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The power of love, panel agrees, is imperative for moral authority

The power of love, panel agrees, is imperative for moral authority
Professor Thuli Madonsela at The Gathering Twenty Twenty Four Election Edition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Key outcomes of a panel discussion at The Gathering were that it takes love to address injustice, and intersectional approaches between state, business and civic society are key to maintaining moral authority.

A quote by Martin Luther King kicked off a panel discussion on “Moral Authority and Love and Courage” at Daily Maverick’s Gathering 2024 on Thursday:

“What is needed is a realisation that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

The quote was a preamble to a discussion on the importance and role of morality and leading with love; a concept that is lacking in the South African political climate.

The panel discussion was moderated by Daily Maverick’s Gauteng managing editor, Zukiswa Pikoli. Sitting on the panel with Pikoli were human rights activist and author Pregs Govender, former Public Protector Professor Thuli Madonsela and the CEO of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, Janet Jobson.

Key outcomes of the discussion revolved around the quote that set the scene:

  • It takes love to address injustice;
  • Moral authority still exists, despite the current political climate; and
  • Intersectional approaches between the state, business and civic society sectors are key to maintaining moral authority.

Madonsela said, “You don’t stand up looking to be brave. You step up looking to address what is right. Pre-apartheid was about dismantling. Post-apartheid, it was about building something and standing up where there is injustice.

“Courage is stepping out to make sure you play your part, and the society you live in — a good society — is being built and not undermined.”

With South Africans gearing up for the general election on 29 May to decide who will lead the nation and rectify more than a decade of political moral decay, Pikoli asked the panellists what sort of character citizens should look out for in a leader.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Gathering 2024

Govender said, “Leading with love is responding to the power within each of us. Our ability to respond to love as power means that we locate our elections in what is happening globally and that we don’t turn away from it.

love moral authority the gathering govender

Pregs Govender at The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

“We cannot talk about our elections or any elections without dealing with the genocide that is currently happening in Palestine. It locates the question of power — who has power, who determines it, the shape of our elections, and who determines who is seen… If it’s going to be a viable future for everyone, how urgent is it to transform [inequality]? That is the imperative of love.”

With rampant corruption highlighting how leaders are leading without love or moral authority; Jobson emphasised that not all hope was lost and that partnerships with civil society were key to addressing the love, morality and courage vacuum so prevalent in governance structures across the public and private spheres.

love moral authority the gathering jobson

Janet Jobson at The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

She said, “We have no short supply of moral, courageous and powerful leaders, who are usually women at a community level. The fabric of our society is held together by this network of extraordinary people, community and non-governmental leaders. We underestimate the power of that group of people, of shaping South Africa. We don’t give enough power to civil society.

“Civil society can be the site of justice along the margins, where we can test how we can shift ideas in our society. That creative role as a partner to the state, as a challenging but friendly engagement, is crucial.

“One of the tragedies of [post-apartheid South Africa] is that we had incredible civil society leaders who became government leaders and have pushed civil society out the door. What I would like to see in this next election is the government engaging across society and sectors.”

love moral authority the gathering pikoli

Zukiswa Pikoli at The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Pikoli weighed in on some of the most pressing issues in the country, such as poverty and inequality, and whether SA’s leaders feared addressing those issues.

She asked, “What is to be lost by directly engaging how we turn around [the fear in our leaders]? What is the vested interest in maintaining an unsustainable system, one that is unjust?”

Madonsela answered that leaders were using hard power to transform society.

“I call it the age of dysphoria. Everyone is unhappy … because we haven’t heard conversations about what is a good society. We started this [democracy] journey around what is a good society.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Trenton Carr says:

    And nothing was gained.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Thanks for reminding us that there was also a ‘gathering’ of the less testosteronous variety. Does the ‘separation’ help … or is it just a mechanism to stop the bulls from herding the cows ? Sounds significantly different in tone from the bulls stomp … or was it a rampage !

  • James Webster says:

    Surely moral authority results from the practice of morality, not from vapid meaningless feel good statements ab0ut “love” ? Is this not just another example of majority South African culture refusing accountability ? Perhaps if the majority in SA embraced morality, starting with the election of a government based in honesty and efficiency, instead of tacitly encouraging patronage and corruption, they would have some moral authority. White culture in SA has been stripped of any moral authority because it is tarred ( unfairly ) with the brush of apartheid and racism, but SA black culture has stripped itself go any moral authority it once had, because of its complicity in the rape of South Africa along with its refusal to act in the interests of the country preferring to act only in its own selfish interests.

    • Harold Wener says:

      James. So well put. I started reading the post and when all the drivel over love started , I realised then and there why I did not bother to attend the conference. Maybe if could use love in the correct context as in Love your neighbour before yourself, we may start getting somewhere.

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