Whistleblowing information at your fingertips…at last. Introducing the Whistleblowing Without Fear app.

Article by Werner Bouwer, in collaboration with Brendan Grealy and Michelle Perrow

When I presented my first awareness training session 15 years ago to a listed company’s staff, and the employees started explaining why they didn’t feel comfortable using their (totally anonymous) hotlines to report fraud, I was stunned. At the time, these seemed like excuses from employees for not buying into anonymous reporting facilities.

But as the years progressed and my experience dealing with ‘would-be whistle-blowers’ deepened, I realised whistle-blowers need to trust the idea and legitimacy behind reporting facilities.

It does not help repeating that anonymity makes hotlines ‘fool-proof’ against victimisation. Because the concern of victimisation, which is a form of abuse of power, is real. Too much airtime and publicity are given to this abuse of power – which is unfortunately pervasive in our democracy.

Legitimate employee concerns get buried under fear. And fear becomes an ‘all too easy excuse’ to bypass the reporting duty and look the other way, which means nothing gets done.

And so, the rot of corruption festers. A snowball effect.

There are too many wrongs in the picture above.

But heroes can rise to the surface. Reports can be made, and investigations launched. Sadly, the more powerful the suspect, the longer it takes. The whistle-blower can still be victimised and sometimes publicly denigrated. Abraham Lincoln was right when he said if you want to test a person’s character, you should give the person power.

But eventually, the power imbalance can be restored. The whistle-blower vindicated. This can, however, come at a high price for the whistle-blower with much personal sacrifice.

Since that first awareness training session 15 years ago I’ve shared lecture and meeting rooms with many employees as part of whistleblowing awareness campaigns, from juniors all the way to management. I have read many policies relating to whistleblowing and ethics. Some employers have the genuine intention to make a difference. Others implement these campaigns as knee-jerk reactions – a ‘paper’ compliance programme – to ‘tick the right box’.

Too often, awareness campaigns are limited to a ‘you have a duty to report, here is the number, and it will be anonymous; so, do not fear’.

On too few occasions, there was content communicated as ‘occupational detriment’, what it meant and its legal implications. Sadly, the response often received when using this term in the workplace is deafening silence, question marks on faces and a lack of understanding. All this despite the term coming from our own legislation which is some 21 years old.

But what would happen if the employer, as part of their awareness campaign and communication plan, not only shared the hotline number and reporting mechanisms, automatically guaranteed anonymity, and a safe space for reporting, and reminded employees of their reporting duty on top of the following:

  • Describing in layman’s terms how whistleblowing protection for employees works
  • Equipping employees with the right knowledge and resources to gain confidence in reporting wrongdoing
  • Providing access to whistleblowing courts cases – bringing the action and results of whistleblowing to life which shows there can be success when rights are exercised
  • Providing information on regulatory compliance for employers, ensuring they provide a safe space for all would-be whistleblowers

Would this knowledge and these resources not remove the barriers preventing reporting? Would they not build confidence in potential whistle-blowers? I believe they would.

The Whistleblowing Without Fear app provides all the above and more, and it does it all for free.  It is not only an informational guide for employees, but also provides compliance parameters for employers at no cost.

The app was created by individuals with proven experience in ethics consulting, fraud and corruption risk management, law enforcement and communications, and a passion for justice.   Three companies (Lesoba Difference, Nexus Integrity and Compliance Solutions and Corrie Campbell Corporate Communications) partnered to create the Whistleblowing Without Fear app.

Are some organisations cults?

Thought piece by Annie Ou Yang

No matter where you go in life, there are always rules for behaviour, written or unwritten, that need to be followed. In many ways, we are like schoolchildren waiting for school to end to be freed from all those pesky rules. However, only more behavioural rules, albeit different and more societal, awaited.

Most behavioural rules (i.e., tenets that must be adhered to behaviourally and/or attitudinally) exist for a reason (i.e., to protect us and others from making mistakes encountered in the past) but as time goes by some behavioural rules and tendencies may become less relevant or maladaptive. Yet, these behavioural guiding mechanisms, even if counterintuitive to follow, are in many cases accepted and internalised even if they serve no purpose and are harmful. This is an outcome of being assimilated by a culture also known as getting a group of people to follow the same rules for the same reasons. A business term for this blind obedience to rules within organisations is the adage of: “we have always done it this way”. However, there is danger behind just following the way it was done in the past

The behavioural rules that exist in organisations are purposed to influence and control the behaviour and thinking of employees. Usually, these behavioural rules are adaptive (they help the organisation to survive and thrive within a particular context) and benefit employees. Some of these behavioural rules are formal (such as code of conduct, or values statement, and/or policies and procedures) while others are informal (such as organisational traditions and what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviour both implicitly and explicitly). The internalisation of these behavioural rules is vitally important for continuing the organisational culture and aligning employees with its goals and values.

In other words, behavioural rules are used to create an organisational culture, but there is also a fine line where the same set of behavioural rules, meant to create an adaptive organisational culture, can be abused to benefit only a few top leaders in the organisation.

When this happens, the organisational technically engaged in cult-like behaviour. A cult is defined as a group of people who are controlled by a smaller group or an individual whose primary purpose is to control the group through psychological manipulation and pressure strategies (Rousselet et al., 2017). This is often why the Nazis, Maoists, and Stalinists are referenced by historians as cults due to the propaganda and pressure strategies they applied to ensure conformity.

The danger of cults is that their influence can be so sinister and well-hidden that some people do not even know they are in one. If you were to ask Nazis, Maoists, or Stalinists whether they were cultists, they would vehemently disagree. Moreover, some groups do not acknowledge they are a cult, even when they meet all the criteria. This demonstrates just how susceptible most of us are to group influence (something that the famous social psychologist Philip Zimbardo wrote extensively about in his book The Lucifer Effect).

But you may be asking, what set of characteristics define a cult? We mention the most salient aspects below:

  1. Devotion to the institution: Members are told exactly what they want to hear so that they feel loved and important. Real action on what is promoted is highly differentiated.
  2. Loyalty to the institution: Psychological manipulation or pressure strategies are used until members become entirely dependent on the organisation and lose their ability to make independent choices. This can be done through threats of expulsion after making members completely dependent on the institution. For example, the Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, and the Peoples Temple (famous cults) often lured prospective cult members to transfer all their financial and material wealth over to the institution before being admitted.
  3. An “us vs them” mentality: The organisation is viewed as a haven, with outsiders viewed as the enemy or undesirable. In other words, the cult tells its followers what they what to hear and select for those that buy in and reject those that do not.
  4. Strict adherence to rules/devotion to the ideal: Rules may turn into rituals (such as traditions) that are adhered to without question. This also binds the group together and reiterates its values. For example, at Enron, the annual leadership getaway where senior executives consumed alcohol, hired strippers, and engaged in risky and physically dangerous behaviours become legend throughout the organisation. It reiterated the ideal of high risk and high reward and the survival of the fittest.
  5. Intolerance of nonconformity: Questioning, doubting, and opposing any of the organisation’s behavioural rules or assumptions are ignored or vehemently punished. Individuals who do not fall in line are passed over for promotion or are performance managed out of the organisation. In extreme cases this can be transferred into intimidation, scaremongering, and psychological or physical abuse.

