Friday, 12 March 2010

Over the Limit

I this week again realized how different Germany and South Africa can be when dealing with potential scandals. Here is a cultural case study in how one deals with prominent figures when over the limit.

Early on Thursday morning, during rush hour traffic the ANC’s chief spin doctor Jackson Mthembu was caught for drunken driving at 7 a.m. being three times over the legal drink-drive limit. (Just imagine what his level was at 3 a.m.). He was arrested after driving or rather swaying along in the bus lane on a motorway in Cape Town.

According to several reports in South African newspapers he was then taken to the Mowbray police station. That did not put him off doing his job. At about nine he was conducting a 21 minute interview with the news agency SAPA. He was defending the controversial ANC Youth Leader Julius Malema. Malema is facing criminal charges for reportedly singing at the University of Johannesburg, "Dubula amabhunu baya raypha" (Zulu for, 'Shoot the boers, they are rapists) with a group of students.

On Friday the ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe announced that Mthembu will not be suspended, but the party was taking the matter seriously because of the "carnage" on South Africa's roads. Mantashe said the party would wait for the law to take its course. (However long that will take)

Two weeks ago the first woman elected to lead Germany's 24 million Protestants through the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Bishop Margot Kässman, resigned only days after she was apprehended for a drink-driving offense.

Once the scandal broke, she swiftly gave up her posts as a bishop and as head of the EKD, but said she will continue as a pastor. The EKD elected Kässmann, the bishop of Hanover, to be its new leader on 28 October 2009. It was the first time for a woman to become the highest representative of German Protestants.

Kässmann, a Lutheran and the chairperson of the EKD, the umbrella organisation of Germany's Protestants, was caught drink driving late on the evening of Saturday 20 February in Hanover. She allegedly jumped a red traffic light and was found three times over the legal limit. She immediately had her driving license revoked for a year and a traffic offense case was opened.

Once the story broke in Bild, the biggest German tabloid on the Tuesday, events moved quickly and barely 24 hours later on the Wednesday she called a press conference to announce her resignation from all her leadership posts. She has since then been praised by media analysist s as an example how to swiftly deal with a scandal.

“Last Saturday evening I committed a terrible mistake that I deeply regret; but however much I regret it and accept the-in this situation-entirely justified reproaches that are being levelled against me, not least by myself, I cannot and will not dismiss the fact that my office and my authority as presiding bishop and chairperson of the Council have been damaged. I would no longer have the freedom to identify and measure ethical challenges in the future as I had in the past. The harsh criticism to a sermon such as "Nothing is good in Afghanistan" can only be faced when one's personal power of persuasion is unquestionably acknowledged.”

Germany lost an unique critical and ethical voice; a star who could have moved the Church into the 21st Century. South Africa is left with pantomime - a new act every new day.