Interview with MRM chairperson Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa

Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa wants South Africans to understand that public property belongs to every citizen

Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa wants South Africans to understand that public property belongs to every citizen

This interview was conducted by Charles Molele

Question: In brief, how did the movement came about?

Mkhatshwa: As I was the then deputy minister of education, assisted by Reverend C Clayton, we embarked upon a consultative process to find out from various sectors what could be done to stem the tide of, or at least alleviate, moral decay. Two years into our democratic dispensation there was already alarming evidence of moral decadence. Bodies consulted included traditional leaders, faith-based organisations, media practitioners, organised labour, government representatives, business and families. In his wisdom, the late president Nelson Mandela observed that there was too much focus on economic growth and political power, almost to the exclusion of ethical transformation. That prompted him to call for what he dubbed the “RDP of the Soul”. He argued that social and spiritual transformation should go together. The new government’s agenda was focused on material, political and cultural development of the newly-won freedom. No one disputed the urgency of building houses, dams, healthcare facilities, schools, roads, creating jobs, providing social welfare for the needy etcetera.

In 1998, a summit of all political parties represented in Parliament and leaders of all major religions met in Johannesburg and committed themselves to support the struggle for moral renewal. The weakness of this conference was that while very significant, it excluded many other sectors. It was why in 2002 an inclusive conference was convened.

Question: What was the significance of the conference?

Mkhatshwa: About 2 000 delegates from all walks of life formally launched the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM) in Tshwane. In attendance were faith organisations, business leaders, intelligentsia, government leaders, Members of Parliament, universities, artists, leaders of trade unions, women and youth organisations, traditional leaders and representatives from black, white and so-called coloured and Indian communities.

Question: What were the most important resolutions adopted at the conference?

Mkhatshwa: MRM must be led and driven by civil society and supported by government. This was meant to underscore the freedom and inclusiveness of the government. The uniqueness of MRM is that it should be owned and embraced by every citizen irrespective of colour, creed, ideology, culture or political affiliation. The newly-established movement was also mandated to identify those shared values that could bring national harmony to a formerly divided society. After five years of scientific research, the Charter of Positive Values was established in 2008. The 3 000-strong public launch was addressed by then Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Since then the charter informs MRM’s programmes.

Question: What did the MRM conference identify as its priority focus of attention?

Mkhatshwa: The following were singled out as areas of the MRM’s work: development of ethical leadership, youth, education, the family, riches and poverty, crime and corruption, religion and the media. Today we add rampant materialism, substance abuse, gender-based violence, residual racism, state looting and state capture.

Question: What progress has MRM achieved since its inception?

Mkhatshwa: The MRM has a footprint in all the provinces and is renowned countrywide. It has made an impact, however limited. This was the finding of an independent study conducted by a research company in 2011. However, in many areas there is a need for intensive work to be done. Support from government has been in the main chronically inadequate, except where political leaders are personally committed to the aims and objectives of MRM. MRM has run programmes by itself or in partnership with other organisations. They targeted the youth, women, students, churches, poor communities, government employees, rural villages, voters and leaders of political parties during the general and local government elections in 2014 and 2016. MRM has also signed MOUs with the SABC, Public Service Commission, University of South Africa and the South African Local Government Association.

Question: How are you involved with the I Care We Care campaign?

Mkhatshwa: It is a well-known fact that there are very few successful government-driven campaigns that have been documented, in particular those requiring active participation by civil society. It is for that reason that the department’s endorsement was sought to help drive the programme. The department of infrastructure development of Gauteng invited the MRM to drive its I Care We Care campaign. Its main objective is to not only to galvanise the communities to protect public infrastructure; more importantly, it wants people to understand that public property belongs to every citizen, and therefore each one of us has a duty to protect and appreciate it. When the honourable MEC Jacob Mamabolo invited the MRM to drive the campaign we readily accepted the challenge, because MRM is not only about spiritual operations in the broad sense of the word. Its programmes must address the issues that affect people’s lives. Although the partnership was sealed in February 2017, the actual work started in September this year in partnership with the department of infrastructure development.

Question: Has MRM had serious challenges, and if so, what are they?

Mkhatshwa: Due to lack of resources, MRM co-ordinators in the provinces are all government employees and are not directly answerable to the MRM national office. They have other fulltime jobs. That arrangement has also impacted negatively on MRM work when political leadership changes hands. Lack of resources hampers progress; you cannot effectively communicate with or mobilise the public unless you have adequate capacity. MRM is unable to service its constituency or monitor voluntary organisers adequately without even owning a single vehicle.

Question: Faced with crises in the community, what is the contribution of the MRM?

Mkhatshwa: We have identified four possible interventions. The first is the urgency of fundamental revamp of the way MRM has operated so far. Secondly, MRM must retain its independence; otherwise it will forfeit its role to become an agent for social cohesion. Thirdly, the intervention became more urgent when the #FeesMustFall student action erupted. While our routine interaction with students in tertiary institutions will continue, the unexpected, violent nature of their protests told us that problem was much deeper than meets the eye. The fourth intervention is self-explanatory. It is the urgent need for ethical leadership in all sectors of society, but with a special focus on public leaders and officials. Their behaviour has a tremendous impact on citizens, especially the youth. Another argument is that political leaders are public representatives and should prioritise the common good. Their salaries and power are derived from the taxpayers. MRM’s projects goes beyond political leadership only. It includes other leaders, for example, students, heads of institutions, principals of schools, colleges, religious organisations, councillors, Members of Parliament, etcetera. 

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012). Read more from Charles Molele