After reading through these characteristics, you may start to see some similarities to some business and political organisations. If we consider that an organisation should have all the characteristics mentioned to be viewed as a cult then Enron, Worldcom, Wells Fargo, Steinhoff, and Volkswagen, during the emissions scandal, have all engaged in cult-like behaviour. We could even argue that the ruling party in South Africa might be fighting a factional battle between the dual characteristics of a governing organisation (i.e., the Ramaphosa faction) and a cult (the Zuma faction). It also becomes problematic when cadres who share the same political ideal are deployed across local and government institutions, even those that need to act as watchdogs of other institutions.

Consider the following cult-like behaviours seen in many organisations such as wearing the same uniform, using only the organisation’s products, and being barred from associating formally or informally with competitors. It becomes even scarier when we start to evaluate organisations such as Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, and Google for cult-like behaviours (we remind you of point 5). In the long term, once employees are effectively assimilated into the culture, and become devoted and loyal to their organisation (this also means that the undesirables have been selected out at this stage), they are likely willing to do anything for their organisation and its leadership, even without reason. That is the key, there is not objective logic in a cult, it’s bare emotion. Moreover, if societal issues are also considered, such as high unemployment rates or being the breadwinner in the family, employees may feel they do not have any other choice but to acquiesce to a set of values and behaviours they do not fundamentally agree with. Many Nazi Party members did reprehensible things they knew were wrong but feared expulsion for not following orders. The similarities with modern organisations like Enron are pertinent.

It is becoming evident then that some organisations use their organisational culture as an instrument to indoctrinate and control. This could also be viewed as a ‘strong’ culture. It is therefore imperative that organisations consider whether they are not only building a strong organisational culture, but also an ‘ethical’ one. That is, an organisational culture that balances what is good for it (i.e., financial sustainability, discipline, productivity, and growth) with what is good for its stakeholders (both employees and those that interact externally with the organisation).

This is what would be considered the stakeholder focused approach to organisational ethical culture, something encapsulated in the King series of Reports on Good Corporate Governance. However, other ingredients that are needed include independent-mindedness and the tolerance of individual differences. In short, what circumvents cult-like behaviour is the principle of self-determination (i.e., allowing employees to have the freedom to make their own choices and determine their values beyond those of the organisation) and authoritative leadership that supports a shared vision, but does not digress into authoritarianism where one leader wants totalitarian control.

For instance, Enron would fire employees or isolate those that questioned the operation or philosophy of the organisation. They also encouraged employees to invest all their retirement savings in Enron stock options, which employees lost when the organisation filed for bankruptcy. A local example would be Steinhoff, where employees were promised shares that could allow them to take their family on overseas holiday trips; however, irregularities occurred when the shares were paid out and the investors became the victims. That is, some employees did not receive enough to even afford a trip, but they all bought in. Let us not even speak of the cult-like behaviour in the Bernie Madoff saga. The outcomes of all this blind obedience by employees, investors, and in some cases even clients were made possible through group conformity, obedience to authority, and indoctrination into the behavioural rules of a cult-like organisation. In other words, misusing the organisational culture.

We are by no means saying that organisational cultures and their formulation are wrong or without extensive merit. It is imperative to the survival of an organisation to have an organisational culture identity. Organisational cultures are largely positive and have many advantages (i.e., benefit the organisation somehow). An organisation’s culture can attract and motivate employees, disseminate institutional knowledge and experience, create shared goals and meaning, and unlock synergies. However, organisational cultures can also be used to control and serve the needs and ends of a few. An organisation that has a mature ethical culture would support and promote ethical conduct that is concerned with what is good for the self (the organisation) and other (internal and external stakeholders).

It is important to acknowledge that leaving a cult is difficult, but as the late Maya Angelou said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”


Rousselet, M., Duretete, O., Hardouin, J. B., & Grall-Bronnec, M. (2017). Cult membership: What factors contribute to joining or leaving? Psychiatry Research, 257, 27-33.

Annie Ou-Yang

Annie Ou-Yang is an Industrial and Organisational Psychology Intern at The Ethics Institute. 

To nudge or not to nudge?

Lead article by Dr Paul Vorster

Have you ever wondered how many of your decisions are really your own? It is scary to consider the age-old question of whether we as humans have agency in our world or what we would call ‘free will’. In other words, do we make our own decisions and choices independent from outside influence? Could it be that the craving for a soft drink, the purchase of a particular product, or selection of a political affiliation could be governed by others manipulating us into these wants, decisions, and actions? Are we making these decisions, or is there an invisible puppet master pulling our strings duping us into thinking we are making our ‘own’ decisions?

And yes, I am talking about many South African food and pharmacy retailers here. You know what I mean. The health food mantra’s, the green lifestyles, with one catch. Getting out of these stores with your healthy food means you first must battle through the sweet aisle gauntlet. Food retailers also know that food shoppers usually do their shopping on an empty stomach. Pick up your blood pressure tablets only to run into a blood pressure shattering sodium covered 500g pure beef biltong packet staring at you.

As a species we are familiar with the practice of manipulation, it is referenced biblically and within legends as old as writing itself. If you have children, you understand the concept very well. Some would argue that the practice is viewed pejoratively. We manipulate when we want someone to do something that could benefit us (the manipulator), usually at some expense to the other (the person being manipulated). The key is to get the person to do something that you want them to do without them knowing.

So, manipulation is often covert in nature and may include strategies such as obfuscation (hiding the truth in ambiguity and misdirection); dishonesty (lying directly); and applying pressure (often referred to as pushing, pulling, or nudging). In the last instance tactical elements such as social pressure, shaming, exploiting individual weaknesses and guilting may come into play to get the person to do something the manipulator wants them to do.

But is manipulation always wrong? In other words, what if I were to manipulate someone for the greater good, or the best interests of the person being manipulated. For example, could I manipulate someone into exercise by talking about the shocking heart attack statistics worldwide during a hearty lunch, or pointing out how the neighbours are on a diet and walking every morning? You could take a more direct course and tell the person they are unattractively obese. Do so at your own peril. All these methods do not make the person choose exercise directly, but strongly points or nudges them in that direction.

