Business Ethics: Toxic, Toothless, or a Golden Thread?

Address by Dr Reuel J. Khoza (Chairman of Nedbank Group Limited, Aka Capital  and author of several books including Let Africa Lead and Attuned Leadership) to “Nedbank Group Technology Leaders”  I  26 August 2016

The world is not perishing for the want of clever or talented or well-meaning men (people). It is perishing for the want of men of courage and resolution who, in devotion to the cause of right and truth, can rise above personal feeling and private ambition. - Robert McCracken

We live in a time of extreme social, environmental, economic and political dysfunction and strife which have brought suffering to vast populations. As a recent article on collective leadership put it:

The world is not in good shape: millions of refugees, out-of-control climate change, droughts, heatwaves, food insecurity, economic recessions, rampant inequality and global-scale terrorism. It seems that, in a time that we need the best leaders, we get the worst.1

Lorenzo Fioramonti, who wrote this, is Director of the governance institute, GovInn, at the University of Pretoria. He denounces what he calls the political aristocracy – represented by figures like Hillary Clinton and, far worse, Donald Trump – who thrive on inequality and make the word democracy a misnomer for self-serving dynastic systems. He goes on:

We were obviously wrong in assuming that such things happened only in monarchies or in the Mugabe-style life presidencies of Africa, Asia and Latin America…Things don’t look brighter in SA. Two decades into democracy we have achieved a new record: history’s fastest transition from visionary leadership to grotesque expediency. Society at large is being infected.

“Collective leadership” can only mean one thing: that both leaders and their followers take joint responsibility for what is wrong and strive to put it to rights. The term leadership is normative, it means wielding moral authority to chart the way forward. It also embraces the followership in an inclusive vision of the good life. If we talk of “bad leaders” we actually mean that they mislead their followers, betray their trust, and are not leaders in the normative sense at all. They are guilty of misleadership. When this happens, the responsibility of the followership is to hold the leadership to account and not let them betray the collective.

Although the terms ethics and morality tend to be used interchangeably in common parlance, their application here is towards private and public morality on the one hand and professional ethical codes on the other. “Ethics” refers to specialised areas of morality such as business, medicine, the environment and so on. In the case of professions, a governing body will typically craft a Code of Ethics for its practitioners. An important example in South Africa is the King Code on Corporate Governance, a non-legislative code written to explain principle-based governance and bring about voluntary compliance among JSE listed companies.2 The recently compiled King IV report (2016) defines corporate governance as the exercise of ethical and effective leadership by the governing body that results in the achievement of ethical culture, performance, control, and legitimacy.3 King IV exhorts all organizations regardless of size or purview of operation to adhere to good governance.

The title “Business ethics: toxic, toothless or a golden thread?” may suggest that the economic realm is one that enjoys a special kind of ethics, somewhat removed from public morality. Business ethics have no special status; they form part of the totality of human relationships. The golden thread of business leadership should be woven into the moral fabric of society, since the private sector contains major corporate institutions with the status and resources to shape our lives. Good corporate governance can help to stabilise societies disrupted by waves of 21st century violence, greed and prejudice. In discussing the role of business in public morality one has to confront widespread – and often well founded – skepticism about corporate morality. This is dealt with below; suffice to say that corporations are not inherently “pathological”4, as one critic has put it, because without corporate citizenship the world would be a far worse place.

In South Africa, hard-won democratic freedoms are diminishing while violence and racism are on the increase; the country seems to have entered a moral wilderness5. As an instance, the grandson of Nelson Mandela and the nephew of Jacob Zuma, have been found liable for the willful destruction of gold mining assets at Pamodzi Gold and ordered to pay thousands of workers who were plunged into poverty6. Khulubuse Zuma and Zondwa Mandela, the directors of Aurora Empowerment Systems, were guilty of fraud in misrepresenting Aurora’s financial position and their project to revive bankrupt Pamodzi “remained a pipe dream” said the judge7. This was toxic business practice at its worst and, to boot, the board of Aurora was simply captured by men whose only interest was their own. Toothless corporate governance flourishes where integrity is absent, and it was left to the liquidators of Aurora to bring the case amounting to about R1.7 billion in claims by creditors8.

