A tough but kindly cosmos

2008-12-18 00:00

For most visitors, Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront is a hub of shops, restaurants, fancy hotels and the ferry to Robben Island. Or it is a place to stroll about watching the busy small craft on a sunny day, with Table Mountain as a stunning backdrop.

For me, however, it brings back vivid memories of an applied ethics mini-course at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, run some years ago by Dr Rush Kidder, a leading voice from the United States in the global ethics movement.

I especially relished his opening exercise for our group. He asked us whether we thought the moral barometer in South Africa was rising or falling and got us to list the evidence. In other words, what is winning, the good or the bad?

As we near the end of a year with so much negative news, it lifts the soul to revisit the moral barometer and remember the good things as well. Nobody doubts that there is much that has gone gravely wrong: the financial and Zimbabwean meltdowns, politicians whose moral compass has ceased to function, bad service delivery, a looming water crisis, retrenchments and more.

But what about the positive things? Top of my list is the turn-around in U.S. politics with Barack Obama’s win and with it the end of the loathsome reign of the neo-cons — that hawkish gang of George W. Bush buddies who believe in a U.S. empire dominating the world, by force if necessary, until kingdom come.

Who knows, with their demise we might even have a new commission of inquiry into 9/11, given the relentlessly powerful challenge to the official version mounted by David Ray Griffin and others.

Then there is the mounting evidence that the gurus of the financial world are at last waking up to the truth that lasting wealth only comes about when it is based on strong ethical values. Maybe we are at last learning that when somebody tells us that greed is good, we don’t fall down and worship such piffle but laugh it to scorn.

In South Africa there are welcome signs that we are reaching the end of the monolithic politics that has done untold harm to the country, with its false and dangerous belief that loyalty and self-interest rank higher than integrity and service.

For a country ravaged by HIV and Aids, a new national Minister of Health is bringing about a wonderful new dispensation for all who suffer that dreadful affliction, besides giving us a major triumph for real medical science over dissident delusions of the beetroot and garlic kind.

And then there are the countless acts of ordinary human goodness: friendly words of greeting by colleagues, flowers in the home, offers to collect your mail while you are away, children who remember your wedding anniversary and your favourite wine or chocolate — we can all make such lists and find that they are apt to be long ones indeed.

Maybe the moral barometer really is telling us that better weather beckons. At a time of the year marked by many special acts of generosity, often with a strongly religious meaning, I remember the opening words of a book by one of my mentors in my student days in England, the theologian David Jenkins, later to become Bishop of Durham.

He wrote that “God is either a gift or a delusion.” I have reflected on those words for decades during my many travels across the landscapes of both belief and unbelief, and still they yield fresh flowers of meaning. May they do so for others too.

• Martin Prozesky is an independent applied ethics consultant and emeritus professor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.