“If there was a time to talk about the importance of integrity in South Africa, it’s now.”
So said former public protector Professor Thuli Madonsela at an Integrity Networking Breakfast forum that took place at the Nelson Mandela Auditorium in Gardens Community Centre on Wednesday May 16.
The event was organised by Hidden Dimensions Corporate Training Consultants CEO, Charissa Bloomberg, and among those in attendance were television talk show host, Faizal Sayed and Professor Madonsela’s son, Wantu Madonsela.
Professor Madonsela told the audience that integrity was needed in all levels of society and that rather than standing in front of the people as the epitome of integrity, she aspired to be the person of integrity.
She added that integrity was important in leadership, and that a leader was not only the person “at the top”, but we’re all leaders, leading ourselves because it would be impossible for a person to have integrity if they couldn’t lead themselves.
“The fact that you decided to be part of this dialogue means that you have what it takes to be leaders. You’re here to reflect, introspect and improve. You’re here because you want to invest in your future because that’s what integrity is about,” she said.
Touching on the country’s current state of affairs, Professor Madonsela said people had followed people without integrity and that sometimes people follow people who appear to have integrity until they realise that they’re being taken for a ride.
In an effort to define integrity, Professor Madonsela described it as a “hidden direction” which was at the root of integrity.
“In the absence of integrity, there’s no ethical conduct and that often results in lives falling apart.”
Sharing some of her experience as a public protector, she said she had seen people act without integrity due to greed, a need to keep their jobs and a lack of ethics.
She said during her tenure she had also dealt with cases of people who lost their jobs for not following the rules and signing “dodgy” deals.
On the flip side, she said, there had also been people in government who had chosen to act with integrity and paid the price.
“I always say rather pay now than later. Teams fall apart when there’s no integrity. Look at the situation with SABC, Eskom and other state-owned enterprises; they are paying now because the foundation was shaky, “ she said.
However, said Professor Madonsela, there was glimmer of hope in South Africa, because we’ve seen companies such as KPMG, Steinhoff, Bell Pottinger, being brought to book for their lack of integrity.
She praised organisations in South Africa that work tirelessly to hold government and companies to account.
She added that even though there had been a change in leadership, the trust deficit continued to haunt the country.
“The country needs to rebuild on the basis of integrity. It’s Mama Albertina Sisulu’s centenary this year and the country needs to draw lessons from heroines such as Ma Sisulu and we need to look at her integrity which has never been questioned her whole life,” she said.