By Peta Krost
In a world first, South African religious leaders - from African traditionalists and Baha'i Faith to Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam - have gathered to find ways to combat the country's moral decay.
They are preparing for a Moral Summit on October 22 where religious and political leaders, including President Nelson Mandela, will discuss and sign a code of conduct on how to stem the violence, corruption and other moral crimes.
Then they will launch the Ubuntu Pledge - an agreement targeting private individuals from all religions and belief systems to sign and agree to accept and maintain certain moral standards.
Both initiatives stem from Mandela's call in June 1997 to religious leaders to work with political leaders to transform the country. Religious leaders formed the National Religious Forum working committee to find a way to heal society.
So, Muslims and Jews, Protestants and Catholics, Buddhists and African traditionalists have put their differences aside while they try to find solutions to SA's problems.
The Moral Summmit was initiated by Rhema Church's Pastor Ray McCauley to get political leaders to pledge a code of conduct that the religious leaders will police.
The pledge was initiated in the hope that South Africans would commit to being honest, pay taxes, treat people decently and care for the environment.
We hope to flood the market with these pledges, and if only 1000 people sign them, there are 1000 more people who are working towards a better country," says Frans Auerbach, the forum's working committee chairperson.
"Initially there might have been friction between some of them on interfaith issues, but this was soon put aside for the greater goal," says Auerbach. "Contentious issues like abortion and euthanesia were not broached leaving the groups to discuss common topics like crime and corruption."
The issue of moral decay is not solely related to violent crime and the lack of respect for life. People who would otherwise be law-abiding citizens don't even notice when they go over speed limits, go through red robots at night, or lie and cheat on their taxes and insurance claims. Many don't consider these to be "real crimes".
Some people who commit fraud are lauded as folk heroes, and people who kill are praised if the person they killed was a criminal. South African opposition party politicians are holding talks with opposition Lesotho leaders while SA is fighting against them.
"Whether or not all political leaders sign the summit agreement, we can be assured that the electioneering for the 1999 elections will be above the moral standards?" asks Auerbach.
Baha'i Faith representative Shoreh Rawhani says: "When we consulted on the issues, we all agreed there was a general feeling of lawlessness and lack of respect for lives and possessions."
Most religious groups are represented at the forum, with few exceptions. African traditionalists are represented by Kgalushi Koka of the African Study Programme. He is excited by the prospect that religious people across the board are coming together with one goal and the same values, despite their different ways of practising their beliefs.
"The whole idea is transformation from a country that is filled with moral decay to one we can be proud of," says Koka. "People have been taking things for granted, and just like apartheid went unchallenged, the same could happen with the problems facing us now unless we do something.