/ 7 March 2020

Moral leadership is essential for curbing corruption

Another recent example of political amnesia took place when Zuma testified — if it could be called that— at the Zondo Commission.
The Zondo commission has filed an urgent Constitutional Court application for an order compelling former president Jacob Zuma to testify before it and forged an argument as to why the matter falls within the court’s exclusive jurisdiction. (Wikus de Wet/Pool/Reuters)


It would not be far-fetched to argue that there is a lack of true moral leadership in both the public and private sectors in Africa. In South Africa, we saw this in the Steinhoff saga and the revelations at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. 

If we want to regain true moral leadership, we must, among other efforts, encourage the protection of whistle-blowers and exposers of corruption. True moral leadership leads to action against unethical and corrupt leaders by the prosecution and conviction of those individuals. 

Moral leaders are just, trustful and knowledgeable; they put others first and think about the greater public good. They influence people to act on certain principles, values and beliefs — as will become evident later — for the benefit of all society. 

Over many years, corruption has been undermining Africa’s civilisation, development and transformation. This is nowhere better illustrated than in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, with its theme, “The Africa We Want”. Agenda 2063 demonstrates how Africa is actually a product of corruption and, therefore, her people are yearning to transform the continent into a powerhouse of the future.

Africa has in itself the seed of civilisation and all the natural and human resources for social, religious, political, scientific and economic development and transformation, but corruption is holding the continent and her inhabitants under lock and key. That is why Africans ardently yearn for a continent in which resources and wealth are administered not to the detriment of the poor, but to the admiration and mutual benefit of both the rich and the poor. 

Unfortunately, corruption overshadows our human capacity to do good. It is a spiritual, moral and ethical problem that has become one of the greatest enemies of the human race. It is multidimensional and multifaceted. 

Given that corruption and impunity are so deeply rooted in our continent, Africa has become the home to social, political, religious and economic settings which are primarily characterised by greed, massive poverty and unemployment, often resulting in persistent violent conflicts and wars. 

In our recent book, A Multidimensional Perspective on Corruption in Africa: Wealth, Power, Religion and Democracy, we argue that corruption and impunity eclipse and distort the truth. It is a lie that is causing many African leaders, and those they lead, to perceive an obsession with wealth and power as the factor that will help them to overcome their vulnerability, weaknesses and nakedness. 

Sunday Agang, co-editor of our abovementioned book, warns us that we must be careful and alert in this regard. Many African leaders, according to him, have become specialists in using corruption as the scapegoat to keep their moral, ethical and other leadership shortcomings out of sight. They try to convince people that corruption is the reason Africa has remained underdeveloped since independence. 

Of course, corruption is an important contributing factor; however, that is not the whole truth. Agang reasons that, across the globe, no continent is immune to corruption; no society is corruption-free. Wherever human beings exist, corruption exists also. Yet, other countries can thrive morally, ethically, socially, scientifically, economically and politically. That is, despite the existence and level of corruption and impunity in their societies, they are still able to grow and develop their civilisations, technologies, sciences and economies for the greater good of their citizens.

We accept the fact that many of us are not immune to corruption. However, we believe that corruption in Africa is not going to have the final say. We have in our nature not only the tendency towards evil, but also the capacity to do good and great things. This is why we believe that corruption needn’t hinder development in Africa. Those leaders in Africa who believe that they can use corruption as a scapegoat for their performance in office must be challenged, exposed and not allowed to give that excuse.

The father of the modern, free-market economy, Adam Smith, writes: “Man desires not only to be loved but to be lovely.” To be lovely, in the words of Agang, is to be humanised. Without ethical and moral compassion, love and respect for human dignity, our societies cannot eradicate dehumanisation, which underpins corruption. Without these values, Africa’s leaders will continue to find it extremely difficult to live, think, work and serve in a manner that proves to others that they are honourable, honest, and people of integrity in public and in private.

To change from the Africa we now have to the Africa we want, we need African leaders at all levels —private and public — who will do fulfil their roles with a mindset of building and strengthening the continent and its people to achieve an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena”, as described in Agenda 2063. This understanding will hopefully help these leaders to overcome the temptation to serve only their personal interests.

In the end, corruption is everybody’s business. What is of utmost importance is the role morality and ethics play in society; what we do in universities, governmental departments and in the workplace to promote anticorruption behaviour and actions, and develop leaders who are ethical, effective, empathetic and compassionate. 

That corruption robs the poor is evident. We will have to keep fighting poverty, unemployment and inequality. But as a collective, we are powerful enough to bring about positive change; to promote inclusive and sustainable development, and concretely manifest unity, selfdetermination, freedom, progress and collective prosperity. 

Professor Solosh Pillay is vice-dean for social impact and transformation in the faculty of economic and management sciences at Stellenbosch University. Dr Chris Jones heads the unit for moral leadership at the same university