Goodbye Zondo Commission, hello holiness — Chuck Stephens

Originally published in BizNews

We owe Judge Zondo a huge vote of thanks, but when his commissioned hearings end this month, it will not be the end – it will just be the beginning.  Nor will his final report due by end-June be the destination, only a port-of-call on a longer journey.

Zondo is like a lumberjack.  He has felled a huge tree called State Capture.  He has cut the trunk of the tree up into firewood, in bite-size pieces.  Then he has cut up the branches as well.  The two main branches were corruption and patronage.  These are now chopped up and by the end of June, he will have them stacked neatly in a pile.  Thank you, wise and courageous judge!  We owe you a debt of gratitude.

But two major challenges still remain – the stump of the tree and the deep roots under it.

In Africa’s fertile and warm conditions, trees can re-generate.  Certainly, there will be a deterrence factor in the aftermath of the Zondo Commission.  Especially if the likes of Jacob Zuma and Ace Magashule land in jail.  But we risk the re-growth of corruption and patronage, if not full-blown state capture – unless we can remove the stump, and dig out the roots.

The stump is why Nelson Mandela established the Moral Regeneration Campaign back in 1998.  The following are his words, long before the Zondo Commission:  “The symptoms of our spiritual malaise are only too familiar. They include the extent of corruption both in the public and private sector, where office and positions of responsibility are treated as opportunities for self-enrichment; the corruption that occurs within our justice system; violence in interpersonal relations and families, in particular, the shameful record of abuse of women and children; and the extent of tax evasion and refusal to pay for services used.”

But this Moral Regeneration Movement went on to have patrons like Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and David Mabuza.  Are you kidding?  That is like asking a butcher to head a vegetarian movement!  No wonder it soon lost its force.

The MRM was inspired by the Moral Re-Armament movement of the early twentieth century, led by the Lutheran luminary Frank Buchman.  It started a hundred years ago in 1921 as the “First Century Christian Fellowship”, implying that some of the early church’s radicalism had been lost along the way.  It spread from America to Europe.  When a delegation of its members from Oxford University visited South Africa in 1929, the media here dubbed it the “Oxford Group”.  The name stuck.  Until Buchman adopted the name “Moral Re-Armament” in the run-up to World War II.

This group had a huge influence on respectable society.  It deployed field workers to spread its message of “honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love”.  Without going into detail, it focused on Ethics – thus influencing many academics and politicians.  It got involved in peace-making, and now operates under the new name “Initiatives of Change”. There is not space here to tell of its successes but these were both personal (to its members) and societal (for example, Buchman tried very hard – without success – to convert Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.  He was trying to avert the worst scenarios).

To me, Ethics is the stump of the tree. It is what is left for us to deal with, in the aftermath of the Zondo Commission.  State Capture has fallen, but have our ethics really changed?  Watch the soapies on TV some night and you will see the answer.  Given the ethics of the soapies, the stump will re-generate in due course.

Unless we can also go for the roots?  This is deeper, not about ethics but about spirituality.  This is about what we believe in terms of religious convictions, what we value most.  To uproot the bent attitudes and impulses that cause bad behaviour, we need Revival.

Concurrent to the rise of the Oxford Group was the Welsh Revival, triggered by a young coal miner named Evan Roberts.  He saw that his beloved homeland needed change and prayed for the deep conversion of the souls of its citizens.  He did not pray about the stump, he prayed about the roots.  There was a huge revival, and with the parallel Oxford Group, it shared Confession as one of its core elements.  Citizens were asked to openly admit what they had done wrong.

For example, there was a huge reduction in swearing!  So much so, that Welsh miners had to re-train their horses, which were used to a foul vocabulary.  When that stopped, the horses didn’t know what the miners were telling them to do!  They had grown so accustomed to the swearing!

There is a link between the Welsh Revival and the Azusa Street revival in California.  That launched the Pentecostal churches as we know them today all over the world.  Almost a billion Christians in the world today are “charismatics”.  People are changed at the deepest level.

Although Billy Graham was not a Pentecostal, he was a revivalist.  In his first Los Angeles crusade in 1949, which went on for 57 days, the city changed – because its citizens changed.  They converted, in large numbers, and the crime rates in the city started to drop.  Personal renewal brings social renewal.  That is why we need to uproot the corrupted attitudes and convictions that grow into graft, patronage and State Capture.  The optimal timing for both revival and moral regeneration will be in the wake of the Zondo Commission.

I propose a simple pledge for each citizen to adopt and abide by.  THE INTEGRITY PLEDGE:

  •  I will stop lying
  •  I will stop denying the obvious (that is, lying to myself)
  •  I will stop exaggerating, gossiping and slandering others
  •  I will stop stealing
  •  I will stop drinking excessively
  •  I will stop womanizing
  •  I will stop using foul language
  •  I will stop telling dirty jokes and ethnic jokes
  •  I will stop paying bribes and kick-backs
  •  I will stop taking bribes and kick-backs
  •  I will stop wasting non-renewable resources
  •  I will stop discriminating by race or by gender
  •  I will stop bullying (or beating)
  •  I will stop gaslighting, blame-shifting
  •  I will stop littering
  •  I will stop hoarding
  •  I will stop coveting what is not mine
  •  I will stop speeding
  •  I will stop covering up crimes
  •  I will stop condemning others
  •  I will stop over-indulging
  •  I will stop evading payment of taxes and debts

Whether you come at this pledge with your head (moral regeneration) or your heart (revival), we each need to admit that Zuma and Magashule are not the problem.  We are the problem. THE ENEMY IS WITHIN.  Be the change that you want to see in the world.  Judge yourself, not others.  In two words, this pledge summarises “Good Citizenship”.

Chuck Stephens is Executive Director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership and writes in his own capacity. 


  1. Hugh G Wetmore

    Very informative and insightful. A relevant picture of a tree – cut down but leaving stump and roots. That Integrity Pledge is helpful. We must find every means to root Corruption out of the the nation.

  2. No friends, not the attitude but the heart must be changed! Not my will, but Thine, be done. Mat 26:39.
    Not an “Integrity Pledge,” but THY will, be done.

  3. Outstanding article! The Integrity Pledge is as desperately needed here in NA as it might be in South Africa! Not just by individuals but by communities committed to both mercy and justice, advocacy and care.