A race to the bottom in ethical leadership: The ANC’s concepts of accountability should be rejected along with the party come May 29

07 Apr 2024 in News


The events of the past few weeks surrounding Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula standing down as speaker of the National Assembly have exemplified the ANC’s culture of impunity. The ruling party’s position on how public representatives ought to conduct themselves in office is a dismal standard by any measure. Its approach is designed to ensure the broad church can withstand any political scandal, corruption allegation or misconduct charge as long as it does not involve a criminal conviction.

Individually and in government, the ANC has tried to inculcate in us all that it is acceptable for leaders to be accused of unsavoury behaviour; and that we should only insist on that person’s removal from office when he or she is thrown into a jail cell — which has rarely happened.

We must reject this mindset in its entirety. We cannot allow the ANC to convince us that a finding of criminal liability is the sole standard against which our leaders should be judged. This is a race to the bottom which has come to characterise the ruling party’s politics, but it need not be South Africa’s barometer of ethical leadership. We must demand more from those who have been elected to public office. They should be the best among us, as they are entrusted with the responsibility of representing and leading us all.


President Cyril Ramaphosa’s comments this week about Mapisa-Nqakula prove the point I wish to make about the ANC’s position on leadership standards. He claimed that we ought to applaud Mapisa-Nqakula for having resigned from her position. This comment emphasises that the organisation expects only the lowest standards of accountability for its leaders. The head of the executive could not even be bothered to reflect on the seriousness of the allegations of corruption and money laundering Mapisa-Nqakula faces. He pretends her resignation is an act of heroism when in fact it was the result of pressure exerted on her and her party as we head to the polls next month.

Mapisa-Nqakula’s resignation cannot be seen in a vacuum. It was the result of consistent demands for accountability. When allegations of corruption and money laundering against her were brought to light, the DA argued that someone who leads the legislative arm of government ought to be beyond reproach, because that person’s conduct ought to instil public trust in the institution. We held that the allegations she faced and the subsequent raid on her home by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) immediately disqualified her from occupying such a role. When it became clear she was determined to continue her legal battle using parliamentary resources, we moved a motion of no confidence against her.

I personally wrote to all political parties represented in parliament — including the ANC — imploring them to support this motion to protect the integrity of the institution. The whole debacle was becoming an increasingly untenable national spectacle.

Mapisa-Nqakula’s resignation only came once the political and legal walls were closing in on her, and not a moment sooner. The assertion that her decision to step down was made with the interests of parliament in mind is difficult to believe.


However, it is worth mentioning that Mapisa-Nqakula is not the only ANC politician with a questionable past. The party’s parliamentary benches are littered with people named in the Zondo commission report. Past and present government ministers such as Gwede Mantashe, Malusi Gigaba, Nomvula Mokonyane, Dipuo Peters, Zizi Kodwa and Lynne Brown are just some of the people said to have sold off the country’s silver for personal gain.

The guillotine will only ever fall on those whose political stock has plummeted. Simply put, the ANC will only ever punish someone no longer favoured by the party. They have chosen political expediency over real accountability for decades. They have been resolute about their choice of party over country. As long as you back the right faction, the mighty movement will close ranks and defend you, often at the expense of the people of South Africa.

Mapisa-Nqakula was there when her party blocked an impeachment inquiry into Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala “dollars-stuffed-into-a-couch” scandal, she was the speaker when the ANC voted against a probe into corruption at Eskom, and she presided over the National Assembly when efforts to implement the recommendations of the Zondo commission were thwarted by the ANC caucus in parliament.

Let the image of Mapisa-Nqakula in the dock be a reminder to those who have found refuge in their party’s numbers that the tide is turning. From now on, the sight of politicians who have stolen from the people languishing in jail will become commonplace.

It is now time to rewrite the script.


As South Africans, we must demand better from our leaders — and when their political parties protect them, we must punish those parties.

We have to bring into being a politics that values ethical, servant and accountable leadership. Those who put up their hands for public office must understand the rules of the game as being set by the public, not the other way around.

Parliament has a long way to go in earning the trust of the public and demonstrating the power of a people-centric legislature. To do that, the 400 representatives must be the best among us, not the worst.

South Africans must be firm when making their choices in the voting booth. They should not reward people or parties that do not value ethical leadership that upholds the rule of law and honours the responsibilities of high office.

Parliament belongs to the people of South Africa, not the politicians. It must be a place where only those determined to serve with integrity come together to deliberate on and resolve the issues facing the people who elected them.