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Leadership is a reflection of society

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Picture: Supplied/ANA file – Vryheid community members march against allegations of corruption in the municipality.

By Ayanda Zulu

How can we expect our leaders to not be corrupt, in a society where we, as the people, are generally corrupt?

This is a question we need to ponder over as we grapple with the corruption crisis in our society.

The words of RJ Rushdoony, the great American philosopher and theologian, are worth remembering now. He once said: “There can be no good character in civil government if there is none in the people. You cannot make a good omelet with bad eggs.”

Rushdoony was correct.

Leadership is a reflection of a society’s character. You cannot have a morally upright government in a society where the people are not morally upright. Who constitutes this government at the end of the day? Is it not the people of that society?

We as South Africans ought to reconcile ourselves with our true character. Doing so will help us better understand why we sit with such corrupt leadership in our country.

Truth be told, South Africa is a morally corrupt society, where corruption is the norm. Corruption is entrenched in the very culture of our nation. It is everywhere, and it would not be an exaggeration to say most, if not all of us, participate in it in one way or another.

Indeed, the same citizens who criticise government officials for using bribery to purchase votes, do not hesitate to offer bribes to traffic officers in the face of hefty fines. The same people who denounce nepotism in government are the first to hire friends, family members, and relatives when they open businesses. Teachers may lament about the embezzlement of state funds in the education department, but many of them are comfortable with helping themselves to cartons of milk, and tins of fish that are meant for impoverished children in our country.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has become a heroic figure, visited the Phillippi Mall on December 10, 2022 for a meet and greet has been lauded for his willingness to fight corruption. But recently he has become a victim of political persecution. Picture Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)

The Nigerian writer Damilare Adelaye notes that “a society without strict principles to uphold the status quo of good conduct will, by implication, suffer quality leadership”. Our society has no sense of morality. We do not have moral standards that uphold moral conduct. This is the kind of society our leaders emerge from.

In defence of themselves, critics can already be imagined saying “power corrupts people”. This sentiment is misleading, and shifts responsibility from unethical people onto an abstract thing like power! If power did corrupt people, why did it not corrupt Thomas Sankara? Or, to bring matters home, why did it not corrupt Nelson Mandela? Why do we have ethical leaders in power, who would never steal a cent from the public purse?

Power doesn’t corrupt people for people assume positions of power with corrupt tendencies. Those who think Zuma started misusing funds that didn’t belong to him when he became president are wrong. We now know from the recollections of several struggle heroes who were in exile, that Zuma and other thugs like Ace Magashule, embezzled funds meant for the armed struggle, on women. When analysed carefully, the actions of corrupt people in power are a continuation of their normal behaviour in society.

Now that we have established the root cause of this ill, the question we must answer is: Where to from here?

We need to collectively address the issue that has been outlined in this article. We need to actively work towards the construction of a moral society, where moral standards that uphold moral conduct are strictly enforced, and valued. Put differently, we need to begin building a society where it is deemed wrong to steal a street light — or to connect your house illegally to the national grid, and not normal or “necessary”.

Fighting corruption begins with us in society. If we can work on shaping our moral character as a people, the quality of leadership in government will improve over time.

Ayanda Zulu is a Politics student at the University of Pretoria