle of leadership is not like a cap that he can remove when he leaves parliament and put on when he enters. The duty and obligation of leadership are perpetual.
Getting into a scuffle with a journalist or any member of the public is unbecoming of a leader.
Shivambu has since apologised and conceded that his behaviour was inappropriate.
Explaining his aggressive reaction towards Adrian de Kock, he described a scenario that many of us can relate to.
He was rushing to a meeting, he didn't realise that De Kock was a journalist and feeling accosted and disregarded he succumbed to what he interpreted as a provocation.
As relatable as his story is, it cannot for one moment justify this kind of behaviour.
His apology may have been unconditional, but it cannot blind society from what the incident revealed about him.
The South African Editor's Forum is right to call for stronger action against Shivambu because this recent incident is only one in what seems to be a concerning pattern of behaviour.
His aggression under provocation reveals a weakness of character that exists even in the absence of provocation. In other words, if the conditions are right and he has opportunity, Shivambu will be aggressive.
Shivambu's response after he was called to order is encouraging though. He did not wait long to accept the error of his ways. And this is also the mark of leadership; the ability to accept responsibility.
This is only the first step to rehabilitation. Shivambu has a propensity for aggression. This has not been wiped away by his acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
If Shivambu fails to address the underlying cause of his behaviour, it is sure to happen again.
There is no indication that the EFF will institute disciplinary proceedings against him. But even in the absence of punitive action, Shivambu needs to voluntarily take remedial steps.
He needs to see beyond the personal experience of his fracas with De Kock and accept the societal implications of the situation.
This is particularly important in a divided and unequal society such as ours where provocations abound and the culture of responding with aggression prevails.
He can be an exemplary leader by publicly committing to remedial steps that he will take voluntarily one of which could include anger management.
Shivambu now has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is possible to rise above weaknesses in character and change the trajectory of one's future conduct and behaviour.