The History of MRM

The origins of the Moral Regeneration Movement date back to a meeting in June 1997 between the then-President Nelson Mandela and key South African faith-based organisation leaders, the then Deputy Minister of Education Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa and the SABC, to discuss spiritual transformation. At that meeting, President Mandela spoke about the role of religion in nation-building and social transformation, and the need for religious institutions to work with the state to overcome the ‘spiritual malaise’ underpinning the crime problem.

Our hopes and dreams, at times, seem to be overcome by cynicism, self-centredness and fear. This spiritual malaise sows itself as a lack of good spirit, as pessimism, or lack of hope and faith. And from it emerge the problems of greed and cruelty, of laziness and egotism, of personal and family failure. It both helps fuel the problems of crime and corruption and hinders our efforts to deal with them.

President Mandela

Mandela then called upon religious leaders to become actively involved in a campaign, which would subsequently become the moral regeneration initiative. At a moral summit in October 1998, he outlined some of the problems the moral regeneration campaign would have to tackle, as follows: “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.”

After the 1999 election, with Mr Thabo Mbeki in office as President, the moral regeneration initiative began to enjoy more formal attention from the presidency. In dividing up political and administrative tasks between the president and deputy president in the early days of their term, Deputy President Jacob Zuma was allocated responsibility for this initiative.

Even though the Deputy President’s Office has some responsibility for the political co-ordination of the moral regeneration work being done in government, this is a fairly arms-length relationship; especially since the establishment of the Moral Regeneration Movement has its own offices in Johannesburg.

Another senior government figure associated with the early moral regeneration initiative was Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa (a key religious figure within the ANC, former Deputy Minister of Education and former Chairperson of the Commission of Religious Affairs Tshwane).

The President, the Deputy President and the Deputy Minister of Education met in February 2000 and expressed ‘deep concern about the worsening moral situation’. In early 2000 a Moral Regeneration Workshop was convened to renew interest and energy in the campaign. The months following the launch were described as ‘a period of structural development and networking at all levels’. The main development was the establishment of the MRM as a non-profit company, and the recruitment of its staff.

By November 2002 the first staff appointments were made in the MRM. There are four full-time staff members, with the Chief Executive Officer being Zandile Mdhladhla, formerly a member of management staff at the Durban Technikon in KwaZulu-Natal. Approximately a year was spent on setting up the organisation and generating a vision of its role.

At the end of 2002, Zuma told Parliament that it was evident “that the MRM is taking root at every level”. In the same speech Zuma also re-emphasised that “the Moral Regeneration Movement is multi-sectoral and not confined to the religious sector only”.

January 2003 saw the start of a process aimed at finding consensus on the common values that South Africans shared. The launch of the Charter for Moral Communities Campaign was addressed by Zuma in his capacity as Patron of the Moral Regeneration Movement. In 2007 the Charter of Positive Values was finalised. With nine moral themes, the booklet was developed such that it complemented any and every initiative that sought to bring about positive change in our society. The aim is for the Charter to serve as a moral compass for all South Africans when making decisions of whatever nature.

On 25 July 2008, the Charter of Positive Values was presented by the MRM Board to former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who was instrumental in ensuring the start of the discussion on “the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) of the soul”.

29 July 2008 saw the entire spectrum of MRM stakeholders gathered for the formal adoption of the Charter of Positive Values, with approximately three thousand delegates from all over South Africa coming to witness the event. The keynote address was given by former Deputy President, Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in her capacity as Patron of MRM and both she and the Chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Movement adopted the Charter on behalf of all South Africans.