In a country described by a leading commentator as a “gangster state”9 the looting of resources has become commonplace, especially since the accession to power of President Jacob G Zuma. Yet modern South Africa is the gift of liberation leaders of great vision and integrity. Where does accountability begin and where does it end? Do shareholders, stakeholders and the citizenry bear any responsibility for this plunge into profligacy? Misleadership is a feature of corporate life just as it is in politics and society at large. Of course, not all misleadership is intentionally bad; the direction may be mistaken and need correction; or the leadership may be incompetent, lazy or corrupted rather than purely evil. In all cases, however, it is the responsibility of those who are led to apply their minds, debate the way forward, and take corrective action. Where misleadership gains impunity, it is the fault of the followership in allowing the wrongdoing to carry on.

While we face immediate challenges in this country and the world, the aim here is to present a lasting model by which leadership and followership may be judged and guided now and in the future. It needs to be said at the outset that this project draws together two threads of moral philosophy: the Classical Greek moral realism of Aristotle and later thinkers, and the tradition of African Humanism, or Ubuntu, as applied to deliberative democracy in modern times. This is not a far-fetched conjuncture. Moral realism and Ubuntu are not the intellectual currents of two worlds but the convergent ideas of one world where we know, intuitively, what is right in a common sense way.

Aristotle’s moral realism has been exhaustively studied and debated since ancient times, and among contemporary philosophers it has experienced a revival known as ethical realism. This casts morality as an inherent quality of human nature. Robert Heinaman states that “all we need assume is that you have certain more or less well articulated moral principles that are reflected in the judgments you make, based on your moral sensibility.”10 One of the chief proponents of ethical realism is David Ross who argued that the moral order is part of the fundamental nature of the universe, and that our intuition teaches us this. Morality, says Ross, is not grounded in pure reason or the overlordship of God but in our sense of what is right and good which is self-evident and needs no further explanation:

It is self-evident just as a mathematical maxim, or the validity of a form of inference, is self-evident... In both cases we are dealing with propositions that cannot be proved, but that just as certainly need no proof11.

This principle runs through African Humanism too. The virtuous character of a leader is judged in terms of commonly understood morality upon which the community may pronounce. While perhaps making reference to prior laws, codes and precedents, the moral substance of such judgements rests on a natural awareness of what is right and good. The precept that guides the following discussion is that all of us as human beings have moral agency and are duty-bound to think through moral problems and act according to our conscience; giving compunction pride of place in our moral compass.

The traditional African village assembly may be regarded as a metaphor for direct, deliberative democracy in the complex institutional settings of today. Symbolically, the age-old custom of the chief meeting in council with the elders under a big tree, surrounded by villagers who could raise any issue and bring forward any complaint, represents a form of communitarian consultation and leadership responsiveness. Khoza, in an early work, Let Africa Lead, proposed that knowledge, communication and teamwork were key elements of empowerment in modern organisations.

A communocracy is the form of organisation by means of which ideas and techniques are exchanged and peer support achieved between members with a community of purpose. A communocracy can operate at any level from a small shop to a large corporate. Africa has excellent traditional precedents for communocracy12.

Empowerment and participative management belong together not just in business but in all institutions that seek to develop human and material assets for the common good. This should be the moral goal of responsive leadership.
To sum up the approach: the topic of leadership – and specifically the abuse of position – is of central concern in an era when public morality seems to have broken down. Moral accountability in the modern world including Africa, our home, is achievable if leadership and followership are seen as reciprocal responsibilities. The tenets of ethical realism and Ubuntu – both of which insist that simple, commonly understood moral facts must guide our behavior – underlie the relationship between leaders and led. These philosophies converge; and of especial importance is their emphasis on citizen responsibility. As Aristotle saw it, the highest good was the happiness of all, and for this reason, civic engagement is a necessary duty for all citizens. Similarly, a fundamental aspect of Ubuntu is that the community gains a sense of mission, purpose, dignity and worth through consultation and consensus over the goals and actions of the leadership. When authority is abused, society suffers. It is then beholden upon the followership to question or confront the leadership and if necessary invoke sanctions against misleadership.


If collective leadership implies mutual responsibility for the running of society, we must ask what moral mechanism, so to speak, connects the leaders and the led. That mechanism is trust; and the absence of it is mistrust, which is conjoined with misleadership. It is interesting that trust, as a concept, has received relatively little attention from major Western philosophers. There are references to trust throughout the literature13 with some in-depth discussions that attempt to answer the question “When is trust warranted”?14 St Thomas Aquinas counselled that one could only reliably place one’s faith in God, citing the Bible:

Put your trust not in princes nor in the children of man, in whom there is no salvation15.

