n Journal of Public Administration - Tracking down the dialectic of the 'ethical' and the 'political' in public leadership : does presidential leadership carry the burden of ethical duty?

Volume 48, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



What is lacking in South African scholarship, post 1994, is more focused research into presidential leadership. The research is even more lacking on ethical leadership in presidential leadership. This does not mean that before 1994 there were any remarkable studies on this subject of governance. This attests to the way the presidency as an institution of State is perceived if not often cast in a messianic mode, if not 'a discursive gravitational field' (Gelis-Filho, 2012) in our society. This article explores what it perceives to be a rather neglected and controversial intellectual space on presidential leadership in South Africa. It focuses on the embedded but inadvertent burden of ethical duty of this particular position in society. At level of values, inspiration and personal example, the article argues that the president has a duty to the nation. The article argues that the 'ethical', especially its context-transcendent and generalisable human dimension, is a critical aspect of presidential leadership. Hence at the heart of the leadership of a president, in many successful nations, especially liberal democracies founded on predominantly western ideational rubrics, the president's duty is not merely political leadership and governance of the country but ethical example to the entire nation. In essence, the article argues that presidential leadership in a democratic state also implies ethical leadership, a duty which could either be fulfilled or abandoned. Ethical leadership is at the centre of presidential leadership and this is so despite the existence of oversight institutions and an independent judiciary. The article uses as its case of reference, Jacob Zuma's presidential leadership period, 2009 to 2014. The issues examined in the article have nothing to do with political factionalism or position for or against Jacob Zuma as a person and president but have all to do with scholarly freedom and commitment to the truth.

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