A new “school of leadership” was launched this week by none other than the ANC. The school aims to renew the leadership of the ANC by producing “ethically and intellectually grounded” members of the political party. At the same time, the ANC ethics committee has over 20 members with questions raised about them, the ANC secretary general was accused of vote buying, and former president Jacob Zuma is attempting to reposition his ‘nine wasted years.’ None of these ANC “leaders” have enrolled for the leadership school, yet. In fact, at the time of this article being published, no political party leaders from the DA or EFF have announced their enrolment into any leadership training to renew their ethical and intellectual groundedness either.
In principle, equipping future leaders of our country with a political education is not a bad idea. On the other hand, ‘political education’ could be an oxymoron. The concept also begs the question, who exactly will be involved in the teaching. Could we see Jacob Zuma and Nathi Nhleko as a guest lecturers, perhaps giving a discourse on how to extinguish a fire using your pool water?
Not only do educators recite the approved syllabus and dispense knowledge, but they also share their own experiences, beliefs, attitudes, and ways of looking at the world with their students. This passive transmission of knowledge intertwined with their personal views shapes our culture. There can also be beauty in this process. From village elders sitting around a fire, to a grandfather on his rocking chair sharing stories, the process of imparting knowledge is just as important as the knowledge itself. I didn’t have a grandfather that shared stories with me, but I did have a television to learn from. I consider the knowledge I received from the media as important as what I learnt from my teachers at school. Our exposure to stories shapes our culture and influences individuals. One of the most important things that I learnt (and still learning) is not from my schooling career, but a line from a movie, that “there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” We can be told that there is moral chasm that needs to be crossed, but actually crossing it is a completely different matter. We can understand value and principles, but still not live from those values and principles. We can know our own worth, but making choices in line with that knowledge may not be available to us. There really is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.
I don’t necessarily believe that we have to be told to behave ethically in order to behave ethically. We do not need to be educated on morality in order to be moral. If you did not know that murder was illegal, would you be able to commit murder? There are people who have been educated that theft and fraud is illegal, and yet they still choose to pillage. There are also those who have free reign to deceive a fellow human being without imposed consequences, and yet choose a path of honour. From my perspective, that choice is dictated by the consciousness of the individual. Maybe “educating” leaders is only the first step, but raising the consciousness of the individual will authentically create leaders of nobility. Or maybe if we learn the tricks of the ‘ethics and values trade,’ then we can navigate the grey area unscathed. Perhaps there is no right or wrong, but just the choices we make.