Western thought has laid more emphasis on individual lives than on relationships between people as the existential basis of justice, virtue and moral understanding. In terms of Ubuntu, which is relational, trust has to be the foundation of our humanity. In Zulu, the phrase Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu is usually translated to mean "I am because you are; you are because we are". We are not fully human, we have diminished personhood, if we do not relate positively to others and to the community at large. It follows that where trust is lacking or abused, our personhood must suffer. Those who betray us, let us down, show they are not reliable (or we who do this) are in effect undermining the basis of human interdependence and hence personal and group dignity and virtue.

In order to grasp the moral relation between leaders and led, one may review what the village model suggests about the nature of trust, betrayal and accountability. The nature of the village assembly is such that the chief in council seeks consensus with the elders and villagers over issues of contention. The deliberations that are conducted in open forum and attempt, on the one hand, to unveil the truth of any situation through discussion and collective agreement; on the other hand the chief has finally to make a ruling that all must accept, and this is where the intrinsic, intuitive element of morality enters the frame. The truth-seeking, consensus-forming nature of deliberations in the village assembly is guided by underlying, taken-for-granted, common-sense moral principles that arise from our human nature.

The African village assembly may be regarded as an equivalent of the Athenian gathering of citizens in the city square or agora for direct democratic participation. There are major differences because in Athens it was only the free males with two years of military experience who were entitled to meet in this way; in the African context the meeting known as the legotla or imbizo (southern African terms) may be open to anyone; but in both cases the principle of active engagement between leaders and members of the community is upheld.

The legotla is at times a clearing house; a debating chamber; a court; a religious convocation; a policy arena. Above all, the African assembly seeks to establish truth before reaching any conclusions. The aim of a collective inquiry into any situation is to uncover the motives, actions and consequences of behaviour, and then to attempt to restore order and fairness to the parties concerned. The pursuit of restorative justice rather than retribution for wrongdoing is characteristically African. It was exhibited in the proceedings of the SA Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid16.

This is not to say that such forms of truth-seeking, trust-building deliberation always work or lead to satisfactory outcomes. It has happened in modern African politics that such assemblies become used by elites to gain assent at grassroots level for contentious national programmes17. Yet, as a metaphor for how direct democracy may work to re-establish trust within the community, it is worth keeping this model in mind. Truth is the ultimate sanction in a universe of virtue ethics; when we know the truth, we can judge and act in full conscience. If truth goes unrecognised the community is left morally powerless. The chief's ruling must acknowledge the truth and so establish the legitimacy of the consultation process; failure to satisfy the conscience of the community would represent a departure from legitimacy.

Trust in the process is crucial. What then is entailed in a betrayal of trust when leadership fails to fulfill its mandate? If trust means that we are confident enough in an individual or institution to place our security and our welfare in their hands, betrayal shatters that confidence, revealing that our faith in human nature or organizational governance was misplaced. Three relevant concepts may be introduced here to deepen the discussion: vulnerability, moral hazard, and information asymmetry.

Vulnerability obviously means that one party is weaker than the other, and the stronger takes advantage of the weaker. Less obviously, the violation of confidence carries with it what may be termed existential dismay – the psychological and moral disillusionment we feel when confronted with disloyalty and treachery. Our sense of human worth is diminished, both for the betrayer and the betrayed. In terms of Ubuntu, such dehumanization is known as a loss of personhood as we are cut adrift from our spiritual anchor in the human community18.

Moral hazard is the term to describe situations where a person passes off the costs of unprincipled actions on other persons. Originally it comes from the insurance business where the insured take more risks because they know the insurer will cover them19. In a societal interpretation of moral hazard, the perpetrator exploits a relationship where trust exists and continues to do so until exposed and disciplined. So long as this situation persists the risk to victims may increase, although eventually the breach of trust will lead to a breakdown of the relationship.

Information asymmetry is an aspect of both vulnerability and moral hazard. The information available to all parties in a social compact is not the same and is unevenly distributed to favour those in positions of power. Asymmetry means that the victims of betrayal are kept in the dark about the real motives and actions of those they trust. Not knowing is not understanding and therefore not having the moral capacity to make judgements. Ignorance spells vulnerability; this creates the conditions for moral hazard; hence the loss of personhood on all sides. Empathy, compassion, harmony, respect and dignity are forfeit? in the resulting loss of faith in our shared existence. Research conducted in Pretoria found that elders in the community were increasingly disturbed by the dehumanization prevalent in everyday culture, manifest as disrespect for others and leading to callous behaviour by police and nurses, drug abuse in the young, widespread crime and political and business corruption20. Leadership lessons, and the inculcation of African humanist values in the young, were the antidote.

