Hope in a time of moral rot

by Russell Pollitt SJ

Moral rot has set into every sphere of South African society. It is hard to imagine how our politics, corporates, public service sector etc. will regain some sort of integrity when, every day, a new story of unethical behaviour hits the headlines.

Revelations of state capture, bankrupt government departments, corrupt state owned enterprises, and dishonest cheating corporates, have become our beloved country’s unhealthy daily diet.

Earlier this week, the depraved business dealings of international marketing firm, Bell Pottinger, were (rightly) splashed across the media. Bell Pottinger, working for the notorious Gupta family, strategised, invented and disseminated a message that sought to stir up already fragile race relationships in South Africa. It was, simply put, evil. The struggle for economic justice for many black South Africans was ridiculed. It became a marketing ploy to do one thing: deflect attention away from the Gupta’s closest corrupt friend, Jacob Zuma. Let’s be clear: justice for black South Africans was never the aim of this sordid campaign. Bell Pottinger was stripped of its PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) accreditation in the UK and, it is being reported, is fast losing its biggest clients.

As if the Bell Pottinger story wasn’t enough, we were treated to the exposé of the criminal behaviour of Anoj Singh. Evidence suggests that he was part of a conspiracy to defraud South Africans of billions when his dirty fingers fiddled in Transnet and, later Eskom. He was paid, apparently, offshore by the Guptas for his efforts in this regard.

In an interview a few weeks ago, I was asked how, amid the moral rot that surrounds us, we can be hopeful. It is easy to feel discouraged and, frankly, hopeless. I was not entirely sure how to answer the question. Then I came across a post on Facebook that gave me an answer.

A youngster was preparing to celebrate her 13th birthday. The invitation caught my attention because it was not an invitation to a party, as one would have expected.

The invitation read “Instead of inviting you to a party for my 13th birthday I am inviting you to donate the money that you would have spent on a gift for me to The Reach for a Dream Foundation. Please make the donation online. Thank you for helping me to make another child able to celebrate life.”

I came to learn that it was customary to have “disco dances” in the community this youngster came from. By choice she had decided to break with convention and, instead of focussing on herself, focus on others. It’s extraordinary that, in a society saturated with greed and materialism, where the moral rot runs so deep, a 13-year old thinks like this and does not buckle under the peer-pressure to follow convention.

That teen gives us reason to feel encouraged and hopeful. The moral decay might run deep but it has not entirely infected the future – if this teen’s initiative is our gauge of what’s to come.

There is still hope.

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

director@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
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