Essence of regeneration
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.
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).