Leaders are born, and then made: their natural abilities are enhanced by experience and the examples set by other great leaders. Whatever checks and balances are put in place by institutional systems to curb misleadership, long-term trust in leadership can only be based on the virtuous character of those in positions of moral authority. Khoza, in a speech commemorating the banker Lot Ndlovu, wondered why South Africa has chosen to elevate mediocrity to the status of virtue. Quoting Socrates, Khoza opined that wisdom begins in wonder:

[We wonder] Why unqualified, underqualified, ill-qualified and down-right ignorant people are appointed to the country’s mission critical institutions such as SABC, SAA, etc. [Lot Ndlovu] would continue: Wondering about the motive behind the contempt and derision levelled against those enlightened and educated? Wondering where this would take our beloved country unless our intelligentsia rise up to provide alternative answers and solutions?21

Equipped with an understanding of misleadership and mistrust, let us now turn to a few illustrative examples in business and politics from South Africa and abroad. The model of community participation – or the lack of it – in holding leadership to account is applied. The investigation concludes with a review of possible sanctions against misleadership.


An example of irresponsible political campaigning, with serious implications for the economy and business, was the recent British referendum on whether to leave the European Union or stay in. No doubt the British will bounce back from the astonishing result, but in the meantime there is great uncertainty. The Leave campaigners seemed to have no real idea of the consequences of Brexit. Their campaign hinged on emotionalism, racial fears and moral panic over the spate of terrorist killings in Europe and America. They exploited the ignorance and irrationality of the public, especially in the north of England where economic change has affected jobs and incomes (and where xenophobia against immigrants is at its height). Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, as the cheerleaders of Leave, were surprised by the outcome of the referendum and taken aback by demands to say what should happen next.

If that was misleadership, Prime Minister David Cameron's catastrophic gamble on holding a referendum, not for the good of the country, but to squash an incipient Eurosceptic Tory revolt in his own ranks, precipitated his own downfall.22 A virtuous leader does not take risks for the wrong reasons and should not be so puffed up with hubris that he thinks everyone will support him. Even worse was the threat from George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, to introduce an austerity budget if the vote was to leave: this alienated all of those who looked for some sign that the elite establishment actually empathised with the sufferings of those who had lost their jobs and felt terribly insecure as inequalities in incomes widened.

As the dust settles on the referendum outcome, we can say – from an African humanist perspective – that the British people had insufficient knowledge of the consequences if they voted to leave, and this in itself was irresponsible. The fact that in the aftermath, millions of hits were registered on Google by people seeking to know what Brexit meant - what was the European Union all about? Why should Britain leave? What would be the economic fallout? - indicates that many who voted for Brexit had no idea what they were doing or why. Neither the citizenry nor the leadership on both sides honestly faced the issues or sought the truth but instead traded on hopes, fears, false promises and political intimidation. The most vulnerable in society were carried away by the rhetoric of protest against business and political elites; the leadership exposed the followership to economic risk; and information about plans for the future was minimal. There was mistrust on all sides and clarity on none.

In terms of Ubuntu, no-one can escape accountability – we are all part of the problem and therefore part of the solution – but certainly the stakes are not equal, and to paraphrase George Orwell in Animal Farm, some are more accountable than others23.


A very different case was the finding by South Africa’s Constitutional Court that President Jacob Zuma had broken his oath of office by failing to endorse and implement the findings of the Public Protector that he should pay back some of the public money used to renovate his Nkandla homestead24. In the judgment of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, the President had failed to fulfil his obligations under four sections of the Constitution25. Given the opportunity to apologise to the nation on television, Zuma appeared to dodge the issue by saying he “welcomed” the judgement of the court and would be guided by it. He claimed to have acted in good faith, regretted the delays in bringing closure, and apologised only for the “frustration and confusion” caused26. This was hardly a heartfelt apology and while the President’s party supporters hailed it as a “humbling” moment27, many others were profoundly dismayed that the leader of the country appeared brazenly to brush off his personal transgressions in the matter28.

