n Journal of Public Administration - Meaning and significance of conscience and consciousness in public leadership in the post-1994 South Africa

Volume 50 Number 3
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



The article examines what some may regard as the intangible elements of public leadership in South Africa. The absolutely intangible elements of public leadership are difficult to pin down, yet their presence is felt when they are there as is the case when they are absent. One could argue that the simmering tensions arising out of popular discontent, sometimes finding expression in isolated incidents of public protest and sometimes in performances by opposition parties in parliament, attest to the fact that there is something missing in the edifice of public leadership. That which is missing is the presence of the intangible aspects of public leadership that this article seeks to examine. The article invokes the significance of the twin notions of conscience and consciousness as intangible imperatives whose absence is creating challenges in public leadership in South Africa's young democracy. The article takes the reader back to some old but still influential, scholarly perspectives from Karl Marx, Carl Jung and Chabani Manganyi in an effort to examine the meaning and significance of consciousness. The article also draws from , to demonstrate the richness and depth of this indigenous language to help us understand the deeper meaning of the concept of conscience, which in translates as or . These concepts are meant, in , to tell one something about the roundedness, or lack of it, of one's ethical being. This is not about being perfect or about absolute morality, but about self-reflexivity or the ability for personal reflection to help in self-correction, which defeats the "egoistic self" so as to serve the overarching greatness of community, kinship and societal causes. It is in line with this conception that one is deemed healthy in mind and spirit, hence the saying in which translated to English means "conscience maketh the person". The ripple effects of "a living conscience" as opposed to a "dead conscience" are what emerge from the idiom . But the article proceeds to examine instances where lapses of "conscience and consciousness" in leadership performance in South Africa occurred to create a basis for the theorisation of conscience and consciousness in public leadership. The article concludes that, as long as public leaders fail to prioritise self-transformation and strict adherence to a code of leadership values as an indispensable component of the leadership, the ripple effects will eventually destroy public institutions and public life.

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Article metrics loading...


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error