by Ms Dantia Richards | Published on 29 April 2020 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter
The moral behaviour of South Africans during the national lockdown, gives me moments of both sheer joy and painful disappointment. As South Africans, often referred to as the ‘rainbow nation’, it is astounding to see the diverse effect on individuals; and the variety of responses to COVID-19 and lockdown this ‘rainbow nation’ has delivered.
Driving to my closest shopping centre, I see a disturbing amount of people completely disregarding the measures put in place by our President to keep South Africans safe during the largest pandemic we have faced in our lifetime. People are still roaming the streets as if they have a pink slip allowing them to do so.
A homeless beggar on the street corner persevering with innovative tactics and creative marketing strategies on how depraved COVID-19 has left him, despite government arranging for the less fortunate to be sheltered and fed during lockdown.
People queueing in confined spaces without masks, refusing hand sanitiser provided at mall entrances, coughing and sneezing all over the place, indifferent to others.
They are making a mockery of social distancing by grabbing one another in bizarre positions alike soccer players after scoring a goal. People refusing to self-isolate once diagnosed with COVID-19? Are they aware of the jail sentence for attempted murder? Better yet, do they have absolutely no regard for human life?
A Member of Cabinet visiting her friends for lunch and drinks. There was subsequently an apology, but the stench of disrespect remains.
Government officials stealing food parcels donated to the poor. The same government officials who have their trade unions negotiating annual salary increases on their behalf despite our dire economic situation.
Politicians opposing the sale of cooked meals to great lengths, whilst overlooking human beings living in poor communities; who have daily fears of not being able to provide their families’ basic needs – food. People are attacked. Shops are looted – for food.
To which side are we tipping the scale during lockdown? Are we focusing on legality or ethical behaviour, or none? How can we expect a nation to be ethical, if they cannot even abide by their basic structures of authority? A structure of authority that they themselves have put in place by means of democratic elections. How can we influence a nation to be ethical; to make decisions that are good for both the self and the other, if the thought of jailtime does not even prevent them from applying measures of self-control in their actions?
I refuse to believe that this is the best that we can be. That common sense is so uncommon, to not know that everything we do today – will influence all our tomorrows.
But then I turn a corner, and I see the helpful security guard at the mall, fully geared with sanitiser, mask and gloves, assisting an old lady with her bags. I see access control officers at the doors of chain stores, allowing only the people per square meter into the store that they should. I see cashiers washing and cleaning credit cards before handing them back to their owners. I see independent campaigns raising millions of Rands to avail food parcels to the poor and struggling. I see frontline medical workers treating patients with care and tolerance. And then, I realize that all hope is not lost.
How we act depend on our personal moral convictions but doing what is right when nobody is watching does not always come naturally. People need guidance and training, but mostly they need ethical leadership.
I can but only commend our President for the route he has taken, the strength and ethical courage he had shown during this period of trial. Trying to keep South Africans healthy and fed and at the same time balancing the economic scales. President Ramaphosa is doing what is right for the self, and the other. If there are no examples of ethical leadership to follow wherever you are, then our President’s example might be a good place to start.
Yes, we will have difficult times in future. Yes, corporates may no longer have their extravagant offices. Yes, we might have to double-count our cents for the next few years; but we will survive somehow, and how much better will that survival taste with our convictions intact.
Ms Dantia Richards is the Company Secretary of The Ethics Institute and a Certified Director with the Institute of Directors South Africa.