In cases of misleadership, which this was, citizens had a right to expect genuine remorse from the President, which they did not get. The objective of restorative justice is to find the truth and bring about a balancing of gains and losses: in this case that the President should pay back taxpayer’s money. The Constitutional Court ordered that this must now happen according to a reasonable financial assessment to be made by the Treasury and SA Police Service29. That appears to be where the matter will rest once the President has repaid the amount now calculated; but in terms of the moral obligations of Ubuntu the President is in a moral limbo.

In a sense, the Constitutional Court became a kind of national village assembly with Justice Mogoeng filling the role of the chief surrounded by other wise heads while the nation and its media commented loudly. Zuma, said Mogoeng,

was duty-bound to‚ but did not‚ assist and protect the Public Protector so as to ensure her independence‚ impartiality‚ dignity and effectiveness by complying with her remedial action… The President is expected to endure graciously and admirably and fulfil all obligations imposed on him‚ however unpleasant30.

Saturation media coverage of the Nkandla scandal – for years before the court pronounced on it – ensured that there was very little information asymmetry: the country and the world knew that the so-called security installations at Zuma’s homestead – including a cattle run, chicken coop and swimming pool – had nothing to do with the protection of the President. There was really nowhere for Zuma to hide unless behind the skirts of loyalists in the ruling party; and by providing him with cover the party disgraced itself. The consequences of this embarrassing cover-up were spelt out by Business Day’s political writer:

The most recent time that the ANC was called upon to give judgment on its president, it took the fatal decision to close ranks around him — following the Constitutional Court’s judgment in April that found that Zuma had violated his oath of office to uphold the Constitution… At the last crossroads in April following the Nkandla judgment, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe rationalised the ANC’s choice not to act against Zuma on the grounds that a call for the president to step down was "a call for the party to tear itself apart"… But since he is not at all likely to go quietly… the party may indeed tear itself apart in the coming months31.

When the followership fails to keep misleadership in check it too is tarnished and will pay the penalty. Citizen accountability implies that the followership call attention to intrinsic truth or falsity.  Ethical realism behove Jacob Zuma to fall on his sword, as did David Cameron.


Both Brexit and Zuma’s non-apology raise questions about collective leadership and virtue in public office. The reader may wonder why – given the title of this paper about business ethics – neither of these cases deals directly with corporate governance. The reason is that business, like other non-governmental institutions such as churches, foundations, the media, labour unions and other representatives of civil society, all bear joint responsibility for the public good.

The golden thread of business leadership should be woven into the moral fabric of society, since the private sector contains major corporate institutions with the resources to shape our lives. Businesses driven by greed and exploitation have a toxic effect, made worse by face-saving mission statements. Where regulatory mechanisms exist but enforcement is weak the controls on business misbehaviour are rendered toothless, permitting the unscrupulous to escape unscathed.

In a paper entitled The Moral Compass of Companies: Business Ethics and Corporate Governance as Anti-Corruption Tools, John D Sullivan, Executive Director of the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce, argues that "corporate governance not only sets up a system of institutions that govern the relationship between owners, investors, creditors, and managers, but also serves as a reform incentive towards global best practices of legal and regulatory frameworks." This is essentially the argument that Khoza has advanced in various books, speeches and articles over the years.

Businesses – specifically the numerous and massive transnational organisations in the world today, many of which statistically have larger economies than the majority of developing countries – bear a great deal of responsibility to provide moral leadership to the societies in which they operate32. Many corporations through their commitments to transformation have used their weight and influence to encourage gender equality, non-racism and environmental care, so making a real impact on embedded injustices.

Good corporate governance can help to stabilise societies disrupted by waves of 21st century violence, greed and prejudice. A rising international chorus is calling for order to be restored through global mechanisms of law and ethical standards. National states on their own are unable to institute such controls, but together with corporate partners across the world, countries can impose rules and regulations to curb economic abuses.

Perhaps the turning point came in 1984 when the world’s worst industrial disaster (in terms of human casualties) at Bhopal, India, highlighted the complete immorality of the Union Carbide company. When gas leaked from their pesticide plant33 the immediate death toll in villages nearby was around 3000 with an estimated 15000 deaths thereafter, plus 50 000 permanently disabled from toxic gas-related injuries34. Union Carbide violated its own safety standards, ignored warnings about the dangers of the plant, attempted to blame the Indian government for its failure to effectively regulate safety, and finally refused in court to pay anything to the Indian victims and their families. Reflecting on the responses of this company and others in a number of cases, the authors of an influential paper on the psychology of business people in times of disaster noted that the “most striking aspect of corporate transgression is that it is committed not by dangerous criminally-orientated mavericks, but by eminent members of the business community who break rules ostensibly in the interests of their companies and their own”35.

