Acting ethically beyond mere legal compliance

by Prof Deon Rossouw | Published on 3 December 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

Respect for the law is a cornerstone of a just and safe society. Societies that flout legal standards tend to be unsafe; prone to corruption and moral decay. And yet, while legal compliance is essential to a good society, it is not sufficient. More is needed, and that “more” is morality. This is not a new argument, nor is it a particularly innovative one. Yet it warrants repeating, once again, as South African society continues to be shown examples of its truth, with the latest being the extraordinary case of Momentum and the public response thereto.

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The Nene case: an ethical mixed bag

by Prof Deon Rossouw | Published on 10 October 2018

In the aftermath of former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s testimony at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, and his subsequent resignation, South Africans have been left with a mixed bag of ethical sentiments. Minister Nene has given us two pictures of himself that seem to be contradictory – a courageous person who resisted signing off on a deal that would have crippled the economy, and a dishonest person who met several times with the infamous Guptas and then lied about it. Which picture is the real Nene? Is it possible to choose one?

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Do we live in a country led by narcissists?

by Dr Paul Vorster | Published on 25 October 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

The modern term, “narcissist”, which we generally use to describe someone who is overly self-absorbed, has its roots in Greek mythology. The story goes that Narcissus was a man who was well known for his physical attractiveness and beauty, but also for his pride and arrogance. He tended to show disdain for those who loved him and would encourage his admirers to commit suicide to prove their devotion. The god Nemesis, disapproving of this behaviour, punished Narcissus by luring him to a pool of water, where he could see his own reflection. Narcissus was so enamoured by his own image that he kept staring at it, unable tear himself away, until he withered away, leaving behind only a flower. 

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What's so great about equality?

by Grace Garland | Published on 25 September 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

In South Africa, and indeed probably any democracy around the world, the idea of ‘equality’ is held up as a core goal for society. This is not new. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato thought that justice was the highest virtue, and that anything inequitable is unjust and anything equitable is just. Revolutionaries in France in 1789 thought that equality belonged with liberty and fraternity as the founding principles of their envisioned post-monarchist society. And here, equality is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. But do we know what we mean when we use the word today? There is a case to be made that we do not, and so expose ourselves to a danger of sorts.

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The paradox of being a whistle-blowing hero

by Liezl Groenewald | Published on 27 August 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

South Africans owe a debt of gratitude to a handful of courageous individuals who stood up against state capture and put their lives and careers in jeopardy. Without them, so much would have been allowed to continue unobstructed, and we would probably be living in a very different country today. Society owes them gratitude. Unfortunately, in many cases, the reality of their experiences has been far from rosy.

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Governance form vs function

by Prof Deon Rossouw and Parmi Natesan | Published on 27 July 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter, along with a joint press release with the IoDSA

One of the most persistent challenges relating to governance is the tendency to focus on form rather than substance. In line with King IV, it’s time finally to accept that governance is not an end in itself, but a tool for delivering outcomes, say Parmi Natesan, Executive: Centre for Corporate Governance at the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa (IoDSA) and Professor Deon Rossouw, CEO of The Ethics Institute.

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The danger of a bad precedent

by Dr Paul Vorster | Published on 25 June 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

It is interesting to observe the fiasco currently playing out around now ex-South African President Jacob Zuma. In February, Zuma resigned from office at the behest of the African National Congress’s (ANC) National Executive Committee. The leader did not want to leave, and it took numerous discussions and concessions to get him to resign and make way for Cyril Ramaphosa to step in. And when he did eventually concede, he maintained that he had done nothing wrong. Unfortunately, the lack of a clearer stance and stronger sanctions of his behaviour then is now starting to haunt the ANC.

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"New dawn" wavering on societal trust issues

by Thobile Madonsela | Published on 25 May 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

When Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as the new president, the country was awash with so-called “Ramaphoria”: feelings of hope, optimism and relief. Even the rand traded stronger on the back of the surge of confidence. It certainly did feel like a new beginning – a “new dawn”, as it was coined – when the country would see progress and the eradication of societal woes. Fast-forward to this side of his first 100 days in office, and it seems that the euphoria has deteriorated significantly. Why?

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How do we help politicians remain their best selves?

by Kris Dobie | Published on 25 April 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

While we are right to appeal to politicians’ moral conscience to have the best interests of the public at heart, we also need to design systems to help them achieve that. We might like to paint politicians as people who are totally in command of their actions, and so are either good or bad, but the truth is that they are human, with human vulnerabilities. We therefore need to develop systems that put pressure on them to be their best selves, rather than pressure to be their worst. 

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Corporate arrogance: is there an antidote?

by Prof Leon van Vuuren | Published on 26 March 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter, along with a press release version

Many corporates have accumulated vast wealth over the last century or so. Ideally, those companies should be distributing their wealth responsibly, in the form of shareholder dividends, employee compensation, new product development and corporate social investment. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

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Credibility: the leader's currency

by Liezl Groenewald | Published on 26 February 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter, along with a press release version

On 15 February 2018, the day Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as President of the Republic of South Africa, a new era dawned in the country. This new era promises hope to many citizens, workers, school children, university students, investors, and organisations of all kinds. We have seen many “new dawns” in our history, so what makes this one special? Why are we all so hopeful?

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Ethical leadership is essential, but not enough

by Prof Deon Rossouw | Published on 25 January 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter, along with a press release version

The need for ethical leadership is now much clearer and urgent than it has ever been since the dawn of the new South Africa. Unfortunately, it took massive corruption – in which both state-owned entities and the private sector burned their fingers and reputations – to elevate the importance of ethical leadership.

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