In his first public speech since delivering his decisive judgment against President Jacob Zuma and parliament in the Constitutional Court, Chief Justice Mogoeng has spoken of the need for ethical leadership in South Africa and the rest of the continent.
Mogoeng, who was speaking at a social investment conference in Johannesburg yesterday, implored political and business leaders to adhere to ethical conduct.
“We are where we are as a nation because of what unethical leadership did to us as a nation,” he said.
He told the gathering they should embrace ethical leadership.
“Embrace it and live it.”
Mogoeng spoke as South Africa is faced with questions of leadership and how politicians should behave in office. The Nkandla debacle has prompted members of civil society and some within the ANC to call on Zuma to quit.
But the ruling party has defended Zuma and refused to heed calls that he be purged. Mogoeng pleaded with politicians to stop misleading their supporters.
“If there was ever a time to embrace ethical leadership and stop spinning, stop manipulating, stop relying on [your] supporters or sympathisers to do wrong, knowing the wrongdoing will be covered up somewhere, that time is now.
“If anybody ever needed a bell to be sounded for change, this is it.”
He said corruption had derailed the development of the country.
“Corruption happens because of an absence of ethical leadership. We need leadership that is honest, not manipulative.
“When you ensure that only you, and your family and friends, are well fed, you are not [being] fair,” he said, adding that South Africans should embrace the constitution and comply with it.
Mogoeng said corruption was facilitated by the absence of ethical leadership. He said it was not “a pipe dream” that South Africa could become an economic powerhouse, as Egypt once was.
He criticised business leaders whose conduct had not been entirely ethical.
“If there is something that has the potential to destroy us, it is [blaming] the government for everything.
“What about corporate corruption, price-fixing?
“Corruption is a problem whether in government or the private sector,” he said.
He said South Africans must tackle the ticking bomb of racism and the landlessness of blacks.
“We have not addressed the divisions of the past; we have not dealt with racism.
“What is it we have put in place to normalise [the] racial tensions of the past? We are nurturing a time bomb,” he said.
As the country approaches local government elections, Mogoeng warned politicians about making exaggerated promises to communities.
“When people are hungry it is the responsibility of the leader, in line with the promises he made during elections, to feed them,” he said.
Mogoeng dismissed perceptions that African leaders were inherently corrupt.
“This continent has never colonised anybody.”
He spoke out against xenophobic attacks, urging South Africans to commit to the constitution .
Criticised and doubted when he was first appointed to lead the Constitutional Court, Mogoeng said he had never sought his critics’ affirmation or approval.
He heaped praise on political leaders of the past such as Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere and Nkwame Nkrumah.
“They are examples of ethical and selfless leadership. They ensured that everybody benefited.”
Former president Thabo Mbeki said the presidency should be entrusted only to a leader who had been subjected to vetting by the ruling political party and by parliament.
In his analysis of the recent Constitutional Court ruling, which found that Zuma had failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution by not complying with the public protector’s findings on spending on his Nkandla residence, Mbeki suggested that presidential contenders must take a test.
“Parliament must take all necessary measures to satisfy itself that the person it elects is capable of, and is committed to, the discharge of their constitutional responsibilities in our constitutional democracy.”