The resignation of advocate Pansy Tlakula as the chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) amid allegations of a conflict of interest in the IEC’s procurement of office space in Centurion leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Advocate Tlakula is someone who has been with our electoral body since South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. She first worked as its chief electoral officer under Dr Brigalia Bam and later as its chairperson.
Tlakula’s departure from the IEC basically means a loss of institutional memory that has been built over many years of overseeing South Africa’s maturing democracy. What went wrong then? Before I answer that let me digress a bit and talk about who this woman is. Her full name is Faith Dikeledi Pansy Tlakula and she is married into a Limpopo royal family. Besides chairing the IEC she is also the Chair of the University of the North-West.
Advocate Tlakula obtained her Masters in law from Harvard University, she is an advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa and has also held high profile positions in several organisations. Let me now try and deal with Tlakula’s misdemeanour and why I feel disgusted with the whole thing. Five years ago the IEC entered into a lease agreement worth R320 million with a company called Abland and one its directors, Thaba Mufamadi also shares directorship with Tlakula in a company called Lehotsa Investments (Pty) Ltd.
The Public Protector found that the IEC chair was conflicted and should have recused herself when the matter involving Mafumadi’s company was being deliberated on by the IEC. She disputed the finding of the Public Protector and ignored calls for her resignation leading to opposition parties approaching the Electoral Court to act against her. The court ruled against her and recommended that she be removed from her position.
Although Tlakula had initially indicated that she would take her fight all the way to the Constitutional Court she eventually bowed to pressure and sent her letter of resignation to President Zuma. What we learn from this story is that South Africa is experiencing a dearth of ethical leadership. Tlakula’s resignation so happens to follow that of Pallo Jordan, a man who carried the title ‘Dr’ but was later exposed as having not completed an undergraduate degree.
Jordan was the country’s minister of arts and culture between 2004 and 2009, a senior member of the ANC and is a revered intellectual. Dr Pallo Jordan Primary School, situated in Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape is named in his honour. For almost three decades Mr Jordan got away with this deception until his luck ran out owing to some investigative journalism from the Sunday Times. Advocate Tlakula would have gotten away if not for the sterling work of the Public Protector.
What is sad about our politicians and some public figures is that they operate with a ‘catch me if you can’ attitude and try to evade accountability and scrutiny until they are eventually cornered by the legal system and SA’s media. Leadership is not about ducking moral responsibility but about serving people while guided by a moral and ethical compass. Ethics are different from the law in that a person might be compliant in terms of the law but still be found wanting in terms of ethics.
An example of a conflict between law and ethics is President Jacob Zuma. The president has never been found guilty by a court of law and yet very few people would ever recommend him for a prize in ethical and exemplary leadership. In fact many view him as a key player in the dearth of ethical leadership in South Africa. The media has now dubbed him a ‘Teflon president’ due to his ability to survive one controversy after another.
Our president will perhaps go down in history as the most scandal-ridden president we have ever had. He might never be made to answer to the many allegations against him but in his tenure we have seen ethics lowered to possibly the lowest level they have ever been in SA. What concerns me in all of this is the fact that South Africans have also lowered their expectations from politicians and public servants.
It is like we have resigned ourselves to the fact that politicians will lie and steal but we hope that they will not lie and steal too much. The Lord should have mercy on us.