by Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

The re-election of Qedani Mahlangu to the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) of the African National Congress (ANC) in Gauteng raises, again, the issue of ethics and integrity in leadership.

Mahlangu, the Gauteng Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) for Health and Social Development, held the reigns when 144 vulnerable people died in what has been dubbed the “Life Esidimeni tragedy”. The deaths occurred as a direct result of an unconscionable decision by her department to move mentally ill patients from Life Esidimeni to other organisations that were unable to provide the necessary care. These people died due to abuse and neglect, many in horrific circumstances. Even more damning is the fact that the outcome was, to some degree, foreseen. She ignored anyone who raised objections. While Mahlangu’s case has been submitted to the ANC’s integrity committee, it had not been heard before her re-election to the PEC earlier this week. Widespread outrage has been expressed at her re-election.

In the Sunday scripture readings in recent weeks we have heard about good and bad shepherds. In the time of Jeremiah we hear God lament those leaders who do not have a sense of genuine concern and responsibility for people entrusted to their care. For people of faith the notion of good leadership goes much deeper than issues of legality or political manoeuvring.

There is a burden of care that comes with leadership. Leadership is not for one’s own sake but for the sake of those for whom one holds the office. It seems that this idea is largely absent from the discourse. Where is our understanding of the responsibility that is entrusted to leaders, whether in the church or in public life? Why are leaders not held accountable?

It is difficult to comprehend that Mahlangu had not thought about the fact that by accepting re-election she would inflict further trauma on those who lost loved ones in the Life Esidimeni travesty. She continues her life and political career while the families of those who died still live with their loss and the resulting pain. Even more disturbingly, perhaps she has some idea of the impact of her actions but nonetheless decided to stand for re-election. It is also difficult to fathom that those who re-elected her are not aware of the message their re-election of her sends, not only to those directly involved, but the country as a whole.

To act with integrity is to accept personal consequences for the way our leadership positively or negatively impacts others. It requires some kind of reparation to bring healing to those that have been harmed by disastrous leadership. Mahlangu has not taken responsibility for her devastating leadership. We should be angry with this woeful display of a complete lack of integrity by Mahlangu and the ANC in Gauteng.

We ought to be more acutely aware of the office of care that is entrusted to each one of us. We need to foster new values, realising that in whatever context we might be in a leadership role – as a parent, at work, in ministry, in politics or wherever else – both our actions and our failure to act, may cause damage that lasts a lifetime.

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