The seemingly unending stream of corruption and wrongdoing by high-ranking politicians points to the moral bankruptcy of South Africa’s political elite. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya comments that the failure of our leaders to act in ethical ways provides an opportunity for religious leaders to initiate moral regeneration programmes to create a more ethical and hopeful society.
South Africa’s political leaders have an increasing credibility deficit.
South Africa’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has been rocked by reports that party leader Mmusi Maimane’s car was sponsored by controversial businessman Markus Jooste. A query is also underway to determine Maimane’s assets, in particular his Cape Town-based residence. Maimane has come out in public saying that both allegations are part of a “smear campaign” against him. Time will tell.
The third largest party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has stopped bothering to explain why its leaders live lavish lifestyles, drive flashy cars and enjoy membership at what the party itself would describe as “bourgeois” country clubs.
At every sitting, the Zondo Commission hears new and freshly shocking details about how leaders and those associated with the governing ANC plundered the public coffers.
Patronage erodes the effectiveness of public services
The pattern replicates itself at provincial and local government levels. In some provinces, particularly KwaZulu-Natal, being a local government councillor has literally become a job to die for.
Last year, the Moerane Commission, set up to probe political killings in KwaZulu-Natal, found that being a councillor in that province was seen as pathway to dispensing patronage. This system enables a few well-connected individuals to benefit from private and public resources.
Patronage, however, comes at the cost of effective public services for society’s disenfranchised members. Poor and working class communities in gang-ridden areas like the Cape Flats have resorted to having the army patrol their streets because the state lost control of the gangs that run rampant in those communities, dealing in drugs and death.
Six of the top ten police stations (Nyanga, Delft, Khayelitsha, Philippi East, Harare and Gugulethu), which reported the most murders, are in the Cape Flats.
With political leaders increasingly losing credibility – that is assuming that they once enjoyed some – and communities living the Hobbesian reality of life as a constant state of war, in which existence is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (cf Leviathan), it is surely time for alternative ways of leading societies, especially those at the coalface of poverty and violence.
Religious leaders called to step up
It is time for religious leaders to once again fill the gap. They have the respect of their communities and they enjoy long-standing roots and credibility in their communities, especially the poorer ones.
Irrespective of the charlatans who call themselves pastors, prophets and all other religious titles and give faith a bad name, religious leaders and houses of worship, especially in established faith communities, remain the lighthouse in stormy seas.
In societies devoid of ethical leadership and hopelessness, religious leaders have the potential to usher society back to the path of righteousness and justice. They provide hope to the hopeless.
To do this, religious leaders must themselves clean up their act. They must be honest with the rot in their own faith communities and hold one another accountable.
Superfluous theological debates and religious affiliation are commodities that are too expensive at this stage of our country’s life. It is enough that we have a governing party that seems to be unable to agree on anything except its colours. Religious communities need to stand united in the fight against moral decay.
Moral regeneration starts with faith communities
As the Parable of Lazarus and the rich man in a recent gospel reading reminds us, the price of indifference is just too high to pay in this and the afterlife. Love for neighbour should not be limited to those who look like us or worship in the same communities as us.
The church, temple and masjid must become the go-to place for those who seek ethical leadership and hope for broken and hurting communities.
Where possible, leaders of these different faith communities need to come together to address joint projects. This is much more than a joint prayer meeting and the hope that everything will return to the paradisaical serenity of the Garden of Eden.
Religious and community leaders should implement joint programmes that focus on skills development, conflict resolution, the fight against drugs, migration and anti-xenophobia. Communities need to support these programmes by offering their time, assistance and (where possible) money. Alternatively, they can use their voice and their vote to get the buy-in from local governments to fund these projects.
There can be no doubt that the restoration of South Africa’s moral values will not be easy. Someone needs to start. Doing nothing is no longer an option at a time when national morale is as low as it has ever been.