We, as a country, have a serious problem with national morale.

Everywhere you look you can sense ”something is wrong”.

No doubt, over the last 23 years since the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990, we have produced bright and charismatic leaders. Many have risen to international stature and are significant global players. In fact South Africa has gained a reputation as a country that punches above its weight.

But our house and family is faltering.

There’s a lot of gloom and doom when you attentively listen to the voice of the people on the ground from all backgrounds, races, creeds and classes. These people who see the glass half empty are correct. They have a right to be listened to.

This beautiful land seems poisoned with rivalry, competition, selfishness, greed and, above all, suspicion and a lack of trust. We lack trust so much that every leader from Nelson Mandela to Jacob Zuma is considered guilty of some misdemeanour until they prove themselves innocent.

Suspicion and a lack of trust have seeped deep into the soul of this nation. Nobody is spared: priests, politicians, sports stars, artists, corporate executives, and, of course, top government officials and managers. At the risk of generalising, no one trusts what is happening here.

South Africa is now perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be one of the most corrupt societies in Africa. People will tell you that the prevailing attitude is “it is our turn to eat”.

It is obvious that the problem is caused by the conduct of some in business, government, the church and civil society. But even in the lower classes you will find dishonesty and an attitude of looking after “‘number one” at the expense of the general good and integrity. No one is innocent, the problem cuts across race, class, culture and background.

Many had faith in former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema until it was revealed he does not walk the talk. Much as he mouthed the correct things on nationalisation, the land question, wealth monopoly and racism, people are now convinced that he was saying those things to throw a veil over his own alleged nefarious activities. The jury is still out.

It is this sort of conduct that deflates or reduces national morale. Of course the greatest damage is to the perpetrators themselves. They are obsessed with their own self-satisfaction, desiring to be number one with all the things money can buy.

This selfishness and greed has long-term consequences. It violates what new ANC deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, calls the “social compact” with the people. It marks a failure where there is a lack of credibility and integrity. This gives birth to suspicion and a lack of trust. Nobody needs this, especially a society with everything going for it.

We have to admit that trust is essential not only to all relationships but to social cohesion, nation building and working together to make South Africa the society we all want it to be: non-racial, non-sexist, united and effectively working. It is the glue that holds us together.

There is no way we can translate all the noble ideals enshrined in the Constitution without trust. It is like the cornerstone of a multi-storey building. Everybody, especially our leaders and other prominent people, must learn that their public profile, which is what they are known for, reflects the soul of this nation. We must demand that their actions be faultless and reflect integrity, honesty and credibility.

People hold high corporate, sports or political office but this does not necessarily mean people respect or trust you. You will be tolerated out of politeness but do not assume that people care or are listening to what you have to say. Trust is not a right but something that needs to be earned, just like respect.

My advice to so-called leaders and other prominent members who hold important positions: if you know you have no integrity, do not bother claiming to be a leader. A leader is a person the people trust and believe because of what you do and not what you say.

Integrity is everything.



Sandile Memela

Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic, columnist and civil servant. He lives in Midrand.

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