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ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP OP-ED

Accountability is the key success factor in leadership and good governance as elections loom

Accountability is the key success factor in leadership and good governance as elections loom
A mark of great leadership is the willingness to accept accountability for mistakes and failures and to learn from them. (Image: PloPdo / Wikipedia)

Few, if any, of those putting themselves forward as candidates for leadership in 2024 have shown enough willingness to accept accountability for the myriad failures and follow through on their own electoral promises over the past years and decades.

South Africa is at a crossroads. We have the opportunity to elect accountable leaders driven by a sense of responsibility to their fellow citizens in this beautiful country and to nurture future generations. We are rightly proud of our national Constitution that has laid the foundations and guidelines for a society characterised by respect for human rights and dignity and for the promotion of well-being for all in a healthy environment.

We could have achieved so much more had we accepted that as a society that had not experienced democracy on home ground until 1994, we needed to invest significantly in enabling ourselves to understand the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, elected office, public service and leadership at all levels of society as set out in our Constitution. Skipping this important step has led us – as both citizens and public service leaders – to behave like unlicensed drivers in the driver’s seat of a brand-new car without having learnt the basics of safe driving. The rack and ruin around our country is the predictable outcome of reckless driving by the unlicensed drivers we are.   

The past 30 years have demonstrated that citizens and leaders who are not transformed from seeing themselves as victims of the oppressive apartheid system, into free, Ubuntu values-based citizens, have become a danger to themselves and others. It is not surprising that our country has made so many mistakes – big and small. We must acknowledge that trying to govern a constitutional democratic nation with a value system inherited from apartheid, has led to our many failures.  

accountability

Futurelect, founded and led by Lindiwe Mazibuko, is making waves in preparing those aspiring to elected leadership. (Photo: Sebabatso Mosamo / Sunday Times)

The Ubuntu/human rights ethos embedded in our Constitution requires us to embrace them in our school curriculums, tertiary and other training institutions, our faith-based organisations and our private-sector company personnel and leadership development programmes. It is great to see the resurgence of attention by young professionals in civic organisations such as the Ground Work Collective, promoting citizen education. Futurelect, founded and led by Lindiwe Mazibuko, is making waves in preparing those aspiring to elected leadership. Programmes designed to ensure that the constitutional imperatives of good governance and citizen responsibility need to be ingrained in young people to help them shape the future we desire. 

The successes of the past 30 years are clearly evident but limited to those areas of our lives where investments have been made in aligning work being done with the Ubuntu constitutional values. We cannot but be proud of our judiciary which has not only excelled but defended its independence against all odds from an executive branch that would stop at nothing to protect itself from public accountability. The judiciary also stands out as being willing to hold their own errant colleagues to account.

At what point in our journey as a nation are we to embrace those left behind as members of our one human family of South Africa?

We are also proud of those dedicated public servants who have taken the risks of calling unaccountable leaders to order or refused to obey their unlawful orders. Some of those public servants have paid the ultimate price, but many more have lost jobs and livelihoods. Too many young professionals have migrated to foreign lands in search of livelihoods, safety and sanity. Private-sector leaders and entrepreneurs who have embraced the mindset shift to values-based practices that respect human rights and social justice have proudly shown the way by exercising their citizenship.

Our public-sector leaders have largely failed to hold themselves accountable for failing to enable the promises of freedom embedded in our Constitution to become living realities in every citizen’s life. They have failed the accountability test not once but over more than two decades. Our leaders have normalised the inherited apartheid socioeconomic system designed to generate poverty, inequality, crime, violence and violations of the socioeconomic rights of the majority of citizens. It hurts to hear us continue to talk, without a hint of irony, about “townships”, “informal settlements”, “hostels”, “disadvantaged people”, “the poor” and many other references to those excluded from the fruits of freedom. At what point in our journey as a nation are we to embrace those left behind as members of our one human family of South Africa?

Our world is struggling with many planetary crises, conflicts and wars without the benefit of outstanding leadership to help us see beyond narrow short-termism. Our beloved country is no exception in crying out for real leaders to please stand. We have the opportunity, alongside more than 60 other nations globally, to elect leaders who are willing to be held accountable to make ours a country of free and proud people enjoying well-being for all in clean and safe environments.

The wrath of ancestors can only be appeased by a return to the source of wisdom, where we acknowledge and learn from our failures.

A mark of great leadership is the willingness to accept accountability for mistakes and failures and to learn from them. Few, if any, of those putting themselves forward as candidates for leadership in 2024 have shown enough willingness to accept accountability for the myriad failures, not challenges, to follow through on their own electoral promises over the past years and decades. We the people have also to acknowledge our own failure to hold those we entrusted with public leadership accountable for their failures. We cannot complain about state capture while we resign ourselves to voting for the same people responsible for the destruction of our common wealth. 

Mamphela Ramphele

Mamphela Ramphele speaks at Barnard College’s 7th Annual Global Symposium in New York City on 13 March 2015. (Photo:  J Countess / Getty Images)

In traditional African culture, accountability was at the heart of good governance. Accountability was regarded as an essential element in promoting the sustainability and prosperity of the community at local, district and national levels. In most high-performing traditional societies only able leaders, or those willing to learn the craft of leadership, were entrusted with the responsibilities of leadership. Once in office leaders were often held to a high standard of performance within agreed structures. AC Jordan’s classic 1940 novel Ingqumbo Yeminyanya, translated by his wife in 1980 into The Wrath of the Ancestors, has vital lessons for us and our leaders not to depart from the values, customs and practices of our ancestors who fought for the freedom we are enjoying today. The wrath of ancestors can only be appeased by a return to the source of wisdom, where we acknowledge and learn from our failures.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024 Knowledge Base

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

South African citizens have the opportunity over the next few weeks to reflect on the choices of leaders they will entrust with the futures they would like to bequeath to generations to come. The right to vote comes with the responsibility to choose only leaders we can trust and hold accountable. We have the power to enforce our demands, as we did successfully during the struggle for freedom. It is in our hands! DM

Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ST ST says:

    Thank you Mamphela and congratulations Lindiwe. You’ve spoken, unfortunately those who need to hear this message live in a parallel universe where such messages do not infiltrate. I wonder if the so called leaders know what that means. If they’ve ever sat through one lecture or instruction of what the concepts of leadership, governance, accountability etc. actually mean for their roles.

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