Exactly four years have passed since Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon, died at the age of 95. Over the course of his remarkable life, the South African became the embodiment of moral political leadership, forgiving his jailers and rising to the nation's presidency.
Sadly, Mandela's successors, most notably current South African President Jacob Zuma, have largely led without the same moral compass. Allegations of corruption have mired the African National Congress (ANC), the political party Mandela founded, even as it has remained in power ever since the end of apartheid.
A particularly distasteful new scandal has been added to the mix this week: A special investigation unit of South Africa's public corruption watchdog found that during Mandela's funeral ceremonies, in December 2013, nearly 300-million rand ($22 million) had been unlawfully or negligently spent. Local ANC leaders misappropriated money earmarked for "sanitation, the replacement of mud schools and the refurbishment of hospitals," according to a 300-page report published by the Office of the Public Protector.
South African daily Mail & Guardian reported Monday that authorities instead used these funds to purchase t-shirts and catering services and transport mourners during the globally televised funeral.
"Those hyenas of the ANC in the Eastern Cape saw an opportunity to use taxpayers' monies to line their pockets," opposition leader Bantu Holomisa decried. "They saw a gap and used it, the shameless bunch of crooks."
South African daily The Citizen's Dec. 5 frontpage
South Africa is hardly the only country facing a bankruptcy of moral-minded political leadership these days. From Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump formally threw his support Monday behind Alabama's Republican candidate for Senate Roy Moore, who stands accused of sexually assaulting numerous underaged girls. Trump, of course, also faces several accusations of sexual impropriety from the past, not to mention all sorts of suspicions of high crimes and misdemeanors related to Russian attempts to sway last year's election. (The latest bad news for Trump comes from Germany, where Bloomberg reports special prosecutor Robert Mueller has subpoenaed records on the president's financial dealings with Deutsche Bank.)
But more broadly, Trump threatens the very idea that politics should be driven by higher ideals than personal gain and ambition.
So if virtue can't be found in our political leaders, perhaps we must look elsewhere: There is always Bono, the frontman of the band U2 and notable globetrotting humanitarian. But what can we say about the Financial Times report on Monday that the singer offered to write a "protest song" in support of the consumer product conglomerate Unilever during a hostile takeover attempted by Kraft Heinz? No, we still haven't found what we're looking for …
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