Is the initial psychological discomfort worth the outcome? Well, if you are utilitarian, then yes. But, how do you know that the cost of the psychological discomfort is worth the outcome? What if shaming someone for their body-weight results in a rigorous exercise regime (the outcome we wanted) that then causes a dreaded heart attack (oh dear)? Are you culpable? We could add an additional question, are you in a position to know what is good for the other with certainty? Enough certainty that it should be ok to manipulate them into doing something. It is just a ‘nudge’ after all and in the right direction.

Also, what about the rights of the individual? What if the person has a very low IQ, or cognitive disability and is easily manipulated? Should we covertly nudge them in the right direction and make choices we believe are in their best interests covertly? The mantra being, do unto others as you want them to do, without telling them.

Let’s jump from the hypothetical to the real. Recently, the British Psychological Society (BPS) was asked via an open letter by 47 prominent psychologists whether the deployment of ‘covert psychological nudging’ should be used as a method to gain the public’s compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. The argument extends to the nudging of people to get vaccinated.

Of particular concern were the methods employed by psychologists in public health campaigns using fear inflation (scaring the public), scapegoating (singling out a group or individual for unmerited blame), and shaming (making people feel guilty for a particular choice) to get people to adhere to COVID restrictions and get vaccinated.

The psychologists complaining about this practice believe strongly that the infliction of increased psychological stress on the public to induce certain ‘acceptable’ or ‘good’ public health behaviours is unethical. That this technique is contributing to an already psychologically stressed public. That any health professional must first and foremost, not harm. Additionally, these psychologists believe that deciding on behalf of the public in a sort of maternalistic/paternalistic manner is not only condescending but a form of manipulation through public health propaganda.

Now many may argue that this is for the greater good and that people should be vaccinated and should adhere to COVID restrictions. That ‘nudging’ people in this direction is not a bad idea. It is no secret that public health ad campaigns have used this technique for many years, not to mention marketers of every shape and size (remember that sweet aisle). So, what is the big deal?

We can argue that general restrictions such as social distancing and mask-wearing have little side-effect physically, but the mental demands of isolation and the inability to see someone’s face when conversing could be psychologically and mentally harmful over the long term. There are already a few studies of childhood development and mask-wearing making the rounds. In this case, however, nudging someone to wear a mask and stay six feet away from others to avoid being six feet under is a good idea. But what about more invasive procedures such as vaccinations?

Do not get me wrong, I am not an anti-vaxxer, I received my first ‘jab’ a week ago. I believe it was my own decision and that I had the free will to choose, probably. The vaccine is a little different though, partly because it may have long-term side effects (we do not yet know) and can be dangerous for a very small percentage of people. Generally, though, getting vaccinated is thousands of times safer than eating peanut butter. But what about informed consent?

Even in cases where an individual is cognitively challenged, every effort is made to meticulously try and explain any medical procedure. Even if such a person is placed in guardianship (a person making decisions legally on behalf of the cognitively challenged person), decisions about them from a medical perspective are painstakingly weighed up by courts, attorneys, and medical professionals and some form of consent from the person still sought. There are even limits to deciding for your children in the Western world (refer to corporal punishment here).

Informed consent is knowing about the procedure in detail, understanding the advantages and risks associated with the procedure, and being capable of consenting or not consenting to the procedure of your own volition or free will. In other words, you need to make the choice yourself and should never be coerced into making it. Also, every effort must be made to provide objective information about the procedure to you.

With vaccinations, nudging could be argued to be a form of covert coercion, especially if the techniques mentioned earlier in this article are referred to. The right to be informed and the right to consent are fundamental ethical principles in the medical sciences. Nudging may be a violation in this case.

There is another danger. What if the covert nudging strategy backfires? People do not like to be manipulated without their knowledge. It is perceived as a form of dishonesty that may breed distrust and a massive increase in the conspiracy theory and anti-vaxxer population. Just take the incident of lying about the effectiveness of mask-wearing by Dr Anthony Fauci and the CDC in the opening salvo of the pandemic. Later retracting this statement and explaining that they lied about the effectiveness of masks to protect stockpiles for medical professionals. This decision has had dire outcomes with mask-wearing becoming a huge problem for a large proportion of the public because the debate of their effectiveness continues, even though there is no debate.

It is possible that by covertly nudging individuals trust could be eroded between the ‘Nudger’ and the ‘Nudgee’ so that the person being nudged responds by completely distrusting something that could actually be in their best interests? I will let you decide.

Paul circle

Dr Paul Vorster is a Senior Research Specialist at The Ethics Institute.  He holds a Doctors Degree in Industrial and Organisational Psychology from the University of Johannesburg.  Dr Vorster is also the co-author of the Ethics Ambassador Handbook.

More than ever before, South Africa needs moral heroes

Thought piece – Dr Paul Vorster

Mass lootings, violence, political destabilization, and anarchy. You would be forgiven for believing that this must be some other war-torn country we all read about or see in the news. But you would be mistaken. This is the description of our home, South Africa.

Communities are shaken by the extent and scope of the looting and lawlessness that started in KwaZulu Natal and then escalated quickly to the Gauteng Province. As the situation currently stands more than 1700 looters have been arrested, soldiers are being deployed (and called up), and we are heading for even more restrictions on our freedoms. As if COVID was not enough to contend with we now have the very real possibility of food, fuel, and medicine shortages. This can only exacerbate the pressure on an already buckling public health sector.

Of course, this does not include the people who lost their lives and the countless who were injured as communities suddenly turned on one another.

And yet, South Africa has moral heroes. People who are willing to stand up in times of adversity and try to make things better. When a mother is blindly able to trust the reliable and capable hands of strangers to catch her child as she escapes a looted and burning building, we start to see a metaphor arise from the ashes of South Africa. Is South Africa baby Melokuhle? Falling from ruin into the capable hands of good and reliable citizens willing to clean up the mess, rebuild, and create law and order. Should we not be proud of the heroic deeds done by so many people during one of the darkest periods of South African history?

It is easy to lose trust in South Africa and its people. That distrust becomes even more salient and harmful when it happens within and amongst a country’s citizenry. Philip Zimbardo, a famous social psychologist dedicated most of his career to understanding the nature of evil. Zimbardo realised that there are not a few bad apples that cause all the trouble, but rather than any of us can be capable of terrible and evil deeds. It is the dark con of humanity that we are both beautiful and terrible at the same time.

However, Zimbardo also realised that although humanity may fall victim to blind obedience to authority, social conformity, and apathy, we also have the capability of rising above this tendency. Those among us are heroes, people who are willing to do what is right, even if that comes at a great cost to them personally.

