An icon speaks out against the state of the world

by | Aug 22, 2016 | General | 2 comments

Although he retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996 and again retired after the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he chaired, was completed in 1998, Desmond Tutu (or “The Arch” as he prefers to be called) remains an active citizen of the world, a moral icon and a wise elder.

 It is accordingly right that his most recent social media contribution should reach as wide an audience as possible. The full text of his statement is electronically available at . As the Arch is the patron of Accountability Now and its guiding spirit, it is appropriate that his words and thoughts be promoted in this way. The take home message that the Arch is giving the wayward world is an important one. This is what he says:

 “[Today] our world faces unprecedented levels of immorality, inequity, intolerance, insecurity, prejudice, greed, corruption – and impunity.

 Righteous people are asking: What do we do to turn back the tide of hatred, corruption and destruction? To whom do we turn for peace and security, for morality, and environmental and social sustainability?

 The human family has entered a phase of growing recklessness and willingness to disregard the rights of others, to grab resources and resort to violence to make their arguments or settle their differences.

Humanity is crying out for good leaders, role models with the skills, compassion and sense of justice to hear the cries of their neighbours, to reconcile differences in the human family and share the earth’s resources so that all can eat.

I am very sad.”

 It is dreadful that a man who worked so hard for social justice during his long career should not be able to enjoy his retirement basking in the peace, progress and prosperity of his beloved “rainbow nation of God” (a phrase to describe the envisaged unity in diversity of the new SA which was first used by him before he first retired). It is worrisome that greed and its hand-maiden the scourge of corruption should so mar the Arch’s retirement that he is moved to hold up a mirror to the world so that all can reflect on the depths of depravity to which humanity has sunk.

 In short, it is very sad that the Arch has to say that he is very sad.

There are however practical ways of addressing the concerns which he raises. A sustainable future is not beyond the wit of the human race. As Professor Reinhold Niebuhr put it:

“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes it necessary.”

Creating a sustainable future is what we all owe our children; it is the accountable way of providing a better life for them.

At the level of the United Nations General Assembly there is acute awareness of the need for change that properly addresses the concerns raised by the Arch. Last September this august body which consists of the majority of the nations of the planet adopted its 17 “Sustainable Development Goals” Of particular interest in relation to the matters raised by the Arch is goal 16 which can be summarised as:

 “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions – Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

Another clergyman of the Arch’s generation, Peter Storey of the Methodist Church, has suggested ten precepts for good governance. They are:

  1. Rulers are accountable, not only to the people, but to a more ultimate Authority. God will not ask them whether they went to church, but whether they ruled with justice and compassion.
  2.  Service, rather than self-aggrandisement, is required of rulers.
  3. So are integrity and morality. Immorality and corruption erode people’s respect for public office.
  4. Righteousness exalts a nation.
  5. Economic justice is paramount.
  6. The strong and rich are most in danger of judgement.
  7. Society will therefore be judged by how the most vulnerable are treated.
  8. Each person has intrinsic worth.
  9. Policies of Government are judged not by intention but by outcome
  10. Leaders must seek reconciliation and unity rather than enmity and division.

The use of the words “the righteous” and “righteousness” by both clerics may require some explanation for secularly inclined readers. It the biblical context they refer to “compassionate fair dealing” ‑ what Micah in the Old Testament calls “doing justly and loving mercy …”

 In South Africa we have embraced constitutionalism by adopting our Constitution and the rule of law as our supreme law. This means we do not have “rulers” in the biblical sense; we have those who govern within the parameters and precepts of the Constitution. Failure to do so is invalid, and must be declared so by our independent courts when any laws or conduct are impugned for their inconsistency with the Constitution and the rule of law.

This is a good start, but the strong institutions envisaged by the UN require careful structuring and nurturing in order to do that which SDG 16 envisages. Without strong institutions that are fully capable of checking and balancing the exercise of power and correcting its abuse, the future for which the Arch longs and for which he has worked so hard in his lifetime will remain elusive. Corruption is the abuse of public office for private gain. It is also theft from the poor.

The largest gap in the armoury of strong institutions in SA is the absence of an Integrity Commission (or Anti-Corruption Commission) among the various institutions created in Chapter Nine of the Constitution to independently support the development of constitutional democracy in the country. Accountability Now has asked the Constitutional Reform Committee of the National Assembly to give its serious consideration to draft legislation (available on the website referred to above) with a view to creating an effective and adequately independent corruption busting entity.

The Constitutional Court has repeatedly warned that corruption threatens to destroy our nascent democracy. It accepts that corruption is rife in SA today. It has identified five criteria by which the necessary entity must be characterised. They are the specialised or dedicated efforts of properly trained staff who enjoy security of tenure of office, are fully resourced in an uninterruptable fashion and who are sufficiently independent to be immune to political influence and interference. An anti-corruption body that is able to function without fear, favour or prejudice is what is required to enable SA to escape the grasping clutches of the corrupt – those who seriously corrode our national efforts to respect and protect the human rights guaranteed to all in our state of the art Bill of Rights.

It was thought in 2014, when the Constitutional Court last considered the issue, that the reformed Hawks would suffice as SA’s independent corruption busters. This was an error which has been revealed by developments since then. The irregular suspension and termination of the services of Anwa Dramat as head Hawk, the appointment of a successor so lacking in integrity and credibility that his very appointment is under challenge and the repeated failed efforts of the authorities to prevent the head Hawk in KZN from just doing his job, all these developments point in the direction of a need for reform. The arrest rate of the Hawks, an indicator of their productivity, has also declined precipitously in recent years.

It is to be hoped that the Constitutional Reform Committee will look favourably upon the suggestions made to it in the near future now that its members are no longer distracted by the municipal election campaign. Any failure to do so could condemn SA to a future which will only deepen the sadness of which the Arch complains. The converse also applies. If anyone deserves to have his great sadness at the state of the world addressed constructively, it is the Arch.

Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now

3 August 2016.

Archbishop tutu

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  1. Chris Godfrey

    Surely the Office of the Public Protector fulfils the function mentioned above re the Integrity Commission? And WHAT A BRILLIANT Chapter 9 Iinstitition that haa been. And it SURELY DESERVES full financial support as well as the loud applause of ALL SOUTH AFRICANS (except those in the bulls eye)

  2. Pam Immelman

    How was corruption and bribery ‘allowed’ to grow to this magnitude, not just in government, institutions, but in all sectors of society … even in the legal system …. we’ve experienced it first hand, but because certain people cover up their misdemeanours, we ordinary citizens have no recourse.


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