Reputation, however, is not morality; and regulation is not virtue. This paper has drawn the connection between virtue and participation in public life. It starts from the premise that human interdependence is existential, not a matter of choice. Morality is relational; our mutual dependence is not simply materialistic nor is it founded on self-interest; our relationship with others is a given and it is what creates our humanness. We are all equally responsible to maintain the collective of leadership that contributes to the good life for all – to what Aristotle called “flourishing”36 – or the wellbeing of individuals in a wholesome commonwealth.


A lesson which many need to learn before it is too late, is that leadership is achieved, not given. A leader’s moral authority is given by the community around them, be it a business, neighbourhood, or country. Where this is not happening – as in South Africa today – we need to seek for sanctions against reckless and self-serving leaders. Where are these sanctions to be found? To rephrase the question: how are responsible citizens to exercise their power over leaders who have gone astray?

Firstly, in civil society: there are those we call stakeholders, the individuals, foundations and groups in communities who expect and demand service from the leadership and are not getting it. They are raising their voices in service delivery protests in the streets but they need to make their demands palpable through the democratic process – the power of the vote. We have suffered the cruelty of apartheid and, through struggle, won the vote. It must be used.

Secondly, through the courts and the legal process, through the Public Protector and other independent institutions of the State we must keep up the pressure to hold leadership accountable. We know that some of these institutions are being perverted for narrow political ends but we must continue to insist that the principles of autonomy, embedded in our Constitution, be upheld and wrongdoers brought to book.

Thirdly, in political structures such as formal parties, Parliament, provincial and local government, and at leadership level in the civil service, those who are aware of mismanagement and corruption must speak to be heard. Silence gives consent; it is not good enough to express one’s disapproval through what has been called “moral silence”- that is, keeping still as a form of judgement.

Fourth, in business, the media, labour unions and other private sector bodies that have a voice in public affairs, there has to be both meaningful engagement with government and critical distance allowing for strong and substantive policy differences. Corporates in particular have a responsibility to show integrity and a sense of citizenship, thereby setting a standard for good governance.

Fifth, to those in our universities and research institutes, including the students who waged the #Feesmustfall campaign, in bidding for transformation of the education system let us not forget we are both contributors to, and competitors in, a global community where brainpower creates prosperity. We must not self-destruct our knowledge assets.

And lastly, it is appropriate to add that conservatives and African traditionalists should be calling leaders to account. After all, the ancient philosophy of Ubuntu was born in African communities and I for one owe great lessons of wisdom to this spiritual source. Our people’s elders are duty-bound to insist upon the moral rejuvenation of those in power.


The purpose of this paper was to identify what makes persons accountable, in a moral sense, for their actions and to propose certain kinds of sanctions against those who do not hold themselves accountable. African humanism, Ubuntu, urges us to recognise that we owe it to each other to be trustworthy and hence responsible to maintain good governance.

In conclusion, moral accountability is not simply a practical matter; it is spiritual. African humanism takes issue with the basic tenet of Western humanism: that man is the measure of all things. African Humanism insists on acknowledging the God Principle and rejects the secular individualism of much Western moral philosophy since Descartes. The phrase “man is the measure of all things…” is attributed to Pythagoras whom Plato said had argued that there is no transcendental truth, only beliefs held by individuals in relation to their own ideas, feelings and experiences37. Plato rejected the ideas of Pythagoras and the sophists, contending instead that there was another world of ideal forms, of which our world was but a shadow. This dualism influenced all of subsequent Western philosophy leading to the physical/spiritual mind/body problem that persists in religion and general thought. Recent African scholarship points out that Ubuntu turns Platonic idealism on its head: where Western thinkers have always tended to see individual consciousness as the root of being (Descartes’ cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am) in African tradition it is the existence of others – their objective presence – that gives one being, from which all ideas and morality arise38.

There is a strand of Western thought, including religious thought, that accepts this. In October 2009, Pope Benedict opened a special meeting of Catholic bishops of Africa by praising the continent as the world's spiritual centre but lamenting that it risks being afflicted by materialism and religious fundamentalism. He said Africa's rich heritage was the "spiritual lung” for a world increasingly in a crisis of faith and hope. The "toxic spiritual garbage" exported by developed countries was a new form of the colonialism that had ended in the political sphere but now survived as gross materialism39.

