In August 2014 highly respected ANC veteran Pallo Jordan found himself in hot water over lies regarding his academic qualifications. He had claimed to have a PhD going by the title of Doctor for years.

Via an article in the Mail & Guardian, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe explained that Jordan had written to the party’s leadership taking full responsibility for what Jordan termed as “deceit over a long time”. Jordan apologised to the ANC, its members and all South Africans and resigned.

There are moments in all of our lives that come to define us as men and women. For leaders with position and power, these moments may go down in the annals of history. For leaders like you and I they may simply become part of the history of our own small lives, or be forever etched in the minds of our children: “My Dad was always someone who did the right thing”; “My Mum played fast and loose with the law.”

The story of Pallo Jordan’s deceit did not end with an apology to South Africans. That is because Pallo Jordan is a man of integrity. How can we possibly say that about a man who lied and cheated his way through decades of his life, receiving benefits that he should never have been entitled to? Well, we can say that because when confronted with that dreadful moment of truth about his lie (a variation of a lie that many of us have spoken in our lives to make ourselves or our companies sound more impressive), he chose to admit his mistakes and resign. With only the evidence provided by his conscience and a Sunday Times expose; without any pronouncements of a court of law – he did the hardest thing possible; he took responsibility and action. His apology would have meant nothing had he not resigned; his apology would simply have been a request for us to let him off the hook: “You have been a naughty boy Pallo, but we forgive you. Just don’t do it again.”

My primary memory of Pallo Jordan is not that he lied about his qualifications. I remember him for the fact that he resigned as a result of being exposed. I remember how quickly, how decisively and how humbly he did it. I remember how he saw fit to respect South Africans and our democracy by doing what only the strongest of men and women and the best of leaders can ever do – kick themselves when they are down. Regardless of the fact that he would lose money, face and power he did what I have come to understand any true veteran of the struggle would do; he stood up bravely against anyone who dared to compromise the integrity of that struggle and the democracy that resulted – even when that person was him.

I do not need to spell things out and in any case, much has been written about the man who still insists on calling himself our President. Suffice to say that whether you love him or hate him, this man will now be relegated to the trash-heap of history occupied by corrupt leaders; those who lied, cheated, deceived, manipulated and put themselves before the people. But he will not simply idle away his final years in ignominy for Nkandla or the fact that he violated his oath of office or any of the other atrocities committed by him. Ultimately, this will happen because he apologised without resigning. Had he resigned on Saturday night he may in years to come have even been honoured for some of his not insignificant achievements as President of the Republic. But now, history will only ever remember him for being a man who – when presented with that moment – chose to apologise but not resign. He will be remembered for the fact that he not only placed his needs before the party or his people, but before the constitution of the Republic.

And this is what stalwarts, elders and civil society leaders are now protesting over. They have nothing to lose from standing against the systematic destruction of this mighty organisation. They know that a weak ANC is bad for everyone and they will not look on as Rome burns. What the man who insists on calling himself our President – and the entire ANC – has missed is that this has gone beyond politics and a scrutinising of the letter of the law. This now sets in motion the ANC’s slide downwards to the trash-heap occupied by corrupt liberation movements; those who lied, cheated, deceived, manipulated and put themselves before the people. What a tragic trajectory.

Is it too late for redemption for either him or the ANC? I do not believe so. Provided this once proud organisation is able to liberate itself from its own propaganda and make itself accountable to you and I by speaking truth to power, then anything is possible.

Pallo Jordan proved that people are very forgiving when the right thing is done.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.

This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.