The Moral Regeneration Movement

By Neeba Budhoo

The origins of the Moral Regeneration Movement date back to June 1997 when former president Nelson Mandela spoke at a meeting with various representatives of government and religious affiliations organised by the ANC's Commission on religious affairs. Mandela asked that religious institutions work with the state in order to achieve 'social transformation'. In his speech he said :

“ We ought to be able to co-operate to transform the spiritual life of our country. Within our own constituencies, we seek to answer these problems – but we need to seek a more comprehensive answer. Specifically, can we devise a way for the leadership of all religions to come together to analyse the cause of this spiritual malaise, and to find a way of tackling it? And can this be done as a matter of urgency?”
This sense of urgency, has increased exponentially, given the current status of violence, intolerance and a general disregard for the well-being of others that our media reports are inundated with. Nelson Mandela started using the phrase “moral regeneration” in early 1998. He spoke of the kind of community spirit that is required to build the nation of South Africa, and that there should be a mutually symbiotic relationship between people and communities which translates into civic duty. He highlighted the need to recognise that we have to maintain a reciprocal relationship and give back to our communities part of what we have gained. He also said:
“As we reconstruct the material conditions of our existence, we must also change our way of thinking, to respect the value and result of honest work, and to treat each law of the country as our own. This is our call to all South Africans to firm up the moral fibre of our nation.”
This statement is particularly relevant because it points to the ability of South Africans to be in control of the reality that they are creating for themselves and others around them from which they can benefit. He does however say that this process requires a change of thinking and he gives this change direction.
Respect and Dignity
He states that it includes respecting the value and result of honest work. This promotes the human right to respect and dignity, which is central to the Moral Regeneration Movement. In order to let and make the law work for all South African citizens, we need to treat the law as our own. In order to do that one needs to both be informed of it (which in essence is a proactive process) and be able to exercise it with self-control and a continual regard for others. The need to firm up the moral fibre of our nation requires a directed, enthusiastic and collective effort by all citizens. It is after all, all citizens that have a personal stake in the process.

A Moral Summit was held in Johannesburg in October 1998 in which Mandela highlighted that the problems that such an initiative as Moral Regeneration should focus its efforts on were largely connected to crime.
These included: corruption which serves as self-enrichment in the public and private sector, corruption in the justice system, violence in familial settings, the abuse of women and children and tax evasion.
He described the abuse of women and children as “shameful”. He expressed marked disbelief at how difficult it would be to mobilize people around efforts to eradicate such problems. At this summit, a Code of Conduct For Persons in Positions of Responsibility was among the documents issued. Although the Code was signed it is not known whether it was formally adopted.
After 1999 with the newly elected President Thabo Mbeki and his Deputy President Jacob Zuma, the Moral Regeneration Initiative saw greater development in a formal setting.
In 2000, workshops were held with both political and religious leaders in which committees were co-ordinated, print and electronic media negotiated for, discussions around promotion of the MRM campaign occurred, there was organisation for all government departments to attend workshops and conferences were organised with religious communities. A strong political take on the Movement was emerging and for some it was likened to the anti-apartheid struggle of which many are aware.
Sexual Violence
Widespread sexual violence in late 2001 revived interests in issues surrounding the campaign and it was decided that the MRM would be launched in April 2002 as a non profit company funded by the government. Present at the launch were a thousand people including those from government, parliament, provincial legislatures, political parties, religious organisations, traditional structures, and NGOs.
At the launch of the Moral Charter campaign on the 31st of January 2003, Zuma, extended an invite to all South Africans to participate in the process of the drafting of the Moral Charter for it to include “… commonly agreed core values and principles, which would serve as broad guidelines for ethical behaviour and ubuntu.”