Reflecting on 2017: Annus horribilis or Annus mirabilis?

by Prof Deon Rossouw | Published on 29 November 2017 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

This year was without any doubt an eventful and turbulent one. As we approach the final month of this year, one cannot help but reflect on whether it was a horrible year (annus horribilis) or a wonderful year (annus mirabilis).

Good and bad

From an ethical perspective, there seems to be sufficient cause to call the year a horrible one. Key state institutions on whom citizens rely to protect them against corruption and the abuse of state power seem to be emasculated and unable or unwilling to fulfil their constitutional responsibilities.   Through various dramatic revelations – of course the #GuptaLeaks, the report by a group of academics under the title of Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is Being Stolen and more recently Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers – a tale of corruption in key state institutions, state-owned companies, and the private sector has unfolded. From this perspective it was, surely, an annus horribilis.

But one could also look at 2017 as a year in which a turning point was reached. This was the year in which corrupt enterprises and schemes started to show cracks and to crumble. We have seen the exposure and dismissal of at least some leaders in the public and private sectors who were implicated in corruption. Courageous individuals have come to fore and exposed the wrong-doing and corruption in their organisations. In civil society, we have witnessed unprecedented social pushback against state capture. All these developments are probably not sufficient to call 2017 an annus mirabilis, but they have likely started an irreversible process that will slow down and ultimately stop the current cycle of corruption and state capture.

At The Ethics Institute, we believe that ethics is the cornerstone of safe, just and prosperous societies. The inverse of this belief is that a widespread lack of ethical standards will ultimately result in an unsafe and unjust society in economic decline. Sadly, this belief has been vindicated by the events of 2017. It is my hope, though, that we are currently witnessing a turning point, and that the seeds of recovery from the current moral crisis have already been planted, and are starting to sprout.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the individuals and organisations with whom we were fortunate to work this year for sharing and supporting our vision of an ethically responsible society. It gave us joy to see how organisations are vigilantly protecting themselves against ethical decay, as well as enhancing their ethical culture. We look forward to continuing our mutual quest for building an ethical society, and to collaborating with responsible individual and organisational citizens when we all return from a well-deserved festive break in 2018.

Deon Circle



Prof Deon Rossouw is CEO of The Ethics Institute. He holds a Doctorate in Philosophy from University of Stellenbosch.