South Africans need to start saying “we just don’t do that” to create a much-needed culture of morality, human rights activist and columnist Rhoda Kadalie said on Tuesday.
“Maybe we could start right now by altering the phrase to ‘I just won’t do that’, when faced with the choice to do what is expedient rather than what is right,” she said at the first Big Issue business breakfast in Cape Town.
“Unless we change our ways, the lack of personal, political and corporate integrity will become second nature to South Africa and the world.”
Kadalie said she first heard this moral phrase when in Sweden to accept an honorary doctorate in the 1990s.
Her host refused to drive because she had had a glass of wine and Kadalie complained because she did not want to walk home in her high-heeled shoes.
Her friend said they simply did not behave that way and it struck Kadalie that ethics, morality and obeying the law were part of the DNA of the country’s culture and society.
Kadalie believed there was one law for local politicians and another for citizens, causing confusion and disrespect.
Politicians often did not distinguish between their own vested interests and the national interest, going so far as to accuse people of being unpatriotic when caught out for such behaviour.
She had heard members of the Cabinet say “it is now our turn”, implying it was their turn to “eat at the trough” like the previous government had done.
She said it was impossible to create a culture of integrity under these conditions.
“Human nature has proven to be untrustworthy at the best of times and that is why we need checks and balances to keep us on the right track,” she said.
“That is why we have the Constitution, to protect the governed from those who govern, and we often forget that.”
The consequences of being moral and having integrity were often dire. Whistleblowers were often treated like lepers and some died in obscurity, she said.
Kadalie said being unpopular in a sea of corruption was not necessarily a bad thing. SAPA