Values are our heritage and underpin successful economies, Newsline

By Bheki Mfeka

JOHANNESBURG – A “South African” is still an opaque reference to a holder of an identity document issued by the Department of Home Affairs and has less to do with common values that define us as a society.

People still define themselves predominantly according to where they come from geographically; their own language and culture, religion, and status in society.

This is predominantly what we celebrate in September in South Africa, the heritage month. We still need to transcend and reinforce positive common values of identity that are critical to building a resilient and sustainable society. I want to argue that those values must be built based on “unity and cleanliness”, yes, I mean cleanliness.

President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his admiration of Rwanda’s cleanliness. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is also fascinated by cleanliness of Rwanda, and confesses in social media about his fondness to frequent that country. Have we perhaps missed the depth in the symbolism of unity and cleanliness in Rwanda and other successful nations like Singapore?

I also have great admiration of Rwanda’s leadership and what they’ve achieved in less years than many African countries who come from an extremely devastating past.

One lesson we have picked up from the Rwandese, is the pride they’ve instilled in themselves departing from the trauma of tribalism and one of the worst human genocide ever witnessed in the world.

The leadership was resolute to build an inclusive society with values that deeply tap on the traditions of the people. When asked by François Soudan, about the real purpose of “NDI UMUNYARWANDA” (I AM RWANDAN) campaign, the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame said: “It is to give Rwandans the chance to understand who they are and to forge a common identity that brings them together instead of pulling them apart”.

Kagame proposes building a pluralistic and democratic society, where one can live with their differences in mutual respect.

Since 2007 Umuganda has taken place every last Saturday of the month. Rwandans between 18-65 must participate in Umuganda loosely translated as “coming together to achieve one common purpose”. Almost 80 percent of Rwandans participate in Umuganda to do community work such as clean, build schools, medical centers etc.

The closest we have Umuganda in SA is what happens once a year on the 18th of July, what we call Nelson Mandela Day, which has become internationally celebrated.

Unity and cleanliness are values we cherish as Africans in general, and are key pillars of UBUNTU.

We cannot have a good government and successful inclusive economy if we don’t have a clean place where one sleep, a place you call home; a clean street or road where you leave in; a clean classroom; and a clean workplace. This builds communities, societies, and the entire world.

To fulfill government delivery outcome 11 “Creating a better South Africa and contributing to a better and safer Africa in a better world” starts in each and every one of us being aware of the significance of “unity and cleanliness” and associated values. This goes into, not only physical spaces but includes our moral and ethics; our mental, spiritual, and emotional cleanliness and balance.

Do we continue to ask ourselves the extent in which we have been devastated by colonial and apartheid oppression? Have we asked ourselves how much the current corruption and incompetence (which are all forms of uncleanliness) has affected how we perceive ourselves?

We cannot build an inclusive economy and successful enterprises as a separate endeavor from how we’ve healed from oppression and all forms of exclusion that made us to think less of ourselves.

Values are at the core of economic excellence and success.

Perceptions of certain groups as superior in business and economic successes such as the Jews and Muslims assumes that they have natural endowments, which is not true. They have protected their values as their main assets and passed them on to generations.

However, it is not sustainable to have a few groupings with set of excellent values preserved through own institutions and the majority remaining excluded and languishing in poverty without coherent value system.

Beyond what government and private sector could do to build schools, and human settlements, at the top of the mission should be building of South African-ness values.

Are we not at a point where whilst we implement reparations, we intensify the struggle for creating common values? The complete struggle for socio-economic liberation. The struggle should be fought in all fronts and avoid being caught up only in ways of negative reinforcement such as litigations and building of prisons?

It is easy for an armchair critic to identify what is wrong with our society, but what is not obvious is what we can do and safeguard to build our society.

The prevalence of high rates of corruption, gender-based violence, and crime are a reflection of the deterioration of common positive values for prosperity. It is high time we take stock of initiatives that can enhance positive values.

The President’s District Development Model will need to strongly embed the key common values that enable people to participate in their economies united in their diversity and maintaining their spaces and relations as their common heritage.

Dr Bheki Mfeka, is the Economic Advisor and Strategist at SE Advisory; and former Economic Advisor to the Presidency. Twitter: @bhekimfeka | Website: | Email: [email protected]