Picture: 123RF/ALLAN SWART
Picture: 123RF/ALLAN SWART

In the now some would say infamous letter of President Cyril Ramaphosa to ANC members published on August 23, he stated that the ANC should face the reality that its leaders stand accused of corruption — and that the party itself is “accused number one”.

Though many welcomed his words and viewed it as a turning point in the fight against corruption, some expressed scepticism on social media: VictoriaAfrica2 tweeted: “Mr President [do you] honestly think that writing a letter is going to solve the corruption issue in the ANC? The damage is severe…. The wound is so deep and unfortunately there’s absolutely nothing he can do to solve it.”

VuoLu2Li said: “with due respect president we are tired of the singing, it’s like a broken record now. We need action taken, we need to see people in orange overalls.”

Their doubts are of course justifiable, as we have not seen much being done to bring culprits to justice.

Ramaphosa quite rightly pointed out that corruption is not only a problem within the ANC but is also rooted in private sector companies and individuals, including civil servants. This is not news to SA citizens. We know corruption is flourishing in our society. And though justice needs to be served to address corruption, citizens must understand that justice alone will not solve the problem of embedded corruption in society.

Addressing corruption is linked to the promotion of individual and social integrity. This means every citizen has a role to play in preventing corruption by acting with personal integrity and making ethical choices. Addressing corruption requires of each of us to embrace ethical citizenship.

It is Aristotle who asserted that all ethical obligations stem from the fact that humans, as social animals, yearn to live in relationship with each other in constructive harmony. To do so requires that we acknowledge our civic responsibilities and demonstrate our social consciousness and determination to contribute to the good of society. To be a responsible citizen entails being an ethical citizen. This translates into being responsible; not turning one’s back on the truth: and doing one’s share as a member of society. It embodies civic duties and civic virtues.

Ethical citizenship requires of us to not only do our civic duty but to do more than is morally expected

Our civic duty refers to our ethical obligations and standards of behaviour that form the basis of the minimal requirements of ethical citizenship. Civic duties refer to the moral “must”, or moral obligations that society requires of its citizens, such as paying taxes, complying with the law and minimising waste and pollution. Civic virtues are more aspirational — they refer to a softer “should”.

These virtues define an optional dimension of ethical citizenship and refer to behaviour that is desirable, worthy of encouragement and praiseworthy, but not morally instructed by society. Examples hereof are giving time or money to a charitable cause, assisting an elderly person to cross the street, or standing up for what is right even if it is not self-serving to do so.

So how can being an ethical citizen contribute to addressing corruption? It is all too common to hear that the only way to address corruption is by the government acting against perpetrators. But it is not the only way. Ethical citizenship requires of us to not only do our civic duty but to do more than is morally expected. It requires that members of society speak up when they observe or know of corruption. It requires that citizens develop a strong sense of right and wrong and the confidence that their act of courage, blowing the whistle on corruption, will make a difference.

As ethical citizens we need to believe that we too can contribute to addressing corruption by reporting it to the right authorities. Where would SA have been if it was not for courageous people such as Bianca Goodson, former CEO of Trillion Capital, who blew the whistle on what was later termed state capture, or Philemon Ngwenya, who exposed irregularities in the Estina dairy farm project?

These citizens did SA a huge favour by exposing corruption. They believed that they could have an impact, that they would be heard, and that action would be taken against wrongdoers. Admittedly, action in some cases is still pending and it has not come easy for them as they have all suffered retaliation. Ngwenya paid with his life. But they were heard, and the impact they have had on SA’s fight against corruption can never be negated.

South Africans must embrace their responsibility to be ethical citizens. They need not turn their backs on the truth. We have an obligation to assist Ramaphosa in his quest to expose wrongdoers who undermine our democracy and erode our economy. We cannot stand back and proclaim that it is the government’s responsibility only to address corruption. Those days are long gone.

• Groenewald is senior manager at The Ethics Institute.

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