In welcoming the historic ruling by the Constitutional Court in the Nkandla matter, the Ethics Institute of South Africa (EthicsSA) says that the damage caused to the country will only be repaired if leaders admit they erred, and recommit themselves to the foundational values of the Constitution.
The Constitutional Court made it very clear in its ruling that South Africa’s constitutional democracy is founded on three core values – accountability, the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution, comments Prof Deon Rossouw, CEO of EthicsSA. “As the Chief Justice made very clear in a unanimous judgement by the Court, the President’s failure to uphold these values hinged on his breach of the ethics codes created to give substance to his constitutional obligations, the Executive Members’ Ethics Act and the Executive Ethics Code. The Nkandla scandal is primarily an ethical one, and it will require an ethical solution to resolve it fully.”
The Executive Members’ Ethics Act and the Executive Ethics Code specifically require the executive to use its powers in the best interests of the public, and to avoid conflicts of interest. It explicitly calls on members of the Executive to not abuse their positions for private gain.
In terms of the judgement, the President has been set time limits within which he must comply with the remedies stipulated by the Public Protector. However, argues Professor Rossouw, to prevent the shadow of Nkandla to continue falling across South African public life, it is essential for leaders to publicly recommit to the foundational values of the Constitution, and admit that they erred.
“As we have seen in the cases of Vytjie Mentor and Mcebisi Jonas, bold action of this nature could cause an individual some short-term harm, but the long-term gains for our democracy, for the calibre of our public life and, I would predict, for the individuals concerned would be immense,” Rossouw says. “The credibility of both Parliament and the Executive has been dented by this affair, and this type of courageous ethical leadership will help to restore it. More important still, it will help to underscore the fact that ethics underpin how all of us, including our leaders, act.”
“If the necessary ethical courage is not found, we can expect the saga of Nkandla to drag on, with grave consequences for the country.”
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