Professor Sipho Seepe’s recent article in the Sowetan that morals are not necessary for leadership in politics must rank as his poorest contribution to national debate yet, obviously blinded by his well-known support for Zuma’s ascension to power.
What is comforting though is that he is not even being supported by the man he is trying to defend. Zuma has apologised twice for behaviour that appalled many South Africans probably as a recognition that such behaviour is morally reprehensible and is unbecoming of a head of state — a fact Seepe recognises somewhat in his ingratiating article. Since the indiscretions Zuma has gone further to call for a debate on the country’s moral direction — obviously this major development that elevates this issue of morals in politics has been missed by the esteemed professor.
Seepe and the few who see nothing wrong with fathering kids out of wedlock — a direct result of the unprotected sex that is at the heart of the government’s ABC message ignores the dire consequences of such mixed messages of not leading by example in a country where millions are destined to die of Aids given the high rate of infection.
To argue that “everyone is doing it” and go on to quote unrelated examples of kids fathered out of wedlock by Mbhazima Shilowa and Mvume Dandala is in my view below the belt discourse that, if there was any truth in these wild allegations, invites us to strive to be like the lowest common denominator among us. In my understanding, Shilowa simply never refused his child and Dandala, who turns 58 this year, fathered a kid when he was 17, way before he was married. How this excuses Zuma’s philandering behaviour and makes it OK, boggles the mind.
If we intend building a country based on ubuntu — a value system we all agree with — then our leaders must be expected to live up to some kind of basic ethics and moral code. This is underpinned by legislation and in the private sector in codes such as the King Code on Corporate Governance. In all of these and other related unwritten rules there is the expectation that regardless of the weakness of human beings, leaders must strive to be good and show the way of how all in society desire to be.
There are higher standards for a head of state — it cannot be that because we are all fallible it can never be correct to point out when our head of state has let us down. Those who point out this fact, be it commentators or those Seepe labels as “pseudo-analysts” and “opportunists”, need not be perfect before they do so. They only need to be citizens who must also follow their own advice in creating a society where sexual immorality is still scorned at and never excused.
Given the public outcry that followed Zuma’s indiscretions it is clear that this society does not share Seepe’s dismissiveness about values. The collective cringe by many citizens including ANC members means that the conscience of the nation is not dead and one hopes the debate opened by Zuma himself will focus on rebuilding our moral fibre and ensure we never accept Seepe’s invitation to settle for the lowest common denominator among us. In a sense the corruption in our country is a direct result of the loss of a sense of embarrassment and shame that has attacked our body politic. For the sake of future generations, we have to bring ourselves back from that brink.