If he did indeed once sell his soul to the devil, Pallo Jordan has made up for it spectacularly by coming clean and resigning, writes Verashni Pillay.
The case of Pallo Jordan’s misrepresented academic qualifications divided South Africa.
After the Sunday Times revealed that he did not, in fact, obtain a PhD as he claimed, the opinions came thick and fast. Leading figures opined on the matter. Some believed it didn’t matter nor diminish his intellectual abilities while others believed that; even so, he should not have essentially lied to the public and his party about his qualifications.
But it appeared none had thought about the matter as hard as Jordan himself.
After going missing for a few days, Jordan resurfaced to face his party, the ANC, and offered to resign from his many powerful positions. The party accepted his resignation as a member of Parliament while still considering his resignation from the powerful National Executive Committee of the ANC and the ANC itself.
It is a move that has stunned South Africa with its simplicity and humility. We have long become inured to scandal, and resigned to politicians who will hang on to their power and insist upon their credibility, despite every evidence to the contrary.
A simple apology would have satisfied most. By resigning Jordan has sent out an incredibly powerful message. It also serves as a steely reinforcement of his own convictions. Jordan has been described in the coverage around the saga as a leading intellectual light of the ANC. Yet he is a leading light for the country generally, with a sense of principle and insight into governance that transcends party politics.
His Business Day columns were often surprisingly critical of his own party and insistent about genuine accountability.
Even his fiercest critics, such as the journalist who penned the original story, lauded the move.
Links to Nkandla
Of course the Jordan saga cannot be read in a vacuum. Already the rumours have begun on social media, linking Jordan’s pointed criticism over the Nkandla scandal and President Jacob Zuma with this surprising skeleton to come rattling out of his closet.
Public spending on security upgrades at Zuma’s private Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal escalated to R246-million and it emerged that the project included a pool, an amphitheatre, and a chicken run. The president seems determined to avoid accountability on the issue.
Zuma could not have taken kindly to Jordan’s criticism, nor the powerful ministers responsible for Nkandla who also came in the firing line.
“The most depressing aspect of public protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report is the complacency of the ministers who oversaw the project,” he wrote.
Yet, if his honesty with his party is in fact to blame for this indiscretion coming to light Jordan knows he has only himself to blame. And his honesty, and sense of principle it seems, have seen him turn this awful personal scandal around in a way that no amount of spin doctoring could have. Action always speaks louder than words.
We may never understand the mysterious “Faustian pact” Jordan referenced in SMSs exchanged with the journalist who broke the story. In a subsequent follow up, Jordan refused to elaborate on the notion, saying only: “Mephistopheles only gets one turn”.
Perhaps. But fallible human beings, unlike mythical demons, do get second chances – especially when they acknowledge their failings with such spectacular grace.