Let me give an example of a hero. Dr Suhayl Essa was already battling against COVID at a Hillbrow clinic when the looting started. Then while being looted and fearing for their safety the trauma patients started coming in. Did Dr Essa run? No, he stayed and worked an 18-hour shift helping patients while fearing for his safety and the safety of other healthcare workers. He helped the very people who threatened him.

Then there is the Tembisa community who used their very bodies to protect their mall from looting. Think about this, random community members willing to give up their physical safety and integrity to protect their local mall.

Although Zimbardo understood that heroes do exist, he also realised something unexpected. Anyone can be a hero. While trying to profile people who engage in moral courage and heroism Zimbardo could find only one constant. These heroes were normal run of the mill people. They were not special, weird, or rare. Rather everyone has the capacity to be a moral hero. The question of whether someone will act as one usually only arises in moments of adversity. In other words, moral courage and heroism need an additional ingredient, adversity.

It is, therefore, more important than ever that we as South Africans transcend our tendency for evil and engage our tendency for good. This is the only thing that can save us.  As baby Melokuhle falls, her mother trusts that she will fall into the capable hands of her fellow South Africans.

Paul circle

Dr Paul Vorster is a Senior Research Specialist at The Ethics Institute and co-author of the Ethics Ambassador Handbook

Local government: Flawed people or flawed system?

Lead article – Kris Dobie

Good ethical leadership in local government is a rarity – and I have a premise about why this is the case. As of recently, this premise is also grounded in research, which should give it some more credence.

The Ethics Institute has been doing work in local government since at least 2009. Initially, we worked with individual municipalities to do training and to introduce the concept of ethics management. Since 2014 we have been working with all the local and metro municipalities in Gauteng (in partnership with Provincial Government) on a project to institutionalise ethics management.

In our engagement with municipal employees, they frequently spoke of “challenges at the political-administrative interface” and mentioned “political interference” as a challenge. The one message that kept coming through is that you won’t solve ethics in local government unless you address it at the leadership level.

This consistent message led us to conceptualise the Local Government Ethical Leadership Initiative (LGELI). We wanted to have a national dialogue on ethical leadership at the local government level to better understand the dynamics, and then to address these through a Code for Ethical Governance in South African Local Government. Much like the King Code for Corporate Governance gives principles that guide companies on sound governance principles, we believe that there are many local government-specific challenges that require similar guidance.

We approached the Department for Cooperative Governance (DCoG), as well as the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), who both saw the merits of the project. These two organisations, together with the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM) are our key partners in a project that has taken shape over the past few years and is now in full implementation mode.

Over the last few months, we have been working with our partners and their provincial equivalents to set up interviews and focus groups in all nine provinces. It was important for us to not only get one side of the picture, so we had separate focus groups with councillors, with senior officials, and also with civil society representatives – to get the all-important community view.

But the most revealing insights came from those who are part of the system – the councillors and officials themselves.

Perhaps it is best to start with the mood of the conversations. If I had to sum it up, it would be a mix of frustration and desperation.

We spoke to many phenomenal people who work in this sphere of government. Yet only the strongest and most experienced seem able to successfully navigate this complex mix of turbulent politics and burdensome bureaucracy. And even they are tired.

The local government system is designed with the intention that there should be a divide between the political sphere (council) and the administrative sphere (officials). Councillors should be elected (through free and fair elections) and officials should be appointed based on their skills and expertise, and the need to correct for previous unfair discrimination.

The strongest theme to emerge from the research is that the first damage to the system occurs when politicians appoint (or “deploy”) people who have political connections rather than the requisite skills and expertise to do the job.

An inevitable consequence is obviously a degradation of a culture of professionalism. Such deployed officials are beholden to those who have deployed them rather than to the Constitution and the legislation.

They also frequently lack the competence required of them to do their job, which further entrenches their vulnerability to their political ‘handlers’. Secondary damage is then inflicted on the system as these people themselves make other inappropriate appointments. The intended boundary between the political and administrative spheres shrinks away, opening the administration up to all the turbulence of the political sphere.

So entrenched is the web of patronage appointments, that enforcing any kind of accountability (or consequences for misconduct) becomes extremely unlikely. Even those members of the top management team who want to take a stand can’t do so, because they can relatively easily be suspended or fired by an antagonistic council. Top managers are appointed by the council on a 5-year contract – which means they can also be removed by the council.

(In the private sector the board appoints the CEO of the company. From there on their task is to provide strategic direction and oversight.

If they were to also appoint the next level of management one can only imagine the levels of factionalism that would ensue, especially if board factions were to change every five years.)

All the above makes for a complex governance environment and is significantly fuelled by the socio-economic realities in South Africa. These descriptions do not necessarily play out in the same way in all municipalities, but the themes are so pervasive that one can only deduce that the problem cannot be purely a case of bad leaders, but that there must also be systemic challenges.

The political system (especially at the local government level) is by its nature extremely volatile. The current legislative environment gives the council too much space to appoint people into the administration (and to remove them at will) thereby causing this political volatility to spill over into the administration. This causes a breakdown of what was intended to be a stable bureaucratic system with competent employees aligned not to changing political winds, but to an overarching ethos of service delivery.

So herewith, my premise about why ethical leadership is so rare in local government.

It is not so much that we have too many bad people, but more that the system we follow in local government makes ethical leadership really, really difficult. We cannot simply continue to appeal to leaders to do better. We must help them by making some changes in the system.

The Local Government Ethical Leadership Initiative is a long-term project. This year we continue with research, and next year we will continue our engagement in the sector, looking to formulate solutions together with councillors, officials, political parties and communities.

Kris Circle


Kris Dobie is a Senior Manager: Organisational Ethics at The Ethics Institute

Applauding whistleblowers isn’t enough

By: Prof Deon Rossouw 

Whistleblowers played a key role in exposing fraud and corruption in both private and public sector organisations involved in state capture. Without the vital information disclosed by whistleblowers the exposure of the extent of state capture by initially the previous public protector and later by the Zondo and other commissions of inquiry would have unfolded much slower and in much less detail.

We owe these whistleblowers deep gratitude for what they have done – often at huge personal cost. And we need to applaud them for what they have done. But we owe them more than just gratitude and applause.

It is not always clear what drives whistleblowers to expose information about wrongdoing that they have encountered. In most cases whistleblowers are driven by ethical considerations, but there are also cases where persons blew the whistle for self-interested or less noble reasons – the Angelo Agrizzi case comes to mind. Speculating about the motives of whistleblowers is a fairly futile exercise.

