“Where do you stand?”
The media this week has been full of the demise of Dina Pule. You may recall that she is the former Communications Minister who was giving Government contracts and resources to her boyfriend. She has been publicly reprimanded for betraying her oath of office and bringing Parliament into disrepute. The Ethics Committee has found her guilty of transgressing both Parliament’s ethical code and the country’s law and has recommended that she be investigated by the South African Police Service and the National Prosecuting Authority.
What intrigued me was the way that she was treated in Parliament. All parties formally supported the adoption of the damning report. But informally her political allies and friends in the ANC seemed to be fighting to show her public support. One journalist tweeted: “ANC MPs including several ministers queue to hug Dina Pule as if she’s lost a puppy.”
As a mother I was struck by the ethical dilemma of a situation like this. What do we do when our friends or family are publicly disgraced? Do we walk away from them and leave them isolated? Or do we step forwards and offer them the hug and the reassurance that we are there for them despite what they have done? In this same week we also had photos of Oscar Pistorius’ family putting their arms around him as he came out of court on Monday. What would I have done had it been my son?
I recall a friend some years ago who was caught for drunken driving. I am passionately against people driving after drinking – knowing how dangerous it can be. But that did not stop me getting up in the middle of the night, going to the police station, posting bail, and then accompanying him to the court hearing a few days later so that he was not alone. Of course, in private I gave him a firm lecture about the risks he was taking and the risks he was putting other people at. But in public I felt that my role, in part, was to stand by him.
I am sure I am not the only parent who has stood in the principal’s office with an errant son or daughter. Part of me wanted to stand up for my children and defend them and protect them. And part of me wanted to take them home and give them even more of a warm klap than the school is able to give! Just as ethical decisions are rarely ‘black and white’, our response to someone else’s ethical misconduct is hard to decide in terms of ‘black and white’.
But do public figures, like politicians and sports stars, have to live by a higher code? Angie Motshekga may be Dina’s best friend, and she might be legitimately worried about how her friend is coping with the scandal. But does that mean that she should kiss her in Parliament? When do our public duties – as politicians, as police officers, as teachers, as business leaders – take precedence over our personal duties as friends or parents?