Certain moments in history are critical. G-d gives the opportunity to great leaders to play a role in writing history by rising to the calling and challenge of the moment. Not every leader is given the opportunity to make history in its most profound sense. Abraham was given the opportunity to establish ethical monotheism, Moses to lead the liberation of the children of Israel from Egypt, and Joshua to lead them into the Promised Land, King Solomon to build the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and Isaiah the prophet to be the moral voice of history.
The opportunity to shape history extends beyond biblical times. It was the calling of Winston Churchill to defeat fascism, John F Kennedy to restore hope to the world, and our very own Nelson Mandela to be an icon of non-racialism, forgiveness and human dignity.
G-d has given President Cyril Ramaphosa such an opportunity. His is a call to restore morality and integrity to government and beyond. The last 10 years have seen one of the most brazen and iniquitous attempts in history to steal an entire country – all in broad daylight. The project of state capture unleashed and endorsed a feeding frenzy of corruption at every level, which has impoverished and denuded every aspect of life for 50 million South Africans.
No blessing can come to South Africa until morality and integrity are restored to government. The prophet Isaiah makes this abundantly clear when he confronts the corruption of his own generation: “Your princes are rebellious and associates of thieves; each of them loves bribery and pursues payments. They do not render justice to the orphan; the grievance of the widow does not come to them.” (Isaiah 1:23)
Isaiah’s words speak directly to us. Surely we can see from our own experience that it is the orphans and the widows – the most vulnerable in our society – that suffer most. Apart from the money looted from pension funds, set aside to sustain those who could not sustain themselves in their old age, the billions taken from state coffers that were destined to be invested in hospitals, schools, and infrastructure so desperately needed by those who cannot rely on private services.
The only way out and the only way forward is to confront the evil of corruption head-on and return to a path of ethics and integrity. As the prophet goes on to say, “Wash yourselves, purify yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes; cease to do evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, vindicate the victim, render justice to the orphan, take up the grievance of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)
The words of Isaiah echo through history and can be the clarion call of the Ramaphosa presidency to restore morality and integrity to government. This is a path that the President is on. “The era of impunity is over… we will fight with every means at our disposal to ensure that those who occupy positions of authority serve only the public interest.” These were his words during the ANC’s final election rally on May 5 2019, and how he turns these words into reality will be the ultimate test of his presidency. This is President Cyril Ramaphosa’s historic calling: to restore ethics and morality to government, to uproot the rot that has cost so many South Africans so dearly.
Restoring morality and integrity means prosecuting the corrupt. It means members of government viewing their official positions as a calling and mission to improve the lives of the good people of this country. This is the central vision which should inform every decision that is made. How the cabinet is constructed. How budgets are allocated. How salaries and benefits are decided on. How contracts are awarded. How people are hired. At every level, from municipal to provincial to national, every cent needs to be spent with only one objective in mind – to maximise the benefit for the noble citizens of this country.
And this is only the beginning. This return to moral renewal and responsibility needs to flow down from the government to every level of our society. To every one of us.
I turn to the words of the late, great Hugh Masekela, that the President etched in our brains. “I wanna lend a hand.” How can we forget his call to “send me – thuma mina.” Each one of us needs to pledge in return, “send me.” Send me to build a society that has integrity and honesty, that is corruption-free. Send me to forge a country that serves its people. Religious and business leaders need to come forward and proclaim “send us” to build a society of integrity and honesty. Each of us must pledge allegiance to this calling; allegiance to each other.
The challenge is historic. Government corruption does not operate in a vacuum. It is part of an ecosystem of private sector and societal complicity and to defeat it, we must all rally together to restore integrity and decency to our country.
Many will say that as a country we face other pressing problems, such as unemployment, low economic growth and poor service delivery in areas of health care, education and security. None of those problems can be solved unless morality and integrity are restored to the government and society. As the prophet Isaiah says, “Zion will be redeemed through justice and those who return to her through righteousness.” (Isaiah 1:27) The only way to redeem this country is through a return to justice and righteousness and to restore morality and integrity. If that is done – our hospitals will be able to care for the sick, our schools will be able to educate our children, our policemen will be able to protect our streets, and the economy will be able to grow and prosper.
Mr President, I believe, G-d has called you to a historic mission to lead South Africa into a new era – an era of morality, integrity and service. I believe He has called us to support you in this mission. May G-d bless you, and all the noble people of our country with the inspiration, courage, resolve and moral clarity to answer this historic and sacred call. DM
Dr Warren Goldstein is the Chief Rabbi of South Africa.
In other news...
South Africa is in a very real battle. A political fight where terms such as truth and democracy can seem more of a suggestion as opposed to a necessity.
On one side of the battle are those openly willing to undermine the sovereignty of a democratic society, completely disregarding the weight and power of the oaths declared when they took office. If their mission was to decrease society’s trust in government - mission accomplished.
And on the other side are those who believe in the ethos of a country whose constitution was once declared the most progressive in the world. The hope that truth, justice and accountability in politics, business and society is not simply fairy tale dust sprinkled in great electoral speeches; but rather a cause that needs to be intentionally acted upon every day.
However, it would be an offensive oversight not to acknowledge that right there on the front lines, alongside whistleblowers and civil society, stand the journalists. Armed with only their determination to inform society and defend the truth, caught in the crossfire of shots fired from both sides.
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