A call for integrity

2014-09-24 13:45

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In September 1998, Fidel Castro, the former president of Cuba, addressed the South African Parliament. At the beginning of his speech, he said: “In my view, a speech is an honest and intimate conversation.”

The address was delivered as Nelson Mandela’s presidency was nearing its end; a presidency that carried so much promise for our future and was a reflection of the foundation of proud African leadership and governance in the post-apartheid affairs of the state in South Africa.

Today, that honesty and intimacy for the people we govern is absent.

Commenting on this aspect, Jon Lovett, the former speech-writer for US President Barack Obama, said: “We see this hunger for the intellectual honesty across cultures and in politics. It is a sincere desire to do good in this world, to be responsible for one another and to carry ourselves with integrity.”

This is precisely the integrity we are missing today in our culture and in the politics that administer our institutions and govern us – that raw sincerity of Mandela’s leadership. His stand represents the desire for greater authenticity in our public and private life.

He is a clear example of an authentic ethical life in a world in which ethics has become a major scarcity. I find myself preoccupied with these thoughts as we celebrate our Heritage Day this year for the first time without Madiba in person.

For some of us, it is such an overwhelming feeling because this is the first time we are alive and living without Mandela; for we have lived the rest of our 47 years in his presence even when he was absent: the idea of Mandela, his mythology and the real presence of the man.

Anyone who has lived through the Madiba years has in their minds at least one powerful image of the sincerity and integrity of the man.

So what heritage Madiba articulated for all South Africans in his activism, his public and private life can we celebrate as our collective inheritance in this first post-Mandela Heritage Day and beyond?

We are already witnesses in the debates taking place within the ruling party about who should be the successor to President Jacob Zuma. Some within the party lobby for the next president to be a woman, and high on their list is African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

On the other hand, the Gauteng ANC has openly declared its support for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to become both the party’s president and the country’s next head of state.

This is exciting. Maybe, just maybe, those traits in Mandela’s leadership will resurface in our next president – qualities of integrity and honesty with the people, and of “an honest and intimate conversation” that Castro communicated to us about the ability of a leader to speak persuasively to the citizenry of his/her country.

Whoever the next president of the ruling party – and by extension, of the country – is, we, the people who would be governed by him or her, hope that person will do good by us, be earnest and authentic.

These are the leadership traits that will help our next president succeed in a society that is demanding those very qualities return to the governance of our people and to our institutions – public and private.

Castro concluded his speech to our Parliament, with so much emotion in his voice, when he said: “Let South Africa be a model of a more just and more humane future. If you can do it, we will all be able do it.”

As we celebrate Heritage Day, we want to go forward with confidence and with an eagerness to relearn how to be honest with ourselves and others.

We must remember the greatest inheritance Mandela left us: his strong ethos and ethics, and the courage to maintain his integrity through the extreme challenges he faced in both his public and private lives.

We reject a culture of dishonesty and insincerity by virtue of the compassionate example Madiba set in leading the people of South Africa, Africa and the world throughout his life.

It is a model we have lost, and it is one we must demand to reclaim as a collective.

This challenge faces the next president of our country, whoever that might be.

» Ramoupi is a researcher in the monitoring and evaluation directorate at the Council on Higher Education

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