Although the motives of whistleblowers may not always be clear, there is a clear pattern in what tends to happen with whistleblowers once they have blown the whistle. And that is the real tragedy of whistleblowing.

Often organisations tend not to listen to the message that the whistleblower wishes to convey, but rather opts for shooting – sometimes literally – and often firing the whistleblower.

The fate of whistleblowers is well documented in academic research and in more popular books and media articles. The pattern is clear: organisations tend to retaliate against whistleblowers, rather than protect them. That is why whistleblower legislation that attempts to protect whistleblowers against retaliation can be found in so many countries – and also here in South Africa in the form of the Protected Disclosures Act.

Despite the best of intentions behind such whistleblower protection legislation, the law seems to be incapable of preventing whistleblowers from retaliation, harm and often devastation.

A common pattern that can be seen in what typically happens to whistleblowers is that they are first threatened by those implicated in their whistleblower reports. This can either take the form of legal threats, intimidation, demotion, marginalisation, or dismissal. This inevitably results in a legal tussle between the whistleblower and the affected organisation. However, the legal battle is not fought on a level playing field. Very often organisations have deep pockets to hire the best legal minds, whilst the whistleblower has rather shallow pockets, or might soon be out of pocket. The legal costs might – and often are – too high for the whistleblower to afford.

And then there often are also high personal costs imposed on the whistleblower. Whistleblowers do not only tend to lose their jobs, but they also battle to find a new job, simply because other employers are hesitant to hire a person who has caused their previous employers a lot of trouble. Whistleblowers not only have to bear the brunt of high legal cost and the loss of income, but the way in which they are treated by their (former) employers and by society, leaves psychological scars, that might result in mental illness and in some cases in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This in turn might cause havoc in their personal relations and lead to the disintegration of family relations or end in a divorce. Often the cost of being a whistleblower becomes almost, if not totally, unbearable.

That is why whistleblowers need more than our applause. I believe we owe them more as a society, because it is often their acts as whistleblowers that prevent further harm not only to organisations, but also to their communities.

One way of assisting whistleblowers, would be to ensure that they do not suffer financially because of whistleblowing. In some jurisdictions – and notably in the USA – there are legislation that provide for the remuneration of whistleblowers. In terms of US legislation, whistleblowers can under certain conditions be awarded a proportion of money recovered through the action of the whistleblower. The problem, however, with this approach is that there are certain acts of whistleblowing that are not related to money being squandered, but to damage to communities or to the natural environment. Consequently, there would be no financial reward to whistleblowers in such cases. It also raises the question of whether whistleblowing should not be regarded as a civic duty, rather than as something that one should be financially awarded for.

The type of assistance that should be provided to whistleblowers should not only be financial but should provide much broader support. It should also include legal, psychological (and in some cases psychiatric), emotional and career support. Ideally such comprehensive support should be provided by an organisation that can coordinate the various forms of support.

There are some examples of organisations that do provide some of these types of support to whistleblowers.

The French organisation PPLAAF (Platforme de Protection des Lanceurs d’Alerte en Afrique / Platform for Protection of Whistleblowers in Africa) do provide free legal, media and advocacy support to whistleblowers. Although these services are provided for free to whistleblowers, there are substantial costs involved in providing such services, and therefore the organisation depends on support from other civil society organisations and donors. The challenge of sustaining an organisation on donor contributions – or crowd funding – is that donor sentiment and resources are fickle and can change quickly, which might leave the whistleblowing support organisation – and ultimately the whistleblowers – stranded.

Probably a more sustainable approach is the one behind the Whistleblower Centre in the Netherlands. This support centre that provides whistleblowers with advice and investigative support was established through the Whistleblowers Centre Act, and is funded by the state, but protected against state interference. Such an approach is safeguarded from the whims of donors or crowds, and therefore more likely to be sustained despite fluctuations in crowd or donor sentiment.

The detrimental experience of recent whistleblowers in South Africa, have garnered support for the establishment of a local organisation that can render comprehensive support to whistleblowers. The matter of funding such an initiative, however, remains a challenge.

The obvious immediate solution might be to rely on the goodwill of donors or the sympathy of people willing to provide crowdfunding for such an initiative. However, as indicated earlier, such funding is not reliable or stable.

The example of the Whistleblowing Centre in the Netherlands, where the state provides the funding to support such an organisation without controlling it, is a model well worth exploring here in South Africa. There is no doubt that the state has a stake in promoting the reporting of misconduct in both the public and private sectors. By supporting such an initiative, the state would show its commitment to root out irresponsible, illegal, and unethical conduct.

The state would furthermore be able to protect whistleblowers against the detrimental consequences of whistleblowing that will far exceed the protection currently offered by the Protected Disclosures Act.

Expenses associated with providing such a comprehensive support service to whistleblowers do not necessarily have to be covered by taxpayers, but a certain proportion of money recovered because of whistleblowing can be channeled to a fund that covers the expenses of such support to whistleblowers.

Applauding whistleblowers is not enough. We carry a collective responsibility to protect whistleblowers against the detriment associated with whistleblowing, but also to assist them comprehensively in getting on their feet again.

Deon Circle

Prof Deon Rossouw is the CEO of The Ethics Institute and an Extraordinary Professor in Philosophy at the Stellenbosch University.

Coding entrepreneurs in KiSwahili?

By: Dantia Richards

Unlike some fathers teaching their children the names of their preferred rugby team players, the first thing my father taught me at the age of four (1979), were the names of all the then heads of state. I can still remember the faces he pulled to teach me “by association”. Although I sometimes slipped up on some, I never used to miss Jimmy Carter and Idi Amin – faces that stuck in my young brain for many years to come, and still does.

My trip down memory lane, however, brings me back to this well-known fact – the brain of a child is incredibly receptive. Inquisitive information testing. Processing stories. Filing facts. Storing it in a brand-new “records management system” for future retrieval. It becomes part of the child’s muscle memory – similar to saying “please” when you ask something and “thank you” when you receive it. This is also the way that principles and morals are inculcated in the brain from a very young age. Life has norms and standards we as humans must abide by, and we teach our children exactly that.

Unfortunately, morals do not have the same meaning for every parent, and therefore a general standard is required throughout institutions, directing the uptake of the right information at the age our children are most receptive – Primary School.

I recently read an article in Business Tech, of three new subjects being tested in schools throughout South Africa, during the 2021 academic year: new African languages, Entrepreneurship and Coding and Robotics. When breaking down the value and necessity of these subjects, the following conclusions surfaced:

  1. New African languages

What a brilliant idea. If somebody ever took the time to teach me any African language, they would have been my hero. Any new language opens a different world to a person. New friends. Access to a new culture. A feeling of unity, oneness, connectedness. It would break barriers we are faced with daily and decrease the “lost in translation” feeling we ever so often have. This is a great suggestion, and many fantastic possibilities could arise from this initiative, however, how will children benefit from speaking KiSwahili as a Second Additional Language? As a mostly East African spoken language, why would we not elevate the advancement of our own eleven South African languages, but a language that we barely come across? Yes, it may ease xenophobic discomfort if one can speak or understand the language of a foreigner, but the person behind the language spoken should still be of high moral standing to not set the foreigner alight.

