What's good for the goose is good for gander: or is it?

By Sipho Stwayi & Duncan Githiri

In 21st century South Africa, the political discourse emanating from the ruling elite suggests that ethics and politics are mutually exclusive.

The rhetoric and behaviour of the current crop of leaders is contrary to the teachings of Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko and O.R Tambo, to name but a few.

The view that ethics are inapplicable in their world, is further reaffirmed by the countless corrupt practises frequently highlighted in the media.

Does a 60% electoral vote victory constitute an implicit approval by the South African people for the systematic looting of state coffers? Does the predisposition of ethics as defined by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, who many scholars credit as the founder of political ethics, not apply in South African politics? Are politicians not elected for servitude to the majority and therefore held to a higher standard?

Ethics are a set of standards on right and wrong founded and supported by reasonable obligations that humanity subscribe to. Ethics should therefore not be viewed as a noble idea that should be spoken of yet not practised but as a dogmatic approach that all office holders should be held to account and judged against.

Ethics in public office and the organisational culture of political parties should enforce the notion that politicians avoid doing harm or engaging in activity that would disadvantage their constituents.

Ethics of public policy and law relate to the constitution which enshrines and guarantees basic human rights, principles of justice and equality.

Our leaders should maintain and promote the constitution and act against action that seeks to subvert the political system. Individual ethics are often transferred directly to the political sphere, with the assumption that leaders are honest, just and respectful of the truth, that our mobile casino country will be managed in a manner that inspires honesty, be respectful of the rule of law, truth and democracy.

Such an approach is appealing in its simplicity at a time when politics in South African are highly divisive, opportunistic and dominated by a leader with questionable credibility at best, and lacking in moral legitimacy at worst. The fight against corruption is already crippled by the disbandment of the most effective tool – the Scorpions. Furthermore, being selective in deciding who to prosecute, and who not to, despite glaring prima facie evidence of corruption and maladministration, is doomed to fail.

As a society it is incumbent on all citizens to insist on morally justifiable ethical norms and practises from the politicians elected into office. South Africa, heed Aristotle’s words, “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals, separated from law and justice he is the worst”.

This article was written by Sipho Stwayi and Duncan Githiri as part of the Academic Skills Module for the 2014 MBA Class.

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