A tale of two titles

Recent news headlines in South Africa, have given extensive coverage to the actions of two influential political figures and their moral power.

Public response to these two stories reveals an insight into what that public has come to regard as what passes for leadership in the country, but, also, what it wishes it to be.

In one corner, there is a former cabinet minister, who misrepresented his academic qualifications and traded on a title to which he is not entitled.

Various points of view have been offered, ranging from an attempt to downplay the seriousness of this misdemeanour, to a defence of the actual intellectual ability of the man, to an appreciation of the contribution made by him to the development of South Africa post 1994.

Those who have jumped to Pallo Jordan’s defence have been only too ready to offer forgiveness and an overlooking of an error of judgement, at a time when the falsification of CV details is becoming more and more serious in this country and where, increasingly, higher profile people are being found to be guilty of this practice.

Even against this background, the real issue at hand is that Mr Jordan himself has not sought refuge in excuses or public sympathy. Instead, he has shown moral courage in the face of being accused of crossing a moral boundary, and has become a rare example of a public servant willing to take accountability for his actions.

In the other corner stands the President of the country, who cannot shake off the ongoing scandal associated with the upgrade of his personal homestead.

Having delayed numerous calls for an open and honest accounting for the huge costs involved in the upgrade to his personal residence, the South African public has now been given an answer by the President.

Yet, the very nature of the answer is the antithesis of that which was forthcoming from Mr Jordan. The responsibility to reimburse  the taxpayer (or not) has been shifted to the newly appointed Minister of Safety and Security.

What is remarkable in this tale of two titles, is that a man who is exposed as not having the right of that title, walks away with the respect, applause and gratitude of a public, which heaves a collective sigh of relief that he is prepared to take responsibility for his actions. In turn, that public affords him a moral power in the midst of an unethical act.

Equally remarkable is the fact that the individual who has the right to use the title, is accorded little moral power by the public .

Discerning leaders will sit up and take note that irrespective of how those titles came to be, doing what is right still prevails.


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