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Mmusi Maimane addresses DA members after he was elected as the party leader at its federal congress in Port Elizabeth in 2013. (File, Muntu Vilkakazi/City Press)
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In many countries, politicians fall on their sword on a gratifyingly regular basis. However, in our Rainbow Nation such examples are conspicuous by their absence, writes Rich Mkhondo.
many years presidents, prime ministers, members of Parliament and public
officials have done untold damage to the institutions and organisations they run,
and the people they serve. But why is it so difficult to resign, to quit or
jump ship before they are pushed?
they cling to their jobs because they need the money, because they enjoy the
power or because they really don't understand or care what all the fuss is
about? Is it because, as our public representatives, they are saints, or
resignation is just a last resort?
quirk of the South African Ubuntu character prevents our leaders, our so-called
role models, from accepting the consequences of bad behaviour?
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Maimane's resignation the
right thing to do
the resignation of Mmusi Maimane as DA leader and his colleagues, federal chairperson Athol Trollip,
Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba, federal council chairperson James Selfe and CEO Paul Boughey,
sparked the health of a democracy which can be gauged by the quality of its
resignations; by a willingness to accept responsibility for mistakes made and
damage done, let alone political beliefs and vision?
may be examples of leaders who courageously do the right thing. Indeed, in many
other countries, politicians fall on their sword on a gratifyingly regular
basis. However, in our Rainbow Nation such examples are conspicuous by their
evidence, from across the political spectrum, is that our politicians would
rather suffer the slings and arrows of public humiliation, scorn, criticism and
embarrassment than take responsibility for doing wrong.
when they finally step down – as in the cases of President Jacob Zuma and a few
others, for example, it is only after years of pressure and only when even
their closest allies can see through the lies, the inventions and the feeble
Behaving in expedient rather
than principled ways
why should this be? In a country with no history of genuine public accountability,
it becomes impossible for public officials to take responsibility for their
are some of the reasons.
confronted with wrongdoing of any kind including ethical lapses, our leaders
would rather behave in expedient than principled ways. They look for positive
balance of credit over blame for their actions.
we associate accountability with democracy, we have failed to recognise the
significance of the problem of evasion and, therefore, to think about the
forces at work.
the accountability process has become all about naming, blaming and shaming,
little prevention, learning or improvement has occurred. Lack of accountability
across the board is slowly discouraging prudent risk-taking, innovation,
disclosure and honest dialogue about what needs to be done and what works, does
not work and why.
The accountability blame falls
to the bottom
many of our public officials, the accountability blame falls to the bottom, to
the fall guy. This means when things go wrong, public officials try to shift
the blame. Even when there is evidence of complicity at the highest levels of
government, blame will find its lowest plausible level.
the news of abuse of public office, ethical lapses or corruption and personal
scandals hit the front pages of newspapers or electronic media, our leaders
faced with managing the blame usually react in a self-interested and
opportunistic way to deny and evade accountability.
Us versus them
most cases leaders turn the controversy into an "us versus them"
situation, especially the "us" versus the so-called "out-of-touch
media" elite or "clever blacks".
every day we see signs of officials hiding what they do from the public, often
without real merit. National security is often invoked, political or trade
secrets, or some other rationale for drawing a veil over the government's
evade accountability, our leaders manipulate the flow of information about
events, actions, and policies. They manipulate the standards used for
evaluating their action or policies and ultimately manipulate the consequences
of any wrongdoing.
all know that accountability is the guiding principle of a representative
democracy and if it is to be found in any country's politics, it is to be
expected in a country with stable democratic institutions and free and
independent media like our Rainbow Nation. But alas, here our public officials
do not submit an honest account of how our nation found itself in such a
political and economic fiscal cliff. No one has acknowledged responsibility.
They have regularly shifted the blame to their opponents and the world economic
a consequence, and despite the general claim that accountability is a central
feature of democracy, it has not been delivered when it is most needed.
it be that our leaders' perceived self-interest often conflicts with
accountability and they fear their reputations will suffer and their political
support will decline or that they may even have to face legal proceedings? Could
it be that they seek to avoid charges of negligence or worse?
summary, could it be that we are dealing with individuals, with power, with
selfishness and human failings?
safeguards our beloved Constitution, our laws, and our democracy. Our three
tiers of government rests squarely on the notion that our public officials,
whether elected or appointed, need to be accountable to us. They are
responsible for their behaviour, their decisions, and the policies they
implement, use and misuse of the funds and resources in their care.
Skilled at avoiding
weakening of accountability in our systems of government over the years ought
to worry all of us. Our politicians and bureaucrats at all levels have become
very skilled at avoiding accountability. Even when citizens or reporters file freedom
of information requests, these are sometimes ignored, or turned down.
our politicians should live to US President Harry Truman's motto he placed on
his desk: "The buck stops here." There's a reason why this motto is
so famous, and why we should consider it a standard our politicians should set
us all demand politicians who will step up and take responsibility for their
decisions. Let us demand political leaders and public officials who will hold
themselves accountable to us, who exercise the responsibility handed them by
our constitution to hold themselves accountable.
we move slowly to the 2021 municipal elections, let us hope parties will pay
more attention to the character of the people they nominate to stand for public
us hope the Maimane, Trollip and Mashaba "accountability" bug will
slowly bite all political leaders and public officials in our beloved Rainbow
- Rich Mkhondo runs The Media and Writers Firm, a ghost-writing, content development and
reputation management hub.
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