It may seem strange that the head of the Catholic Church would extol the spiritualism of Africa as a beacon of hope for the world. Why did he do so?  Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XV1) writes: "Christian faith does not find its starting-point in the atomised individual but comes from the knowledge that the merely individual person does not exist"40.

Pope Benedict’s view of African spiritualism as foundational for the modern world is echoed in the work of Father Bénézet Bujo, a Diocesan priest from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and professor of moral theology and ethics at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Like other non-Western Christians, Bujo contends that theology should take on a non-eurocentric orientation. Bujo contends that cognatus sum ergo summus (I am known, therefore we are) "is not only a given; it is existential to such a degree that refusal to accept it must lead to the death, not only of the individual but even of the community itself"41.

Leadership is an embodiment of the communitarian spirit both within the individual and in human affairs generally. It emanates from the good character of the individual at any level in society and in any capacity, not necessarily that of formal authority. It is the driver of change for the better, that is, transformation both for the person and the community that person inhabits. There is no death of community if there is life in the engagement of leaders and led.


1 Fioramonti, Lorenzo – “Collective Leadership is the only way out of this mess”. 25 August 2016. Johannesburg: Business Day

2 Institute of Directors of Southern Africa – “King Report on Corporate Governance in SA”. 2009. Accessed 22 July 2016.

3 The King IV Report on Corporate Governance for South Africa 2016. Advance copy received by Dr Reuel Khoza, 10 August 2016.

4 Bakan, Joel - The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. 2005. New York: Free Press.

5 Khoza, Reuel J - Speech "On the occasion of receiving the 2016 Luminary Award from the Free Market Foundation". June 2016. Johannesburg.

6 The Herald - "Zondwa Mandela and Khulubuse Zuma must pay Aurora workers". 12 May 2016. Accessed 4 August 2016.

7 Mail & Guardian – “Court finds Mandela, Zuma heirs liable for Aurora decay”. Accessed 14 July 2016.

8 Ibid.

9 Bruce, Peter - "Bruce's List: Gangster state’s latest grabs". Financial Mail, 11 July 2016. Accessed 4 August 2016.

10 Robert Heinaman - Aristotle And Moral Realism. 2008. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. P189.

11 Ross, David – The Right and the Good. 2002 (reprint). Oxford: Oxford University Press. P257.

12 Khoza, Reuel J – Let Africa Lead: African transformational leadership for 21st Century Business. 2nd edition. 2005. Johannesburg: Vezubuntu. Pp 195-6.

13 McLeod, Carolyn - Trust. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 14 July 2016.

14 Khoza, Reuel J - Speech "On the occasion of receiving the 2016 Luminary Award from the Free Market Foundation". June 2016. Johannesburg.

15 Psalm 146:3. Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition Bible.

16 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report: Five Volume Set. 2001. Johannesburg: Palgrave Macmillan.

17 Van Binsbergen, Wim - "Aspects of democracy and democratisation in Zambia and Botswana: Exploring African political culture at the Grassroots". 1995. Journal of Contemporary African Studies, Vol 13, Issue 1.


19 The Economic Times - "Definition of Moral Hazard". Undated. Accessed 29 June 2016.

20 Gumbo, Mishack T - Elders Decry the Loss of Ubuntu. 2014. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, Vol 5 No 10. Rome-Italy: MCSER Publishing.

21 Khoza, Reuel J - "The Maduke Lot Ndlovu I knew: A legacy grappling with contemporary challenges". August 2016. Third Lot Ndlovu Memorial Lecture. Johannesburg: Black Management Forum.

22 The Guardian - "The downfall of David Cameron: a European tragedy". 24 June 2016. Accessed 19 July 2016.

23 All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." - A proclamation by the pigs who control the government. Orwell, George - Animal Farm. 1996. London: Signet Classics.

24 Constitutional Court of South Africa: Judgements - “Economic Freedom Fighters v Speaker of the National Assembly and Another; Democratic Alliance (etc).” 31 March 2016. Accessed 7 July 2016.

25 Ibid. Judgment 4 (c), p5.


27 News24 - "ANC welcomes Zuma's 'humbling' apology - As it happened". 1 April 2016. Accessed 14 July 2016.

28 De Vos, Pierre - "On President Zuma's complicated relationship with the truth." 3 April 2016. Accessed 1 August 2016. http://

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41 Quoted in Chuwa (2014), p27.