  1. Entrepreneurship

Oh yes. That word that everyone loves and scares at the same. Employment in South Africa is at an all-time low, so entrepreneurship is indeed necessary to fill the gaps. Think of South Africa as one big fat venison pie, divided into multiple pieces representing each sector. The socialist would take this pie and try to divide it into even smaller pieces to expand the economy – take from the one to add to the other – but the only real solution is to invest in the creation of an even bigger pie, which is where the entrepreneurs of tomorrow will fit in. This subject at school level might encourage youngsters to not fear taking chances and make use of their entrepreneurial skills to boost the economy and contribute to job creation, however, the person behind the new additions to the pie must still be of high moral standing to not become involved in tender fraud or corruption…

  1. Coding and Robotics

Now that is an interesting idea. Teaching children how to have even less human interaction and spend more time behind their computers – hidden inside their dark bedrooms for hours on end. Yes, the subject would prepare learners to participate substantially and positively in a precipitously changing world, but at what cost? What happened to mathematics? Fine art? Team sport? Those subjects that used to teach us how to be a team player, solve problems, be creative in our thinking and actions? Would the person behind the computer still understand morals, find meaning in a handshake or respect the voice of the person sitting next to them? Will they merely depend on these faceless tools to make a decision on their behalf or manage their relationships for them? Will honesty, loyalty, dependability, transparency, and truthfulness still surface in the coder?

All of the above subject suggestions might add value to the future of our children, or they might not. You see, although teaching children to become a lawyer, shop owner, or domestic worker, it neglects to teach the child what type of person they should be, even if that career never realises. It does not teach them right from wrong, or to be a person of integrity when becoming an entrepreneur. It does not teach them the value of respect and honesty when coding some human traits into a robot. It does not help them to understand why intrinsic corruption could very well lead to the downfall of a country whilst negotiating with a foreigner in KiSwahili. Isn’t this approach completely backwards?

In 2019 alone, between 3,7 and 5,2 million children were listed in the South African foster care system. Shouldn’t these numbers point us to the lack of commitment by parents just to be parents, let alone teaching their children a healthy value system? Shouldn’t it point us to the fact that schools, now more than ever, should act as moral communities for our future leaders?

We teach our children that life will be filled with moonshine and roses, but do we teach them how to act morally in a country with an unemployment rate of 32,5%, where they might be unemployed for extended periods? Maybe we should start from scratch? Teach our children to hone an exemplary moral approach to life – maybe then South Africa might end up with honest leaders, trusted to steer our country with integrity, and not into a credit rating of two rungs below investment grade.

Dantia Richards is the Company Secretary of The Ethics Institute and a Certified Director with the Institute of Directors, Southern Africa.

Parasites and parastatals

By: Dr Paul Vorster

The Zondo Commission, an inquiry into state-capture, has revealed some very unsettling things. Our parastatals or state-owned enterprises are embroiled in so many unethical decisions and actions it staggers the mind. From patronage networks to shell companies, self-enrichment, defrauding the state, conflicts of interest, politicking, nepotism, and good old-fashioned corruption. If you can imagine it, it has probably happened.

The problem is not limited to our parastatals. The public sector has suffered these ills for a long time. Now the private sector has started to be embroiled in the untoward activities of public departments and state-owned enterprises. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. The biggest spender in the South African economy is the government and they often contract private organisations to do the work. Tenders fly aplenty. Money needs to be spent. Thus, we have several sharks smelling the blood in the water ready to claim their piece of the pie.

To the horror of South African citizens, even a state of emergency makes little difference with massive fraud and corruption being reported with PPE tenders, vaccines, and emergency funds set aside for the most hard-hit citizens of the pandemic.  No pot of money is safe.

All of this alludes to something even more sinister. Could it be that so many South African citizens that partake in this morally reprehensible behaviour are so self-obsessed that they do not see the larger repercussions of their actions? Let me mention some of these repercussions: poor service delivery, rolling blackouts, potholes the size of small cars, water shortages, a lack of refuse removal and basic sanitation, a failing education and health care system, record unemployment, a lack of social services, explosive crime rates, and those pesky traffic lights that are always on the frits.

This brings me to a very interesting observation. Why do organisations exist in the first place? Well, let us unpack this. Organisations be they in the private, public, or SOE sectors, perform a mandate in our society. In other words, an organisation provides a service, expertise, or products to our society. If these ‘goods and services’ are useful, there is usually a demand for them. We need to look a little deeper, however. Some organisations primary mandates are to offer services to the public without making a profit per se. This is quite evident in the public sector where municipalities, metros, local governments, and provincial governments render the basic services needed for a society to function. Parastatals often do the same and sometimes have even more responsibility (for example Eskom). We are not even talking here about the Department of Health or the Department of Basic Education.

In other words, everything we have, our quality of life, our future, our welfare, is greatly dependent on whether organisations meet their mandates to our society in an ‘objective’ manner and keep an eye on their stakeholders’ wellbeing. I say objective, because as we have experienced, several organisations claim to be doing their work but are in fact deceiving us.

The fact that a negative perception exists about the public and SOE sectors is not disputed. The question we need to answer is whether this is factually correct. Recently, TEI evaluated the ethical culture of 70 organisations operating in the public, private, and SOE sectors. This database comprises medium to large organisations, includes listed companies, government departments, and large SOEs across various industries from telecoms to healthcare. This data was gathered between 2017 and 2021. Organisations were ranked on their relative culture maturity as measured through the validated Ethical Culture Maturity Indicator (ECMI) – an instrument that measures whether supportive elements of an ethical culture are present in the organisation by sampling employee perceptions in an anonymised format.

The top ten organisations in this sample (i.e., those organisations with the highest ethical culture maturity) were composed entirely by private sector organisations. Whereas the bottom ten were comprised of only one private sector organisation, six SOEs, and three public sector departments. It therefore appears that the perception of the SOE and public sector are backed up by organisational research data.

When we look a bit closer to the bottom ten organisations the most pertinent themes that emerge are unfair people practices (i.e., favouritism, inconsistent treatment, intimidation, inconsistent rewards, nepotism), a lack of senior and middle management commitment to ethics, and insufficient ethics accountability and responsibility (i.e., holding people accountable for their behaviour and decision-making in a fair, consistent, and transparent manner).

