Is Our Obsession To Cast Political Leadership In Moral Claim Consistent?

Clyde Ramalaine

We have heard it being said we need new political leadership in SA that will restore morality in our societal fabric and DNA. I am not sure what to make of this claim, except to embrace that we periodically will need new leadership to produce a functional governance reality that marks us moving forward in levelling the playing fields until unemployment, inequality and poverty is confined to an apartheid past, hence the democratic franchise us extended. Those who advance this notion clearly know of a time when this morality they yearn for was upheld and real in SA. They must just tell us when.



I am just not sure if it’s political leadership with morality as its core we should be asking for. I am equally not sure if we really to place such a premium on a societal morality for a narrow political leadership, I am definitely not sure why we have outsourced morality to political leadership that we demand to be led in morality from that sphere. According to Howard Elcock   “political leadership is a concept central to understanding political processes and outcomes, yet its definition is elusive. Many disciplines have contributed to the study of leadership, including political theory, history, psychology and management studies.”



Now before you start crucifying me for fanning the flames of immorality possibly irreverence or advocating for even a political world defined as amoral, my reflection engages the classically conditioned placing of this unexplained morality as epicentre located in political office. My uneasiness is our manifold assumptions predicated on a somewhat laziness if not convenience to draw the boundaries for a societal dilapdation, bankruptcy, and a plethora of societal imbalances, anomalies, violence, and greed to political leadership.


It is therefore appropriate to ask:  Is the global and in particular SA society’s clammer for moral guidance not just asymptomatic of how what we may define as the ‘traditional’ sites of ‘social morality’ evidencing a historic past?



Permit me than to convey my personal discomfort with this acceptance on our public conscience part of political leadership as informing the totality of what constitutes leadership in a society, moreso our South African society.

It would appear to me that we must rethink our convenient locating of political leadership as the undeniable anchor of moral leadership because this allows other sectors of society to escape the same considered scrutiny. We need to interrogate this moral frame and political leadership obsession to define the totality of leadership.

South Africa is conditioned to look for a less explained morality from politicians, somehow we have come to believe political leadership automatically equates and translates to our at times blind-sided personal frame of a moral leadership.

Perhaps the starting question should be is morality in the faith-based sense of the word THE MORALITY we are talking about when we refer to MORALITY in the POLITICAL MORALITY sense of the word? It would appear we draw comfort from a less said but pontificated faith circle for a definition of morality. In that faith circle ours appears to be even more dominant in leaning to the Calvinistic Christian doctrinal platform.

I think we are in general teetering in a moral crisis of conflict of thought that displays the SA psyche because we have in convenience outsourced all forms of leadership to political leadership. Our outsourcing of leadership therefore is further coloured with an equal outsourced morality.

We desire our presidents to be priests when the priests are allowed to be politicians by extension for some morally bankrupt. We expect politicians to be economically above reproach when the captains of industry and economic players are unscrupulous, corrupt, and colluding but are given a free pass. We expect political leadership to lead in morality when educators and training institutions in an immoral sense have made education unaffordable.

Our lop-sided focus on a morality located in political leadership has us proven morally callous to ask for accountability in the ABI- SAB owner driver contracts where long serving workers were asked to resign given contracts to own transport and then economically raped by their former employers until some committed suicide, others suffered loss of health and most lost every piece of accrued asset they worked for. We must ask how a situation as untenable as this is afforded to exist in democracy and those who make up the majority defined as black people are ripped of R6, 3bn by conglomerates, and no clergy or anyone raises a red flag. Is our silence not our confirmation of our collective moral repugnancy when we can overlook this gross injustice and fail to bring the crooks to book? It would appear ABI would long have lost its business license to trade and its leadership and those involved locked up for this violation of human rights.

This obsession to define our entire societal understanding through the lens of politics, a science in its own right but an aspect of societal interpretation is worth questioning.

Are we not making too much of political leadership? Is the morality we demand a convenient one, and why is it so narrowly understood in shaded political definition?

Perhaps we must ask from where this pietistic and pious frame. Can we ask where did this start or what political leader conditioned us to have this obsession?

It then appears we must start where democracy started and that places one-man central, that being Nelson Mandela. We then must unequivocally solicit how plausibly uncritical our assessment of Nelson Mandela attests as perhaps the scripted reason for this political morality messianic status.


I will cite one example of Mandela = Morality since we in recent times celebrated his birthday but moreso since a colourful politician Makhosi Khoza drew that equation as recent as this week.


I have heard Makhosi and others tell us Mandela said he would serve one term and he did, which automatically renders him moral. Critical thought evaporates to engage the material conditions for Mandela making that choice. We assume we lived under him in a linear world, where everything made sense, no corruption, and the economic injustices measurable in discredited enterprise of race evident in colours of black and white binaries in abnormality became acceptable at moral level. Mandela is made a hero when it is a given that Mandela was never in control of running SA but it was run by Mbeki, the former was a ceremonial president in a euphoric era.



The impractical reasons for a Mandela second term is never entertained or mentioned because we are overeager to drape him in moral garments of being above reproach hence a moral icon if not the meridian of moral rectitude. We heard the ANC organisational defiant Makhosi Khoza in her most famous Madiba day tirade use this too, to make the point that Zuma is not moral for he also said he will serve one term but went on to serve two terms.



We may then ask is there a congruence of grasp of this morality, because Mandela in many aspects denounced the imposed sainthood exacted against him. Cachalia’s memoir underscores Madiba’s appetite for women. For some in our society Mandela does not hold that moral meridian for his personal choices unless we assume one can be moral in some aspects and not others and still pass for a morality icon?



