Administratio Publica Vol 9 No. 1

Entrenching Ethical and Moral Behavior in the South African Public Service

V G Hilliard

Thomas D Lynch


South Africa, since 1994, has once more entered the global community . This means that South Africa may neither be able to call the past to excuse present unethical behavior, nor can it rest on its post-apartheid laurels. A global perspective demands a totally different approach to morality and ethics in the new South Africa. the article advocates a global virtue ethics approach to ensuring that all South African public servants embrace virtuous ethical behavior and morality that would be expected and required from an international public servant.

This article discard the notion that regime values can serve as a basis for ethical behavior. South Africa found that regime values under the apartheid government did much harm to the country. Under the post-apartheid dispensation regime values are once again being called into question. Isolation in not the ideal option and therefore South Africa would have to adopt a global approach to ethics and morality. This, in effect, implies that South Africa must view its ethics and morality in terms of how the international community perceives and practices it.


In 1994, after years of academic and socioeconomic isolation, South Africa returned to, and was welcomed into, the international community. Because South Africa became a global player in the post-apartheid era, global rules once more became salient; these rules encompass the field of ethics and morality. But the ethical norms affecting South African public functionaries can no longer only remain regime values (the values of a specific regime) partially because of the international norms and standards that have evolved in the twentieth century, and partially because these norms and standards have now become valid for all global players in an era of increasing globalization.

Government and society can also not promote and enforce ethical behaviour solely through the utilization of ethical codes of conduct or through the promulgation of a plethora of legislation. Actually, what is needed is a new mind-set, including a paradigm shift, of all public service personnel that appreciates and values above all else the public interest, interconnectedness and oneness. In other words, South Africa needs an organizational culture that nor only supports ethical behavior, but sees that it also defines and underpins right and wrong conduct at both an individual and at an organizational or institutional level. This concept of inter-relatedness largely corresponds with the African concept of “Ubuntu” or brotherliness and good neighborliness. What effects one’s brother, directly or indirectly, also affects oneself.

Furthermore, society needs to inculcate moral virtue in all public functionaries through the enforcement of good moral habits. Good habits could, in the long term, ensure that a person reacts “automatically” and intuitively to being virtuous and upholding high ethical standards that are closely akin to a set of globally recognized ethics, instead of submitting to parochial regime values. Society needs to reject the latter values taking due cognizance of the sordid sociopolitical past of apartheid from which the new South Africa emerged.

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