In other countries, it is not unusual for a public official to resign his or her office because the leadership of their government or party adopts a policy or course of action which he or she fundamentally disagrees with, and simply cannot go along with.

In South Africa, our public officials tend to seem chiefly concerned with their own position, and would rather keep quiet [‘disciplined’], rather than publicly criticize or oppose something they fundamentally disagree with.

This type of thing makes one doubt the extent to which they have serious values, ideas, and principles which outweigh their own self-interest.

This is why I was impressed by Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa’s publicly announced resignation, in which he said:

“I am resigning due to my convictions that while the African National Congress [ANC] has the right to recall any of its deployed cadres, the decision needs to be based on solid facts, be fair and just.

“I also did not feel that I will be able to, with conviction, publicly explain or defend the [ANC] national executive committee’s decision on comrade Thabo Mbeki,”

Whether or not one agrees with the decision by the ANC NEC to ask President Mbeki to resign, I think one has to respect that Mr. Shilowa thought that decision to be unfair and unjust, and refused to call it otherwise. While he could have maintained his position merely by keeping quiet, or ‘disciplined’, on the matter, or just stuck to repeating the party line, he refused.

In doing so, he gave up one of the country’s top political positions- leader of the country and continent’s economic powerhouse in Gauteng– because to stay would have involved publicly defending a decision he believed was indefensible.

Think about the power, influence, and personal opportunity associated with being Gauteng Premier in the run up to the 2010 World Cup, and the completion of the massive, unprecedented, high-profile Gautrain project. Now think about what it takes to give that up, rather than simply remain silent.

Some will only see this through the sad South African prism of personal/political ‘camps’ and power struggles, and in so doing would miss the point.

Brothers and sisters, that is what a man of principle looks like.