THE NATION IS ENGAGING IN A PUBLIC CONVERSATION THIS WEEK ON HONESTY. HEARTLINES patron Rev Dr Mvume Dandala writes that this value is the cornerstone on which godly values are built.
Greed, that universal predator of corruption, is constantly on the prowl, sustained by a diet of dishonesty in which self-gain is the prime ingredient. Its voracious hunger is never sated and Africa is not exempt from its reach.
We have often fallen prey and have surrendered to the lure of a world whose humanity is eclipsed by neon lights and magnificent displays of materialism. We have those hovering around us ever ready to sell us their ideologies and worldviews as long as in the process they can line their own pockets.
If we do not take steps to destroy Greed, corruption will continue to rip away the fabric of South African society. It will take courage, but it must be routed out – right from top levels in government and business where a blind eye is too often turned to ‘indiscretions’ – down to local communities where bribes are taken or offered to avoid traffic fines.
What are the challenges facing us if we are going to cultivate honesty as one of the prime values that should govern our nation?
The extreme salary discrepancies that exist specifically between those in the upper echelons of power and ordinary working people, where leaders earn obscene amounts of money, and are seen to be accruing – often by questionable means – even more, must surely be addressed?
On the other end of the wage gap, we cannot avoid the fact that the value of honesty is undermined by dire social conditions. Poverty is the fertile ground from which dishonesty can grow. If I am not paid enough and cannot provide for my family the tendency to steal is strong. From there it’s a downward spiral to a place where my life is governed by the creed of greed.
There is no culture that condones corruption – it is people who bend the rules. In spite of legislation there will always be those in our midst who will find ways around the law. It will take courage and determination for the nation to cultivate the value of honesty.
A place to start is to acknowledge that none of us has a clean slate and even the smallest blot – like exceeding the speed limit – will require erasing if it is not to spread. Honesty requires that I must first and foremost start with myself, my situation and with what I can or can’t afford. If I cheat myself at this level, I am opening myself up to a life of corruption.
I cannot say I will have whatever I want, whatever it takes but instead, I must ask myself what is the most honest way I can get it. If it means saving, no matter that friends or family already have it, that is the route I must take. Honesty in any relationship, especially within families, requires that I must be able to say when I cannot afford something.
This will need commitment in these times of instant gratification – where keeping up with the Joneses and the Tshabalalas has often become the value of the day to which we must all aspire.
It was Albert Einstein who said: “To set a good example is not the best way to influence others – it is the only way.”
In walking the talk, as Parents and teachers, we need to instil the value of honesty in our children from an early age. Wherever young people are nurtured, a higher level of commitment to upholding this value is needed. Such a commitment will require perseverance if honesty is to manifest itself in every situation and … it has to be reduced basic behaviour.
Whether I am a housewife, a business executive, a member of Parliament or church leader, honesty requires me to reject a bribe and abide by the rules of society. As the man in the house when my wife is upset because I am late, I need to be truthful and deal with the consequences. Honesty must become a habit.
There was a time during the apartheid regime where being wealthy was seen as questionable because it was perceived as having been accrued from supporting or being in cahoots with the Government. Having discarded this baggage, we now have to realise that it is possible to create wealth honestly for oneself and to be a wealth creator without robbing another. The challenge for South Africa is for wealth creators to boldly walk the path of honesty and share their story not boastfully, but as a contribution that reinforces their determination to create wealth in honest ways for the country and its people.
Experience has shown that those who have created wealth in a clean and honest way are always ready to involve themselves in ploughing wealth back into the community to create opportunities for others.
Somewhere along the way this can happen and, when we look back, it will always point to values inculcated in childhood
Rev Mvume H Dandala, General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, former Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and is the recipient of the Presidential Order of the Baobab (Silver) for his peace-making role in South Africa.