This article was originally used in PoliticsWeb on 14 August 2012 and is reposted here for my readers.
South Africans of all
persuasions should sit up and take notice when international leaders warn that the country is on the wrong path. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, said similar things when they visited this country recently. They condemned planned media censorship, warned on rising corruption, and suggested that the ruling party is fast losing its moral authority.
It is fairly unusual for senior statesmen or -women to lambast the leadership of a host country while they are on its soil. Clearly, they regard the threats to South Africa’s model democracy as so serious that it is time to sound the alarm bells. Are we at eleven to midnight?
Moses Naim in an essay on “Mafia States” (Foreign Affairs, May-June 2012) names some of these states including Bulgaria, Guinea-Bissau, Montenegro, Myanmar, Ukraine, North Korea, Afghanistan, or Venezuela. Naim does not neglect South Africa. He describes how in 2006, the heads of police of 152 nations met in Brazil for the 75th General Assembly of Interpol, seeking mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities to combat the growing threat. But Interpol itself was compromised.
Interpol’s president at the time was Jackie Selebi, the national police commissioner of South Africa. In his opening address, Selebi exhorted his colleagues “to find systems to make sure that our borders and border control are on a firm footing”; a noble cause, to be sure. Unfortunately, its champion turned out to be a crook himself. In 2010, Selebi was convicted of accepting a $156,000 bribe from a drug smuggler and is now serving a 15-year prison sentence.
Of course, Selebi is now no longer serving a 15 year sentence. He has been released on medical parole as a gravely ill man and has gone home to receive kidney dialysis. The Department of Correctional Services says it has limited capacity to provide such treatment. And we all know that another prominent figure convicted of corruption and released on medical parole, Shabir Shaik, has been so close to death that he was spotted taking the air on the golf course. There he allegedly assaulted a journalist for observing him.
Not only is corruption is rife at the top of society but convicted criminals with the right connections can get a sympathetic hearing from the powers-that-be. The insidious spread of poisoned influence through institutional channels is the main factor that Naim sees as evidence of criminal governance in many parts of the world.
He suggests that citizens of our world need to rethink traditional ideas about crime in relation to government, since “it is naïve to assume that the governing elites of these countries are only victims or passively watch as bystanders” of crime. They are deeply involved. They use the nation state, NGOs, businesses, religious and scientific institutions, and charities -and even terrorist organisations – to support their lawbreaking, theft and murder.
International law enforcement and co-operation can hardly succeed in an environment where officials, elected leaders, corporate heads and activists are themselves party to felonies.
Warnings to South Africans to wake up and resist the spread of institutional crime seem to fall on deaf ears as the pace of misgovernance by misdeeds hots up. It is sometimes said, in a sort of backhanded defence of the current system, that corruption was just as bad under apartheid: the only difference being that more of it is exposed today because the media are more vigilant.
Would that this was so! Freer media have indeed highlighted corruption since 1994, and the massive sins of apartheid remain utterly inexcusable, but when the doors to government opened, so did the floodgates of corruption.
Mary Robinson was particularly pointed in her criticism of efforts to muzzle the media. She spoke on a significant occasion and chose her words carefully. The former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights gave the 10th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the Cape Town city hall where Mandela first addressed the nation after his release from prison in 1990.
“It is with great concern that I have followed the progress of the ‘Protection of State Information’ legislation. From my experience as a human rights lawyer, I can give you a certainty: if you enact a law that cloaks the working of state actors, that interferes with press freedom to investigate corruption, that stifles efforts by whistle-blowers to expose corruption, you are sure to increase those levels of corruption tomorrow.” (“ANC moral compass eroded”, says Robinson, Independent Online, 6 August).
Already widely reported, this speech is worth quoting again for the point Robinson makes about links between “state actors” and corruption. Everything we have heard from the drafters and supporters of the so-called “Secrecy Bill” has been about the need to protect state security and intelligence, not protect state actors. But if the latter are up to no good they will certainly use the machinery of the law to shield themselves from public and police investigation. To paraphrase the old saying that patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel, the “protection of information” will be used by state scoundrels to protect themselves. The rogue state in South Africa will take great strides forward.