Interestingly, the same ills that befell these public departments and SOEs also emerged in the one private sector organisation in the bottom ten. This may indicate that the dimensions of ethical cultures may transcend organisations and sectors. In other words, there are a group of universal ethical culture dimensions that may be vitally important to all organisations despite the industries or sectors they operate within.

It is also interesting to note that the bottom five organisations often also indicated values-incongruity and deception as active aspects undermining the ethical culture. This deception extended to organisational governance and included internal and external stakeholders at all levels.

Brumley and their colleagues identified four main strategies of deception. We will list them below. But before you read this list, think of organisations in our society that have engaged in this deceptive behaviour. There are many examples.

  1. Strategy 1: Degradation of Information – whereby the organisation hides in the background noise, or produces noise, for the purpose of concealment or camouflaging exploitation of a stakeholder group.
  2. Strategy 2: Corruption of Information – whereby the organisation mimics what it is not, to misdirect or mislead a stakeholder group.
  3. Strategy 3: Denial of Information by Destruction – whereby the organisation impairs, disables, or destroys the sensory apparatus of the stakeholder to exploit them.
  4. Strategy 4: Denial of Information by Subversion – whereby the organisation subverts the victim’s mechanisms used to detect and defeat exploitation.

International organisations that come to mind here are ENRON, Arthur Andersen, Ford, Volkswagen, Welles Fargo, Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Twitter, and Boeing, to name only a few. Locally organisations such as VBS Bank, Steinhoff, Bosasa, Eskom, Transnet, SAA, and the SABC are top of mind. However, this type of deceptive behaviour can also be seen in numerous government departments and public service organisations on both an organisational and individual level. The list is by no means complete.

Now let me elicit where this model of deception originates from. It is a parasitic model used in the biological sciences. This means that these four strategies are not organisational strategies, but rather strategies employed by parasites in the biological context. All I did was replace the word ‘parasite’ with ‘organisation’ and ‘host’ with ‘stakeholder’. A parasitic relationship occurs when one organism (the parasite) invades the body of another organism (the host) to take critical nutrients or resources from that organism without providing anything in return. The parasite uses deceptive strategies to evade the defences of the host or dupe them into believing it is harmless or beneficial. Parasites always take from their hosts in a manner that will always negatively affect the host’s health and may often lead to death or disability over the long-term. The parasite on the other hand benefits greatly from this relationship over the short-term.

This raises many possibilities. If we were to apply biological models to organisations, then we could argue that a good economy or free market would be one where organisations are mostly engaging in a form of mutual beneficence (also referred to as mutualism or reciprocal altruism) and not parasitism. But this does beg the question, how many organisations are engaging in mutualism and how many are deceptively parasitic? Is there a threshold at which the market of a particular country may eventually succumb to parasitic organisations over the long-term?

Indeed, South Africa could be said to be an organism that is suffering from a major parasitic infestation. The data confirms this. There is a cure however, and perhaps it lies in the heart of the deceptive strategies that parasitic organisations may use. If we were sensitized to these strategies, perhaps we would not be duped so easily. Perhaps we should start by asking whether our organisations have deployed these deceptive strategies on stakeholders in the South African economy and root them out.

The late Auditor General of South Africa, Kimi Makwetu, once said that:

“…the objective of an organisation is to grow its people and contribute to the economy without taking too much from it. If an organisation is not going to consider these objectives, it will not be able to manage the inherent contradictions that normally come with chasing a multitude of objectives. For me to live ethically, is to recognize as a business that you are part of an integrated whole. There is no other option but to live ethically because it gives you an opportunity to sustain the achievements of what the business wants to do. A business is not there purely to make money for those who own it today, but it is also one of the institutions and instruments in a society that is mobilized and organized to create a life for citizens to come.”

Dr Paul Vorster is a Senior Research Specialist at The Ethics Institute. He holds a Doctors Degree in Industrial and Organisational Psychology from the University of Johannesburg.

Does one swallow make a summer?

Does one swallow make a summer?

By: Liezl Groenewald

South Africans have recently again been made aware of the poor treatment whistleblowers receive. In their testimonies at the State Capture Inquiry during March 2021, two specific whistleblowers, a former partner at Bain SA, Athol Williams and former Trillian Management Consulting CEO, Bianca Goodson, brought the plight of whistleblowers to the attention of not only Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo but also the nation.

In reaction to Goodson’s breakdown during her testimony, Zondo expressed his concern about the lack of protection to whistleblowers and his interest in evaluating the adequacy or otherwise of protection of whistleblowers in South Africa. Later in March, in reaction to Williams’ appeal to the Inquiry to provide protections for whistleblowers, Zondo reaffirmed that strong protection for whistleblowers is needed in South Africa. These remarks led to a spike in discussions in the social and other media about the current lack of protection and the detriments generally suffered by whistleblowers. Some commentators did, however, express the hope that Zondo’s interest in the matter might lead to action in terms of the development of an effective national whistleblower protection policy. In many people’s view, Zondo became a swallow with the potential to make a summer.

But what should whistleblowers be protected from? Discussions with, and testimonies from, whistleblowers make it clear that there are numerous ways in which organisations mistreat those employees who have exposed wrongdoing in their midst. The Protected Disclosures Amendment Act (Act 5 of 2017) (PDA) states that employees are protected against occupational detriment, where the latter is defined as the threat or the carrying out of actions that may harm the employment status of an employee or worker in response to their making a protected disclosure.

These actions are any disciplinary action, dismissal, suspension, demotion, harassment or intimidation, transfer against an employee’s will, refusal of or provision of an adverse reference, disadvantageous alteration of a term or condition of employment or retirement; denial of appointment to any employment, profession, or office, and subjection to a civil claim for the alleged breach of a duty of confidentiality arising from the disclosure of a criminal offence or a contravention or failure to comply with the law. Besides, the Act protects whistleblowers against “being otherwise adversely affected in respect of his or her employment, profession or office, including employment opportunities, work security and the retention or acquisition of contracts to perform work or render services.”

Theoretically, it should therefore not have been necessary for a whistleblower interviewed by Fuchs and Groenewald (2018 – 2019) to state that “you get targeted, bullied, emotional blackmail [sic], emotional abuse – everything to get rid of you as soon as possible”. Neither should it have been necessary for Williams and Goodson to become unemployed and “unemployable”. If the protection legislation in South Africa was effective, no whistleblower should be victimised in any form.

