Essence of re­gen­er­a­tion

Post - - Opinion - RAY­MOND PER­RIER Ray­mond Per­rier is the Direc­tor of the De­nis Hur­ley Cen­tre

WHILE at­tend­ing a “Fu­ture Dur­ban” event last week, I no­ticed the par­al­lels be­tween moral re­gen­er­a­tion and ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion.

We had two pre­sen­ta­tions: one was from a lo­cal group (Green Camp in Um­bilo).

They are a small team of poorly re­sourced in­di­vid­u­als who have man­aged to take an aban­doned site, with a bro­k­endown build­ing straight out of a rap mu­sic video, and con­vert it into a thriv­ing city gar­den, trendy mar­ket and arts space. The re­sults are pleas­ingly im­per­fect; the im­pact is real and the area has been changed for the good.

The other was from a mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cial pre­sent­ing the In­ner City Re­gen­er­a­tion Plan. It was a very slick power point, with charts and ar­chi­tects’ draw­ings and lists of high am­bi­tions.

But there were no re­sults, just prom­ises. No ac­tions, just in­ten­tions. No im­pact on peo­ple’s lives, just an un­jus­ti­fied claim that all would be per­fect in the end.

Moral re­gen­er­a­tion can fall into the same trap as ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion. We too eas­ily get taken up by grand plans and good in­ten­tions.

We spend so much of our time and re­sources on this that we don’t get round to ac­tu­ally do­ing any­thing. A lot more ef­fort spent on small green camp-style pro­jects and a lot less ef­fort spent on empty plan­ning might do more to de­liver real ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion.

Sim­i­larly, I be­lieve moral re­gen­er­a­tion chal­lenges us to fo­cus on the smaller, per­sonal, lo­cal op­por­tu­ni­ties and not get dis­tracted by grand, na­tional plans that pro­vide busi­ness for con­sul­tants and photo op­por­tu­ni­ties for politi­cians but make very lit­tle real im­pact.

Read­ers would have read about the re­cent can­cel­la­tion of the So­cial Co­he­sion Con­fer­ence and the waste of R2 mil­lion of our money for claimed rea­sons that are far from cred­i­ble.

But even if it had gone ahead, I do won­der how a group of peo­ple sit­ting in a fancy con­fer­ence in a 5-star ho­tel in uMh­langa, making speeches and pass­ing res­o­lu­tions, was ac­tu­ally go­ing to have an im­pact on the prob­lems of so­cial co­he­sion in our so­ci­ety.

We need grass­roots changes in at­ti­tudes and be­haviours – be­tween peo­ple of dif­fer­ent colours, peo­ple of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties, peo­ple of dif­fer­ent classes if we are to make our so­ci­ety more co­he­sive.

So it is won­der­ful that we have a spe­cial month to re­mind us how much we need moral re­gen­er­a­tion if our coun­try is to pros­per.

But let’s not make the mis­take of thinking that slo­gans will bring about real change. Our mu­nic­i­pal­ity has been com­mit­ted to ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion for decades.

It aimed to make Dur­ban “the most car­ing and live­able city in Africa in 2010” – but clearly missed that dead­line.

It re­set the tar­get date for 2020 but has given up on that al­ready; city of­fi­cials now proudly pro­claim that we will reach that goal by 2030.

Per­haps we will but it would be sur­pris­ing if the peo­ple, poli­cies and strate­gies that have failed to make the 2010 and 2020 dead­lines will get us to the 2030 dead­line.

We must ask our­selves the same ques­tion in re­la­tion to moral re­gen­er­a­tion.

If we feel that what we have been do­ing up to now has not worked, it is mad­ness to hope that we can carry on do­ing the same things and get a dif­fer­ent re­sult. So what does work? The moral re­gen­er­a­tion that I have seen work­ing is not trig­gered by slo­gans, or con­fer­ences or even news­pa­per ar­ti­cles.

It is brought about by in­di­vid­u­als en­coun­ter­ing other in­di­vid­u­als and, through that, chang­ing their at­ti­tudes and their be­hav­iour.

So the work of the De­nis Hur­ley Cen­tre is in­deed in­volved in moral re­gen­er­a­tion.

But it is not usu­ally about chang­ing the moral­ity of the ur­ban poor whom we en­counter.

Their sit­u­a­tion is more of­ten a re­sult of bad luck or bad op­por­tu­ni­ties than bad choices.