The question is how would a Mandela second term have looked, is anybody’s guess. We seldom afford ourselves the space to critically reflect beyond those euphoric years where inexplicable and confusing constructs like rainbowism ala’ Tutu was given life.


We know the world over second term presidents shows a difficult period of decline in sentiment and a struggle to execute. Our own recent (democracy based) history teaches us now that in post apartheid context second term presidents usually become disliked, loose their shine and often earn the ire of the same people that once celebrated if not worshipped him/her.


It’s a given that all presidents in the second terms are rendered lame duck presidents, just a simple logic for this is from the start of that second term the focus shifts to a new candidacy which intends showing the incumbent as failing. Politics thrives on sentiment and therefore sentiment plays a huge role.


Why do we then dishonestly assume Mandela would have been exonerated from the same pitfalls, hate, and attack of all second term presidents?


Back to the subject of political leadership with morality as the core definition. The morality of GW Bush of the USA and Tony Blair of the UK is never brought into the sphere of conversation. Beyond their internal moral dualisms in their host nations, stands their individual and collective choices to pursue a false agenda of weapons of mass destruction, the real distraction for a self serving agenda, that annihilated Iraq in plausible foreverness of time in which hundreds of thousands lives were killed, maimed, displaced and really obliterated.


How is it that the American and British societies do not exact the same morality demand, we as outsiders claim for the office of their presidencies, or should I say it’s differently framed.


The French presidency  appears not remotely averse of philandering if Mitterand is the example, which is understood by many as cheating therefore corruption. Naturally Bill Clinton jumps to mind “I did not have sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky…” what mattered it seems was that he balanced the books in a booming economic season weighs more than one of his many moments of immoral bliss in coitus and the betrayal of Hillary and Chelsea if not a nation in its Oval Office.


When Obama goes down as the president that redefined in excess the use of drones, which killed innocent lives even children we will with our human rights and moral obsession adjudicate him morally bankrupt and not worthy to be honoured. Yet Bush, Clinton and Obama despite the varying degrees of moral rectitude questionability are not seen through that lens by their American citizens. When Obama spent for his 5-day trip to Mandela’s memorial $100m is this moral, do we even began to flag the possibility of corruption or does it really matter?


So Mandela’s choice of not serving a second term may have been very personal with a big slice of personal interest in which he may have measured and calculated it would leave him the best legacy. Mbeki learnt that you don’t get liked and you even can get recalled because sentiment changes.


Zwelinzima Vavi a respected union leader in some circles is respected for being a so- called champion against corruption, yet his betrayal of COSATU, and flouting of procedures to lure a married woman into his control for pure coitus pleasure in the COSTAU office betraying his wife and all those who look up to him is not considered morally repugnant or questionable in ethical leadership.



Zuma is half way into that second term and his blood is bayed for in an unrelenting fashion. He has made his own personal choices that warrants scrutiny and due questioning. Can the case be made that for some due to his personal choice for a polygamous marriage lifestyle he was already declared morally reprehensible and a long shadow was cast over him. Does this inform it fair to accept some in society purely though an accepted traditional and cultural reality attaches a moral identity of non acceptance to this?


To therefore argue that Zuma as a politician was dishonest and morally bankrupt to have said he will serve one term and is now in his second term is to fail to appreciate that politics is a science, trade, art, and also a game of tactics.



How easily do we forget how Mbeki launched an investigation and put his police minister the late Steve Tshwete (Mr. Fixit) onto a combination of Ramaphosa, Sexwale and Phosa the three he then contended were counter revolutionary in seeking to topple him. We all know this turned out to be a ruse and the figment of a politician’s imagination who was hallucinating amidst his own pipe smoking, accused of being paranoid in aim of political survival.


A critical piece, as is claimed by Zuma,  is missed in this conversations since around that same time Mbeki almost forced Zuma to disclose he harboured no intentions or desires to contest for elections. Well if you must now judge Zuma’s choice to say he had no desires in a moral frame the likes of Khoza in all probability may consider him a liar and bankrupt in morality for not keeping his word.



The fact is the practice of political survival demands of political players to keep their cards close to their chests. What is not asked is was it morally right for Mbeki out of his paranoia to accuse and discredit fellow cadres / leaders and label them as those who are planning to topple him? Where was the moral rectitude circumference drawn when Zuma was coerced to make known his political ambitions because someone in political self-interest wanted to survive?


I guess I am endeavouring to make the argument that our use of morality in the political world is firstly overstated and questionable for its  consistency. Secondly it’s usually with predetermined lenses of what we have already concluded goes and what do not go. We tend to have different morality frames depending who makes up our favourite politician. We also appear soluble to give some a free pass whilst we don’t afford others the same benevolence.


Our obsession with a political leadership as the totality of moral reality has us today vacillating in what I shall choose call, a form of ‘constructed moral schizophrenia’.


In view of the fact that we are subjected to a moral quest immanent in our society and such exclusively driven if not led by political leadership face we may have to ask what ought the new sites of social morality be if the ‘traditional sites’ are perhaps depleted. We ought to prove self-introspective when the political elites are not in a position to give this moral guidance we demand – making our expectations of them in that regard a misplaced expectation?



I ask again how sustainable is our outsourced morality to a sector and slice of societal life expression immanent in political leadership? How real is our true interest to have a functional morality that cuts through all spheres of our societal expressions? Should we accept to have a multiplicity of moralities instead of a myopic less engaged but vociferously defended by all and sunder morality? Whose morality must stand?


We owe it to ourselves to honestly and consciously reflect as to how this sought for new morality will be given life and by whom?

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