Moral Regeneration Conference Gala Dinner

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26 Nov 2009

Title of the conference: A charter of positive values – the hope of South African morality

Theme: Ensure harmony in culture, belief and conscience

Programme Director
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are rapidly reaching the end of a year in which we have celebrated 15 years of freedom. This has been fifteen hard years in which we have laid the foundations for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.

We have also once more renewed our democracy – the year 2009 has also witnessed the fourth national democratic elections in our country. We have seen a peaceful transition to a new administration.

This has also been a year of robust debates about the economy, our society and our culture. Increasingly ordinary people are exercising their democratic right to be fully part of the agenda for change. President Zuma has also stretched out a hand of goodwill and an invitation to all South Africans to be part of a national conversation – to enter a dialogue in which we can arrive at common solutions to all our problems and in which we can forge and strengthen the partnership between government and people.

Only last month, a critical mass of South African academics, civil society, senior officials from government departments, religious leaders and representatives from organizations gathered together in Durban to discuss social cohesion and “Building a more caring society”.

This Social Cohesion Colloquium was intended to lay the foundations for a national conference to be held in the first half of next year in which delegates will come together from all walks of life to adopt a National Social Cohesion Framework and Programme of Action.

I am told that delegates at the colloquium spoke eloquently about the importance of ubuntu in South African society and the need for us to strengthen a system of values that we can say is truly South African. Delegates also bemoaned the fact that South African society is becoming increasingly consumerist – it was further argued that there is a need for a society to embrace common values of humanity that over-ride the mere individual quest for accumulation and achieving wealth by whatever means necessary.

It is in this context that I believe that this conference on the “ Charter of Positive Values and the Hope of a South African morality” is very important.

It offers another platform for us to strengthen this engagement and to build a strong social compact between government and people in which each is aware of his or her responsibilities and the common values we hold together as one nation.

Let us reiterate that if we are to develop as a society, if we are to sustain ourselves, we will not be able to do so if we cannot sustain our morals and values.

We cannot speak of living in peace and harmony if relations of inequality persist and if women continue to be oppressed and the weakest among us continues to cower in fear of the brutality of those who are physically stronger and who believe it is their right to oppress others.

We cannot speak of peace and harmony if children are also subjected to violence within their families.

We cannot speak of peace and harmony if our homes are not secure places in which we can be safe and if our streets and schools are not places where we can feel that we all belong.

We cannot say that we are on the path to a greater humanity if some among us continue to see our brothers and sisters from other countries as enemies within.

We cannot say that we have fought for equality, non-racism and non-sexism if we do not practice gender equality.

The challenge is to ingrain the values we have fought for among our people and for every South African to embrace common values as part of their identity as South Africans.

Today we are here because we share an understanding of the importance of these values.

The Charter of Positive Values was adopted by a gathering of many stakeholders in July 2008. It is a clear framework leading the way and pointing to how we as South Africans are expected to relate to one another and to the rest of the world.

Yet the challenge is to make this document a living reality for all our people – something that is binding on all of us and gives us the guiding principles of how to conduct ourselves and our relations with others.

That we are all gathered here because we believe in the importance of a Charter of Positive Values implies that together we need to be able to arrive at answers to the following questions:

• How indeed do we ensure that every South African knows that in order to be true to a South African identity, he or she should respect human dignity and promote equality.

• How do we convince all our people that together we need to promote the rule of law and responsible freedom to strengthen our democracy.

• In a country where the migrant system and forced removals drove families apart and disintegrated family life, how do we strengthen sound family and community values?

• At the Social Cohesion Colloquium, there were those who declared that there cannot be social cohesion without social justice. As a society, are we doing enough to diminish social and economic inequalities?

• In a country which embraces “Unity in Diversity”, that celebrates our diverse cultural expressions at the same time as we build a common national culture, how do we ensure harmony in culture, belief and conscience? Can the spirit of ubuntu bind all of us into a common morality?

As the Ministry and Department of Arts and Culture, at every step of the way we seek through arts, heritage and culture to bring our people together.

For us positive values are also a reinforcement of our culture, wherein we already practice ubuntu in various ways.

Through our projects and programmes – through music and dance and literature and languages, through the medium of film, through the power of the spoken word, cultural practitioners are encouraged to impart positive values.

When we provide funding for music and drama festivals, we do so with the hope that these gatherings bring people of different places, religious beliefs and cultures together. In this way, through interaction with others, through works of art that question and seek to define who we are, we believe we are moving one step further in building harmony and entrenching peace in our communities.

In partnership with other departments, the Department of Arts and Culture will continue to support cultural projects, which promote positive values.

Art can greatly help even in the rehabilitation of offenders.

Art can help those who are in pain to express themselves.

Art can help our nation to heal its wounds that come from so deep in our past.

Art can provide a space for national contemplation and strengthen dialogue and allow us to see different ways of thinking in order for us to bring it all together.

In our determination to build a People’s Culture, we are putting more resources into programmes that will be held in community art centres, in rural areas and in all areas devoid of the cultural infrastructure necessary for our people to live productive cultural lives.

I began by stressing the importance of dialogue. Let me conclude by praising communities who have upheld the values and principles espoused in the Charter. These are our role models in moving forward as a country and as a nation.

The time will come when we no longer have to look to others to build our morality but when each one of us will be proud of the moral fibre of our people.

The African writer, Ben Okri, tells us that “Stories can heal profound sicknesses of the spirit”. Stories, he says, help to reveal the nature of the human condition”.

It is for the sake of a greater and deeper humanity that we broke the chains of apartheid and laid the foundations for our freedom.

After 15 years, it is also the same South African story that must guide us as we build a South African morality and ensure that our people live harmonious lives.

I thank you.