Rather, it is about chang­ing the at­ti­tudes and the be­hav­iour of the many vol­un­teers, who are drawn to work with us.

It is when the Jewish stu­dent works with the Mus­lim school learner, when the stressed lawyer works with the unem­ployed so­cial worker, when the mid­dle-class lady works with the home­less man – this is where moral re­gen­er­a­tion be­gins to take root.

No­tice that it is rarely about chang­ing the vol­un­teer’s moral­ity.

They are usu­ally good peo­ple with good in­ten­tions but per­haps need this op­por­tu­nity to see that they should look at their own be­hav­iour choices.

When they come and spend a few hours work­ing for the poor, and of­ten work­ing with the poor, their hearts are opened and their con­sciences touched.

Moral Re­gen­er­a­tion Month is cho­sen for July partly be­cause of Man­dela Day on July 18.

This will pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for many acts of vol­un­teer­ing – and that is great.

But what will re­ally count is whether those ges­tures change peo­ple’s be­hav­iour for the rest of the year.

When, on July 14, the De­nis Hur­ley Cen­tre chal­lenges non­home­less peo­ple to spend an evening or even a night in the in­ner city with home­less peo­ple, what mat­ters is not whether peo­ple “dare to share” for that evening but if they “dare to share” all year round. For ex­am­ple, Food for Life are serv­ing 10 000 meals a day for the poor – not just on Man­dela Day.

Whether it is a cause or an ef­fect of South Africa’s moral decline, or both, we must be trou­bled by the high lev­els of in­equal­ity in our coun­try.

Of­ten this is ex­plained away as the in­evitable re­sult of apartheid and it is as­sumed that the in­equal­ity fol­lows racial lines.

But the Gini co­ef­fi­cient, which mea­sures in­equal­ity, is al­most as high within South African racial groups as be­tween them.

So there are huge dif­fer­ences be­tween poor blacks and rich blacks; be­tween poor In­di­ans and rich In­di­ans.

If we won­der where we need moral re­gen­er­a­tion 23 years af­ter democ­racy that would be a good place to start.

Am I pre­pared to look at my own role in so­ci­ety, or would I rather point the fin­ger at oth­ers?

Pro­fes­sor Al Gini, whose rel­a­tive in fact de­vised the Gini co-ef­fi­cient, is an Amer­i­can ethics lec­turer vis­it­ing Dur­ban this month.

He has been teach­ing busi­ness moral­ity to young ac­coun­tants for 50 years.

He makes the point that he does not need to tell them that keep­ing two sets of books or fal­si­fy­ing records is wrong.

They know that and yet some of them still do it.

Moral re­gen­er­a­tion is not about telling peo­ple what is good, but en­cour­ag­ing them to be good and to be­lieve there are con­se­quences for not be­ing good.

Moral Re­gen­er­a­tion Month marks the 10th an­niver­sary of the adop­tion of the “Char­ter for Pos­i­tive Val­ues”.

I am sure there will be wor­thy press re­leases from the ANC and oth­ers prais­ing the Char­ter.

But South Africans do need yet another doc­u­ment to tell them what is good.

What we all need is to be en­cour­aged to be good and to be­lieve there are con­se­quences when we are not good.

We are mea­sured not by our in­ten­tions but by our ac­tions.

PIC­TURE: BONGANI MBATHA

The De­nis Hur­ley Cen­tre (DHC) has been, over the years, re­lent­lessly try­ing to im­prove the liv­ing con­di­tions for peo­ple in the com­mu­nity of Dal­ton and set up a makeshift clinic. Now a con­tainer, which has been con­verted into a per­ma­nent clinic, has been de­liv­ered to the com­mu­nity. The ini­tia­tive is in part­ner­ship with the eThek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Con­tainer World and the Nel­son R Man­dela School of Medicine. Stand­ing in front of the con­tainer are, from left, Issa Kiyaka, Tracey Leonard (both Dal­ton res­i­dents), Ray­mond Per­rier, Eu­rakha Singh (eThek­wini South Dur­ban Basin), Mpumelelo Zuma (lo­cal ward coun­cil­lor), Thu­lani Hlophe, Mpume Fuze (both from the DHC health­care team), Ve­lakan­cane Mkhize (lo­cal in­duma) and Aisha Mu­lubi (DHC).

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