“Good governance is the foundation upon which a successful nation is built. It is not merely a buzzword."
These were the words of the Auditor General (AG) of South Africa, Ms Tsakani Maluleke, the guest speaker at the 11th Annual Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert (FVZS) Honorary Lecture, which was held at STIAS and online via YouTube. Maluleke is a registered chartered accountant (CA) with over 20 years of experience in auditing, consulting, and development finance and the first black woman to occupy the position of AG in the institutions 109-year history.
The FVZS lecture is hosted annually by the Centre for Student Leadership, Experiential Education and Citizenship (CSLEEC), and celebrates the work and life of the late Dr Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, who was a political analyst, businessman, politician, and anti-apartheid activist.
Attendees included friends and family of Dr Van Zyl Slabbert, students, professional, administrative and support staff, and academics from Stellenbosch University (SU).
The theme of the lecture was 'Good governance, good citizenship? What do South Africans require for engaged citizenship?'. Providing contextual background to the annual lecture, Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, SU Deputy Vice-Chancellor, highlighted the continued relevance of Dr Van Zyl Slabbert's legacy in South Africa's mission of democratisation through his commitment to ethical leadership, inclusive and democratic values.
“In a young democracy like South Africa's where the challenges of building a stable and equitable political system still persist, his [Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert's] commitment to democratic values serves as a guiding light for leaders and citizens," said Ramjugernath.
Honouring the contribution made by Dr Van Zyl Slabbert as an engaged citizen to society, the AG shared how the office of the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA) contributes to good governance through their mandate of “enabling oversight, accountability and governance in public institutions through auditing".
Part of the AGSA mandate includes striving to ensure that the experience of democracy is a reality for all South Africans in their daily lives. Strong leadership and ethical governance, said Maluleke, can have a positive impact on citizens experience of democracy.
“Far too many resources and funds do not go towards intended purposes, which exposes citizens to tremendous hardship. Roads and other infrastructure are not maintained properly, and citizens are harmed by inadequate access to quality health care. They are harmed by unpredictable access to clean water, as well as increasingly polluted environments," she added.
“Auditing and accounting as professionals for us is not just about proffering an opinion [because] that's the easy part, our constitutional mandate goes beyond mere number crunching," she said.
As a Chapter 9 institution, the AGSA is subject only to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, ensuring that it fulfils its function as a supreme audit institution (SAI) independently and effectively in pursuit of its mandate. Using the independence, respectability, and success of AGSA as a public sector institution, she emphasised the value that strong public institutions can have in the lives of citizens in South Africa.
“Good governance," said Maluleke, “is a commitment to transparency, accountability and responsible leadership in all seasons, good or bad."
According to Maluleke it also demands accountability from public servants, institutions and the powers granted to them, and greater involvement from citizens in the work of building South Africa.
Highlighting the need for greater citizen involvement, Maluleke quoted Dr Van Zyl Slabbert's observation in his biography that “in South Africa, we have problems to solve for which the rest of the world has found no solutions. That in itself is a great challenge, far more disturbing are the expectations that people have of what a democracy can deliver, and which research shows it is incapable of doing. This in the South African context is the real burden of democracy."
With the financial support of the Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), a foundation committed to achieving and maintaining peace, freedom, and justice through political education, CSLEEC aimed to use the lecture as a platform for critical engagement with current South African political and governance issues.
The programme for the evening also included a spoken word piece by MfundiThePoet, who used imagery to address issues of leadership, a lack of accountability and hopelessness amongst the youth.
Maluleke reminded the attendees that despite the challenges faced by the public sector, it remains populated with many public servants who are trying to work for the common good of society.
“Protecting institutions is the only way we are going to sustain improvements and to ultimately deliver a better life for all.
“The road to a stronger South Africa lies in the nexus of good governance and good citizenship. Together we can forge a path that ensures we uphold the values of transparency, accountability and respect for the rule of law and all whilst realising our noble ambitions of building a democracy that delivers a better and more dignified life for all," Maluleke concluded.