Name, fame, position: everything goes, except…

In an article titled ‘Three years after being knifed by Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd gets revenge and returns as Australian PM, ’ Kathy Marks reports from Sydney that ‘in an extraordinary turnaround in political fortunes, Australia’s former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, wrested the top job back today from Julia Gillard, who ousted him nearly three years ago to the day.’ She lost to him by 57 to 45 in a Labour Party poll, effectively making him the new leader of the Party, and therefore Prime Minister.

By now Kevin Rudd would already have been sworn in, with Mrs Gillard submitting her resignation and looking forward to being ‘the most meddlesome great-aunt in Australian history’ as her great-niece is expecting a baby in July. On the other hand, she may perhaps return to the law, her former profession.

Significantly, Mr Rudd was conciliatory, praising Ms Gillard as “a woman of extraordinary intelligence, great strength and great energy.” He also promised there would be “no retribution, no paybacks.” Mr Rudd has been a diplomat, and hence perhaps his language and tone, shorn of the type of political vituperations that we are more used to in our country.

This episode, and that of the ouster of UK’s ‘Iron Lady’ late Mrs Margaret Thatcher by a similar palace revolution after she returned from a visit in Paris in 1990, should remind us of the ephemerality of posts and positions. The last thing to do is to cling to them or to think that one is either indispensable or invincible.

Of course the power game of politics is in a different category, as ruthless as can be, but the general tendency to want to hold on even when the odds are clearly seen to be turning against one is so overwhelming that it is no longer a wonder why people choose to go down ignominiously rather than take a pre-emptive step in their own best interest.

There is no doubt that public office is very demanding, in particular because of the constant exposure to which one is subjected. However, one must not make too much of that, because there are so many positions in which the holders are equally vulnerable. At all times, anytime and anywhere, everyone has to always keep in mind that first and foremost he is a human being, and is expected to behave as one, which means having a certain control over one’s baser instincts.

Let us recall that apt adage: ‘Character is a tree, and reputation its shadow. Most people go for the shadow, but it is the tree that is important.’

It follows that all of us who are in positions of responsibility must never forget that we are ambassadors of, that is we represent – and must do so honourably:

1.     Our office and profession – whose credibility and strength we have a duty to guard and defend;

2.     Our specific community and/or faith – whose values we must practice; and

3.     Our country – whose image we must uphold.

As human beings we are creatures of habit, and it is by constant repetition – a combination of mental, verbal and physical aspects of living – that we cultivate ourselves, in other words we become cultured. Cultivation, as any gardener will tell you, is not an easy task, and we must be at it regularly if not constantly. And it’s even more difficult where human behaviour is concerned. But unless we do that, and pass it on to our children and families, we will not be able to live a truly human and humane life.

Given the breakdown of the moral order that is afflicting the national life of this country, we must absolutely double our efforts across the board and at all levels of society to make it ensure its moral sustainability, without which we are likely to continue descending into an infernal abyss.

* * *

Let us pray for Madiba…

Nelson Mandela is fighting for his life in a hospital in Pretoria, having been put on artificial respiration because of the lung infection that has affected him. He dedicated his whole life to the freedom of his people, a real giant of mankind not only because of that struggle, but perhaps more so because when he became President of South Africa, he showed awesome magnanimity by extending a hand of peace to those who had persecuted him.

He forgave the Whites, and did not go on a witch-hunt or a campaign of denigration. Instead, he rallied everybody around him to construct the new South Africa. If his successors are falling short of his ideal, that is surely not his fault.

But it is good to recall that he decided to step down after only one term, and hand down the flag to others.

He will be remembered for that too.

His words and his actions were reflected in his smile.

A giant of a man, of immense moral stature. May peace be ever upon him.

* Published in print edition on 28 June 2013

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