What is often forgotten is that whistleblowers also suffer consequences not contemplated by the PDA and that are external to the working environment. Williams alluded to some of these: “… one of the hardest things when being a whistleblower is feelings of alienation. You feel alone. You feel abandoned. My business buddies turned their backs, every friend I had at Bain turned their backs on me”. Goodson has, on various platforms, stated that she suffers / suffered from major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, her family was negatively affected, and her finances ruined. These detriments are echoed by others who have taken a stance against unethical conduct. Other whistleblowers, such as Xola Banisi (who spoke up about corruption concerning two tenders at Bloem Water) and Moses Phakwe (ANC municipal councillor, who had attempted to expose corruption in the Municipality), have both been gunned down because of their moral courage to blow the whistle.

From my reading, the PDA is a good piece of legislation. There are, however, several reasons why the PDA seems to be ineffective in protecting whistleblowers. These are (1) organisations do not heed the Act; (2) do not create awareness about the provisions of the Act among their stakeholders; (3) do not act on their promises regarding the protection of whistleblowers against retaliation as communicated through their whistleblowing policies; (4) do not act against victimisers; and (5) do not provide holistic support to whistleblowers that include access to, for example, psychological and legal services. These reasons will be explored at another time.

The question now is whether another amendment of the PDA will result in better protection of whistleblowers in South Africa. How can our protection legislation address detriments such as ostracization, loneliness, depression, financial bankruptcy, becoming unemployable, and death? Broad protection and assistance by an independent organisation or institution are required such as being provided by Huis Voor Klokkenluiders, the Dutch Whistleblowing Authority, the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) and the newly established Whistleblower-Herz, Germany’s first non-profit whistleblower support organisation. These organisations provide general advice to whistleblowers, investigation of reports, legal counsel and financial support, assistance with the preparation of their testimonies to relevant authorities and evaluating risks they face when promoting their cases on national and international media. A glaring gap in the offered services exists, however, in so far as it concerns the provision of psychological support.

By establishing an independent organisation like the aforementioned in South Africa, many detriments suffered by whistleblowers, including occupational detriment, can be prevented and/or addressed. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is but one swallow in a position of authority who spoke out about the lack of protection for whistleblowers. This is indeed a reason for celebration. However, South Africa cannot rely on him alone to effect changes. A concerted effort by several role players is required to lobby for the establishment of a whistleblower protection organisation funded by, for example, corporate South Africa or a philanthropist. One swallow does not make a summer.


Fuchs, K. and Groenewald, L. 2018 – 2019. Personal interviews with whistleblowers.

Ngatane, N. March 2021. Williams appeals to Zondo inquiry to provide protection for whistleblowers. 24 March. [Online] Available at https://ewn.co.za/2021/03/24/williams-appeals-to-zondo-inquiry-to-provide-protection-for-whistleblowers. [Accessed on 19 April 2021].

Mawande AmaShabalala, M. 2021. Protecting whistle-blowers ‘critical’ in corruption fight, says Zondo after witness breaks down at commission. 4 March. [Online] Available at https://www.timeslive.co.za/politics/2021-03-04-protecting-whistle-blowers-critical-in-corruption-fight-says-zondo-after-witness-breaks-down-at-commission/. [Accessed on 19 April 2021].

Liezl BA Circle

Liezl Groenewald is a Senior Manager: Organisational Ethics Development at The Ethics Institute. She is also the author of the Whistleblowing Management Handbook.

Was I brave and strong and true?

By: Rehilwe Senatla

Was I brave, strong and true?

I navigated through standards as opposed to grades in my schooling. This is a time when school would begin with prayers at an assembly session every morning. This session in my school would alter between Christian, Islam, Hindu, and Baha’i faiths as the school was all-inclusive and accommodative of all beliefs. The school diary had the school rules splashed in bold on the first page (in hindsight I see how this was intentional as a scare tactic) but did not particularly have a Code of Ethics that we could pledge allegiance to. The back cover of this diary had a song that we all subscribed to across all faiths found, one which you would find us no longer singing but screaming out loud in shared bravado… ♫ Was I brave and strong and true? Did I fill the world with love my whole life through? ♪ [song by Leslie Bricusse from the 1969 film Goodbye Mr Chips]

In singing this song, we would be forced to reflect and reset our moral compasses. One would find him/herself fully aware of the service s/he owed not only to the school but to each other. The song, perhaps one might even call it an ethical development of sorts, would urge us to be aware of our efforts, our actions, and our behaviour concerning the school and others.

Through formal education, learners and teachers alike acquire knowledge and skills that are vital in the workplace. The true essence of education, one that I am in favour of and is in accordance with Greek thought, is that of education as the moulding of character consistent with that which is ideal. That is; to ultimately produce a responsible citizen rather than an autonomous personality or constricted specialist. Aristotle put it rather eloquently by saying “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”. Given our country’s education system which currently generally finds itself in a vast tangled vortex marred with scandals, corruption, legal cases of negligence, and recent bullying scenarios with dire consequences, it has become rather urgent, crucial, and necessary to find space for ethics teaching in today’s curriculum.

The social reality is that schools do not exist in a vacuum but are part of a larger society, and teachers and learners are active members of this society. They, therefore, have obligations that are demanded by the reciprocity of human relations within this society. Schools now need to focus beyond academic excellence through hard work and discipline and play their part in improving society. Education can no longer only be about the absorption of knowledge, particularly at this time where new technologies have taken over personal interactions resulting in learning becoming an impersonal process.

Justice and empathy as promoted by the Golden Rule (treating others as one would want to be treated) need to find residence on the chalkboard. The reciprocity or reversibility found in this Rule is key to moral development and behaviour (moral motivation). It is in putting yourself in another person’s shoes (social perspective-taking) that one learns about doing good, as well as on the mutualism found in our human relations and our social interconnections. The introduction of this broad cultural education (called Paideia in ancient Greece) as part of the curriculum in schools is beneficial in the following ways:

  • It will help learners become good citizens (socialization argument);
  • help students live a good life (quality of life argument); and
  • lead to improved results/performance (the tool argument).

(Gardelli, Alerby & Perssons, 2014)

Business has adapted fittingly to turbulent times over the years by introducing ethics programmes. We now need teachers and learners to be sensitized and guided on how to act. I believe that it is only through the institutionalization of ethics in schools that teachers and learners can be “ethically insured” so to speak. That is; teaching or obeying school rules will thus become easier given the prior teaching and learning on ethics.

The absence of ethics teaching has resulted in educated monsters roaming our streets and boardrooms, some highly qualified and skilled with powerful positions. I look at some of them and ponder what their response would be when, at the end of their careers or even earthly lives, they are asked “were you brave and strong and true?”…

Rehilwe Senatla holds  a MPhil Workplace Ethics Degree and is employed as Project Administrator by The Ethics Institute .