Resignations reflect dearth of ethical leadership in SA

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. 


  1. Margaret Ferguson

    You have used the word that sums up much of what I see as a fundamental issue – lack of accountability to the public. But it goes much further than the question of ethical leadership. It relates sadly to a common value system that does not seem to see accountability to be important. I am not South African but recently I have been saying (and finding that South Africans agree) that things will be unlikely to change from the top; people at the bottom need to come out of what I call an ‘ostrich mentality’ (sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring matters). Unfortunately under the supposed but incorrect use of racism’ I find people are often unwilling to say what needs to be said where ‘accountability’ is concerned for fear of being called ‘racist’. This occurs in the daily life I find in terms of customer service. Despite South African history if people do not learn to live with it and move on and demand better accountability at the grass roots level, then South Africa will be ‘stuck’; it is no use waiting for leadership to do it because there has been ample evidence that it is not seen as important. But without ‘accountability’ whether you are a person working at the bottom level to the top the value system has to change.I hold more hope for the next generation of voters who if properly educated generally seem to have understood the problem.
    In my personal experience here in South Africa I have suffered from lack of accountability in that I applied for permanent residence 7 years ago through an agent and apparently complied with the requirements but I am still waiting. The list of disasters from a government department is pathetic but it is really a lack of recognition that accountability to the applicant/client is important. I would describe it as endemic nationally and it must send some very negative messages overseas, whether it is commerce, investment or whatever. The great god, money seems to supersede all else without recourse. It is why so much finishes up as litigation – very sad.

  2. How true. How far we have slid down the slippery slope. Just because the electorate dont hold politicians responsible by voting for parties who ensure their representatives adhere to ethical behavior and appoint them accordingly.

  3. We serve a great God Pastor. Even though we have these problems our fight is not against flesh and blood but the principles and governs the flesh and blood. Recently I have been speaking to many believers about thier role, in the governing of our country. And many of the believers have indicated that they are not interested and I asked myself why, the answer I ended up is thatthey have lost hope, but unfortunately they have also lost hope for to win souls, and making disciples. Thats is the accountability and ethical challenge facing our country but God is looking for fathers, and mothers for this nation that will stand up and be accountable. Thank you for this artice Pastor Afrika.