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17 May 2017
Inaugural Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Lecture

Justice Moseneke on Leadership and Integrity: Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Development Trust Lecture

“Democratic freedom is not an event, but a process meant to enhance the human condition - and that freedom demands constant vigilance; civil and electoral accountability are necessary preconditions for democratic and social justice.”

Those were the words of Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who delivered the inaugural Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Development Trust Annual Lecture on Integrity and Leadership at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) on Wednesday 17 May 2017.

The annual lecture series is a platform for UWC’s Chancellor and the Patron of the Thabo Makgoba Development Trust to reflect on the state of South Africa, and of the world - and to invite “a prominent person of higher pedigree” to stimulate and enrich the discussion.

“Today marks the beginning of the conversation,” said Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, UWC Chancellor, “and our esteemed guest speaker needs no introduction. Justice Moseneke, you are the embodiment of excellence and ethical leadership, and no one could have been a better choice for this year’s annual lecture.”

This year’s lecture, Makgoba noted, came at a time when leadership in South Africa is experiencing something of a crisis - when unethical and corrupt behaviour and discredited leadership is undermining our public institutions, and the judiciary is perhaps the last pillar upholding the spirit of the Constitution.

It is a pillar Justice Moseneke is very familiar with.

He began his professional career as an attorney’s clerk in Pretoria in 1976, was admitted as an attorney in 1978 and was called to the Pretoria Bar in 1983. He served on the technical committee that drafted the interim constitution of 1993, and in 1994 was appointed Deputy Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission for South Africa’s first democratic elections. In 2001 Moseneke was appointed to the High Court in Pretoria, and a year later he was made a judge in the Constitutional Court., becoming Deputy Chief Justice in 2005. Often regarded as one of the strongest judges on the court, he has made significant contributions to South African property law and affirmative action judgements, and has been praised for his ethical approach and independence.

The Archbishop teased Justice Moseneke about his memoirs, My Own Liberator, where he revealed that as a young boy he wanted to be a traffic officer.

“You have been that traffic officer for us, Justice,” Makgoba said; “maybe even the best traffic cop for our nation - giving us direction on the road to the future, telling us to stop when we’ve gone too far, and pulling us aside  when we transgressed on our country’s Constitution.” 

Looking for Leadership in a Post-Conflict Society

“All great human endeavours are achieved collectively - more so in an African context - and thus leaders are indispensable,” Moseneke said as he took to the podium. “They are very much needed.”

The  former Deputy Chief Justice  discussed how academics and public thinkers have studied and reflected on institutional leadership, and explored a few well-known types of leaders: the pacesetting leader who models excellence; the visionary leader who focuses on the end goal; the affiliative leader who creates emotional bonds; the coaching leader who develops people for the future; the coercive leader who takes control; the democratic leader who builds consensus; and the servant leader who subjects his role to the collective wish of his or her followers.

“Good leaders combine and use all these attributes depending on the circumstance,” he noted. “What I am going to talk about today is contextual leadership. I want to talk about our lived experiences and exposure to leadership as a nation in transition. In other words, I am asking a question: what leadership do we as a nation truly deserve?”

Justice Moseneke spoke about the high hopes he had for South Africa after the dawn of democracy in the country.

“I had fancied that the advent of democracy would radically change our value systems: that we would develop shared values of what it is to be free and live in a socially just society,” he remarked. “I had hoped that the transition to rule by the people would afford us space to reject racism and yet celebrate diversity. I had hoped that we would grow and strengthen, not undermine and destroy, public institutions set up to undergird democratic rule and advance the genuine interest of the people.”

Unfortunately, things had not worked out quite that way. “I had  no business to be so trusting,” he said, “and nor should you.”

But if we all do our part in ensuring that leaders are held accountable, and that the powerless are taken care of, things could be different.

Justice Moseneke demonstrated his own inclusive approach to leadership in practical fashion,  taking time out of his keynote address to engage with three female students who were seated on the floor in front of the podium with placards touching on the scourge of sexual violence nationally and on campus, and to address other student concerns expressed on the occasion.

In closing, Moseneke left the audience members with an important message about the things that truly matter in a democratic society.

“Respect of other people matters because dignity is a core value of a just  society,” he said. “Preserving, protecting and growing our democracy with all its vital institutions matters. Transforming and growing our economy matters. Hard work to achieve good personal and collective goals matters. Active, informed citizenship matters.”

“Above all, honesty and integrity in matters of state and power or in business leadership and practices matter,” he concluded, “because so many of us depend on so few to achieve our collective ideal of a just society.”

The evening ended with a question and answer session from audience members to the panel comprising of UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Tyrone Pretorius, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

The Archbishop concluded by saying he hopes the Thabo Makgoba Development Trust Lecture will become a platform for proposing and exploring possible solutions, and not only a chance for people to lament about current leadership.

“I believe the crisis we are living through is one of those epochs in our nation’s history that will mark a significant turning point - though whether the turn is for good or for ill will depend on us, on our beliefs and actions,” Makgoba said. “We must not only remain hopeful, but take it upon ourselves to take action to resolve our challenges.”