Sunday 17 September 2017

We must not lose our sense of moral outrage

Note: This commentary by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba was published in this form by City Press, Johannesburg on September 17, 2017. It is posted here for the record: 

The controversy surrounding the private life of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has confessed to an extra-marital affair in the past, and the response of an Eastern Cape student to receiving an erroneous payment of R14 million, highlight the divisions in our nation in addressing public and personal morality in our society.

When Nelson Mandela's administration developed its Reconstructon and Development Programme to combat poverty and inequality, Madiba also called for an “RDP of the soul” to address the nation's spiritual brokenness. Twenty-three years later, we have to ask whether this objective has received adequate attention.

Comments in the media indicate a worrying consensus in the political class that personal moral uprightness is no longer a criterion for leadership in our society. Such tacit acceptance is very worrying, and challenges religious leaders to do more to instil high moral values in current and future generations.

It is heartening that leaders such as the Deputy President and Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, who was recently caught up in an alleged “sexting” scandal, have admitted their wrongdoing. But just as the church has in the past criticised President Zuma's extra-marital affairs, we must be consistent and require other leaders to respect the sanctity of marriage and practise sexual fidelity.

The young student who received money in error seemed to see nothing wrong with spending the money extragavantly and on luxuries at the same time as other students were being expelled from university for financial reasons. There was far too little outrage at her behaviour in spending money that was patently not hers to spend. Worse, many on social media made light of the matter.

Along with this decline in standards of personal morality, there is a collapse in standards of public morality. Over recent years there has been a catalogue of court cases and decisions that are indicative of our moral collapse: the Nkandla judgement, the State of Capture report, the denial of a visa to the Dalai Lama and allowing Omar al-Bashir and Grace Mugabe to escape justice. The levels of misappropriation of public funds being perpetrated or tolerated by other leaders at the highest levels in government are shocking. We may justifiably call such leaders disciples of corruption and inequality.

We have slowly lost our sense of moral outrage and shame – we should therefore not be surprised when there is no condemnation of glaring examples of what is a departure from values that Mandela had in mind when he advocated the RDP of the soul.

Respect for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the rule of law must be linked to the personal values that leaders are expected to display. The restoration of morality as the basis on which South Africans aspire to live is part of the new struggle for a better, more equal society – it is inextricably linked to the economic emancipation of our people. We should be deploying resources that are currently being stolen in institutionalised theft to fight poverty.

It is time to take moral regeneration to the next level – fully recognising that for many of us, our own houses need to be cleaned—for example, as a result of a recent elective assembly in the Anglican Church, disciplinary steps are being taken against a candidate who is alleged to have falsified his qualifications.

We need to do the following:

    • The charter of positive values adopted by the Moral Regeneration Campaign is perhaps a good starting point for reflection. Respect for human dignity has been destroyed across all sectors of society, and these positive values can help us reclaim our basic goodness.

    • All branches of the State need to re-commit to moral and ethical values. We must encourage a culture in which people take responsibility to the consequences of their action. Without this no one will think it matters to pursue a righteous life that is focused less on self-preservation and more on servant leadership focused on the needs of our people.

    • We need to revive the values of Ubuntu in pursuance of the spiritual reconstruction of all sectors of society and in the individual lives of our citizens.

    • We need to support and strengthen the Chapter Nine institutions that seek to instil a sense of order in the stewardship of resources meant to combat unemployment, poverty and inequality.

    • We need to teach morality and ethics throughout our education system, from primary to tertiary level, and make it compulsory in training for professional careers.

If we are serious about restoring private and public morality, we have to agree on the fundamentals of setting higher standards for our leaders as a way of focusing the minds of our people to achieve the reconstruction and development of our society and of our souls.

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