Wanted: the real Africa

2008-08-28 00:00

Will the real Africa, where ethics trumps ethnicity and governs power, please stand up? Two sets of events this past month have made me acutely aware that the continent faces a choice of identity and direction that will either save or damn it.

The first set of events is the continuing crisis in Zimbabwe, and as sure as night follows day, it reveals the path to ruination not just there but here too. While Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF gang are the principal culprits behind the violation of moral decency that has wrecked that lovely land, great blame must also be laid at the feet of a number of African leaders, led by our own president. They seem to think that it is good African politics to shun ethical values and reward evil with power, failing to insist that a regime guilty of repeated electoral theft, mass brutality and national impoverishment, rightly rejected by its own voters, must be removed forthwith from office.

Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister in the late thirties, has been seen as a weakling who appeased Hitler when he should have stood up to him. I think this perception is unfair to Chamberlain. Britain in 1938 was in no position to challenge a massively re-armed Nazi Germany. By talking to the Führer, Chamberlain won time for Britain to re-arm sufficiently to be able to declare war on Germany when the latter invaded Poland in September 1939.

No such excuse exists for the African leaders who, despite being in a position of great economic, political and military strength, have not just appeased the de facto dictatorship in Harare, but encouraged it, and still do. What is that if not a massive evil in its own right? I have sought grounds that might make this policy the lesser of two evils but have come up empty-handed.

All of this, plus the growing evidence of corruption in our own country, reveals an Africa in which moral commitment seems to have vanished. A new Gestapo of greed and violence is trampling our urgent quest for decency.

The other events reveal a very different African reality. They involve the launching of a Charter of Positive Values by the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM) at the end of August. The MRM has come in for plenty of criticism because its first patron, until his dismissal from the cabinet ended that role, was Jacob Zuma. This must not obscure the good that it has quietly been achieving.

Having been part of the team that drafted the Charter of Positive Values, having briefly served on the MRM board and, above all, having been part of the launch of the charter, I am certain that there is another Africa from which we can draw hope, provided we help it grow and change the country, and support the same changes elsewhere in the continent.

What I have experienced in this set of events is an Africa, overwhelmingly black, that is passionate about sound values. It is the Africa of Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Seretse Khama of Botswana and the late Levy Mwanawasa. It is the Africa of the thousands who gathered near Pretoria to pledge themselves to the rich ethical values of the new charter, and repeatedly applauded every reference to the pressing need for ethical politicians. Never will I forget the atmosphere of deep goodness that characterised that day, making me proud of my own African identity.

I believe this is the real Africa, the ancestral motherland of humane values where our species first learnt that there will be neither survival nor well-being without the practice of integrity, respect, compassion and other core values, as the foundation of our existence.

Will this Africa please take over?

• Martin Prozesky is an independent applied ethics consultant and Emeritus Professor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and author of Conscience: Ethical Intelligence for Global Well-Being, published by the University of KZN Press.

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