South Africa needs leaders we can trust

The writer points out that numerous commissions have brought into focus the corruption curse in the country.
The writer points out that numerous commissions have brought into focus the corruption curse in the country.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/ Gallo Images

For an election in which cleaning up government is the central issue for the 48 parties contesting the May 8 national polls, there's a lot of political mud being thrown.

All political parties claim to be best-suited to wipe away cronyism, private use of public resources, bribery and state capture.

Yet, voters are lamenting: Who is going to restore trust in government? Who is going to clean up government as political leaders point fingers at one another?

Lest we forget that in 1994 then president Nelson Mandela decried corruption, conspicuous consumption, greed, self-enrichment, dishonesty, bribery, sexual abuse of women and children, drug trafficking and disrespect for others.

Today, we would add state capture into the mix.

Millions of people are going to the polls with the issue of corruption on their minds, thanks to the slew of commissions that have brought into sharp focus the unquestionable absence of standards and values that we believed were the hallmark of the first few years of our democracy.

Current events show that people are starting to wake up from the slumber of corruption and demanding better governance.

We need only look at the headlines of recent scandals that have compromised the integrity of elected officials to recognise the need for better governance and oversight.

Voters are saying, "we have had almost three decades of electing our leaders and almost all of those we elect are just experts in lip service. Nothing in our government changes, the politicians win but the people never do".

The 6th administration is going to be taking over with a cloud of previous scandals looming overhead. There is an immediate need to return to fundamental ethics.

At the beginning of our hard-earned democracy there was a sense of decency, a dose of discretion, an unobstructed view of right and wrong, an instinct about acceptable boundaries. But almost without notice, it has all been eroded. Those who warned of the deterioration were heckled.

Leadership requires sacrifice, for the good of the people one serves.

It is a pity that leaders who lack integrity continue to destroy South Africa's reputation and the civic culture. It also ravages the government and citizens' trust. We can continue to lower our expectations and standards or declare war on corruption. This country is better than the cesspools in which it swims.

That is why the Moral Regeneration Movement developed the Charter of Election Ethics to help voters elect candidates who are ethical, principled and competent.

We are asking voters to think beyond campaign promises and to focus on the bigger picture.

Voting patterns no longer follow rigid, ethnical or racial lines. In contrast, certain realities are the same or have changed at a snail's pace.

  • The gap between the rich and the poor;
  • Disparity in service delivery;
  • Differences in quality education; and
  • Unemployment, especially among young people.

So, how are we going to arrest the ethical decline of the government while restoring citizens' overall trust in elected leaders? Through training to encourage ethical behaviour.

Successful, ethical leadership is based on deep honesty, courage, moral vision, compassion, fairness and selflessness. One cannot overemphasise the importance of ethical leaders - educated in matters of good governance. Popularity cannot be the main criterion for electing a candidate.

English novelist George Orwell hit the nail on the head: "A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims but accomplices."

* Mkhatshwa is chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Movement whose Charter of Election Ethics is at www.mrm.org.za

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