It is not as though some leaders in this country fail to recognise the problem. Cosatu has declared that “political hyenas” are increasingly gaining control of the state (Statement from Cosatu CEC, Politics Web, 26 August 2010). And at a Red October rally in Khayelitsha a year later, Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s General Secretary, said that assassination squads had emerged in several provinces as the politics of patronage, corruption and greed destroyed the ethic of self-sacrifice and service that had characterised the revolutionary movement (Politics Web, 7 November 2011).
Now Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has given notice that party members who are “caught with their hands in the till” are betraying the selfless legacy of Nelson Mandela and should not be ANC cadres (“Motlanthe attacks corruption in ANC”, Times Live, 13 August 2012). We have to wonder whether, coming so soon after Mary Robinson’s speech, the ruling party has been stung by international criticism and is seriously determined to reframe the party’s struggle for justice without fear or favour.
In Attuned Leadership: African Humanism as Compass (Penguin SA 2011), I tried to make the point that corruption can be fought only if the leadership is responsive to the demands of the followership for wholesome, accountable and responsible governance. In essence this means that the spirit of true democracy must be honoured as leaders truly resonate with the needs and hopes of the people.
Leadership is not an individual thing; it is an expression of collective purpose. We can draw certain distinctions between styles and goals of leadership that suggest where the faults lie with leadership at all levels in South African society.
Transitional leadership sees itself as bridging past and future, but is not necessarily the deliverer of a new dispensation. Transitional leaders have no permanent stature in the eyes of followers and though they are agents of change, longterm vision is not their strong point.
Transactional leadership is a form of management that regards common, purposeful action as the result of a trade-off between those in authority and those who form the group. The ethics of this form of leadership may be questionable, as the end can justify the means.
Transformational leadership is a style that produces positive change in the group and in each person in the group. Transformation means change for the better and by its nature this form of leadership is ethical (followers must be treated honestly and with respect), and visionary for the long term.
I have been severely criticised by the ANC for saying that a “strange breed” of leaders is undermining our institutions. Although I never mentioned any particular authority figures or parties by name, those who identified themselves may once again be smarting from the whiplash remarks of Clinton and Robinson. What exactly is the problem we face here?
In my opinion it is that political, business and others in leadership positions reflect short-term transitional and ethically weak transactional leadership styles. To speak of a “second transition” when the first is not even halfway accomplished is an admission of failing transitional leadership status.
Besides, decoupling politics from economics in providing leadership to a political economy – talking of social-political transition as first phase, and socio-economic transition as second phase – is extremely naïve. Apartheid was as much politics of oppression and suppression as it was economics of exclusion and exploitation. The monster could not be dealt with serially – in phases. It had to be, has to be, dealt with comprehensively. Politics and economics are inextricably intertwined.
To bargain with different interest groups, telling them what they want to hear at the cost of laying down tough but achievable goals, is a mark of transactional cynicism.
South Africa needs transformational leadership to get us out of the mess we are getting into. How is this to be achieved? By honouring the institutions of democracy, the rule of law, the balance of powers, judicial independence, accountability in governance and a moral outlook.
Ultimately it is when the leadership truly empathises with the plight of the poor and downtrodden, and seeks to build better society on the basis of a historically rooted vision, predicated on an ethical value system, beckoned and guided by a compelling, wholesome sense of destiny, that people can truly walk proud and rise to the best in themselves.
There are no short cuts and those who try to achieve their own narrow purposes – be it the retention of power, profit at any cost, or simply adulation from the ill-informed – will destroy our Constitution and with it the dream of a common, tolerant, caring and equitableSouth Africa.
We may not yet be a rogue state but we could be on our way there. Hillary Clinton summed up very well the connection between democracy and good governance when she said:
“Only South Africans can fight corruption. Only South Africans can prevent the use of state security institutions for political gain. Only South Africans can defend your democratic institutions, preventing the erosion of a free press and demanding strong opposition parties and an independent judiciary. Only South Africans can truly preserve and extend the legacy of the Mandela generation”. (“Only SA can extend Mandela’s legacy”, Independent Online, 10 August 2012).
We need to do this with the sense of urgency that should be matched with a sense of responsibility and commensurate commitment to accountability.