Some call it desperation. Others see it as inspiration.
But South Africa is pushing ahead with its latest initiative to
combat soaring crime and corruption: a nationwide crusade to build
up its citizenry's moral fiber.
"Many of our socioeconomic problems result to a large extent from
moral degeneration," Deputy President Jacob Zuma told Parliament
last week. "There was a time in our history when people would
provide guidance to children they did not even know, when the
ruling ethic was 'Any child is my child.' We need to revive that
While character and integrity are familiar topics in US politics,
the ambition of institutionalizing and popularizing ethical
behavior is unprecedented in South Africa. The crusade appears to
be a recognition that solving the crime problem here will require
more fundamental changes than investing in better law enforcement.
The aim is to steep all South Africans in the ethics of
responsibility, self-reliance, and accountability to create a
patriotic environment in which criminal behavior is not tolerated.
The campaign is one of the first recommendations from the
government's newly created Moral Regeneration Committee,
established by President Thabo Mbeki.
In a report released in July, the committee said that laws in
South Africa were sufficient, but that they were often either
ignored or not implemented - because of government incompetence and
ordinary South Africans' compromised moral state.
The blame for this lies with the country's former apartheid
government, Zuma told Parliament, in his speech kicking off the
"Apartheid created a particular value system designed to deepen
and perpetuate a twisted understanding of values and morality,"
Zuma said. "It introduced extreme intolerance, and because it had
to be maintained through extreme violence, it encouraged violence
at every level of society."
This comes at a time when South Africans are increasingly
impatient with a government that appears unable to tame a soaring
crime rate, create jobs or stamp out corruption. Figures released
last month show that crimes against children and assaults have
doubled since the end of apartheid's white minority rule, six years
ago. Corruption within government is also seen as pervasive. A
survey earlier this year found that about 50 percent of South
Africans think that "most" or "almost all" government officials are
involved in corruption. Newspapers here support that perception
with daily accounts of dereliction of duty.
But rather than reinvigorate public support of government
efforts, the campaign seems to have confirmed some citizens'
suspicions that the government here is ineffectual.
"I think our biggest problem isn't morality. It is education and
poverty," says Clement Mushwana, a baby-faced 26-year-old who is
attending classes on weekends to complete his high school diploma,
while working during the week to support his parents and younger