In the November of 2005, when the story of President Jacob Zuma’s rape charge broke it shocked the nation. More so because, at that time Jacob Zuma was the head of The Moral Regeneration Movement. An organization whose purpose was to replenish the nation’s deteriorating moral fibre. And surely when its commander in chief’s conduct is found to be morally wanting it meant that the implications of such would be grave to whatever aspirations that the organization seeks to achieve. What became of the rape case is now history. But some of the pronouncements that were reportedly said the president will take a while to win back the confidence of some of the moral zealots of South Africa.
Morality is an integral part of constructing and ensuring social cohesion within societies. Morals and values guide and help us maintain order and well being in various societies. Because a society that is devoid of moral codes is a gateway to degeneration and possibly anarchy. Now, seeing as to how imperative it is to have a set of values and moral that guide how we ought to live our lives better. The problem or the contentious issue becomes what constitutes (im)moral behaviour and how do we arrive at that particular destination? Who is to say that what is done by “A” is wrong and that what is done by “X” is progressive and acceptable? These are the issues philosophers have been grappling with over the ages. There things upon which people generally agree that ‘wrong’ and are ‘right’. Such as the killing of another human without an apparent and necessitated reason. The respect for human life is probably one of the few common threads that run through the fabric of cultural diversity of human kind.
James Rachels author of “The Elements of Moral Philosophy” reluctantly defines as follows, “Morality is, at the very least, the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason- that is, to do what there are the best reasons for doing- while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual who will be affected by what one does”. Although the definition of mentioned afore is not an authoritative outlook on morality, it does shad some light into how what we regard as moral or not ought to be arrived at. Reasoning has to be the deciding factor when it comes to deciding what shall constitute morality or its lack thereof. And that means that feelings and/or emotional outburst should be detached from the central issue at hand, whoever difficult that may be.
The Thabo Mbeki administration will be remembered by many as the administration that legally recognized the ‘controversial’ same-sex marriages and that made it possible to pregnant girls as young as 12 years to abort without parental consent. When these two rather unpopular stances were taken by the previous administration there was a lot of public outcry because many parents felt that the government was effectively giving their children, who at that age have no business being sexual active, the green light to engage in sexual experiments. The parents also felt that such legislation was a way by the government to effectively interfere in the issues of family values and a blow in any chance of regenerating the moral fabric of the nation. With such avenues of abortion without parental consent available the ‘beneficiaries’ of such laws would not only engage in sexual activity but they would do so without the use of protective means and the results of such could be unplanned for pregnancies and worse, HIV infections.
The legalization of abortion as a whole also was not a popular act on the part of the government. But that was first discussed during Nelson Mandela’s tenure as president of the Republic. Many religious people are opposed to abortion because according to their beliefs, which shouldn’t disregarded, life begins at conception and not at birth as the law says. When the Courts arrived at the decision to legalize abortion it was hailed as a victory for those who champion the reproductive rights of females. They argue that since it is the female who has to see out the process of the pregnancy it should be her who decides whether or not to continue with it. The Courts also held that with the legalization of abortions it would offer females healthy and recognized institutions that perform such procedures instead of females having to endure processes of aborting in dingy places and thereby increasing their chances who damaging their reproductive organs. Another point was that if a female is raped why should they be made to see out the pregnancy of a child that would have been created in the most inhuman of manners. If the doctors, after medicals examinations, are of the view that a continued pregnancy would be to the health detriment of the would be mother or the foetus then that is another reason to carry of a termination of pregnancy. Now, with all that has been mentioned the Courts were saying that the decision of continuing with the pregnancy is left to the would be parent. And if they think that it is worth while to continue then they should. But where they are doubtful, there are options provided for instead of going through means that might endanger the would be mother and the foetus. In the end it is still left to the person to decide.
On the issue of homosexuality people’s emotions usually cloud their logic. It is not surprising for a conservative society like the one we have in South Africa. When we leave important decision to the devices of our feelings then prejudice prevails. In a democratic South Africa it was going to be hard for the government not to eventually legalize same-sex marriages because the Constitution of the land does say in section 10 that “everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their respected and protected”. Homosexual people are exactly that people. Their sexual orientation is the only thing that ‘differentiates’ them from the heterosexuals. That does not mean that they are bestial being who should be sent to another planet and be burned. Most moralists are quick to run to religious scriptures and proclaim that it is ‘wrong’ for people of the same sex to be together. Religious scriptures also pronounce on a lot of things such as the ownership of slaves but that has lost semblance in many ‘progressive’ societies. The right to self determination has to be afforded to homosexual people. Their homosexuality is their own baby. Many people who are opposed to the gay and lesbian community usually focus of the sex issue alone. Heterosexual people are not only preoccupied with having sex. They do other things beyond having sex that brings them happiness. So who says homosexuals are incapable of achieving such?
The issue of what constitutes morality is a continuous one. An absolutist outlook on morality is quite dangerous at times because relativity has a major say in many things that we do. What is good to “X” may not necessarily to good to “X”. That is one of the many ways we can approach this delicate and important part of social engineering. Families also have a great role to play in their households. Parents can not abdicate their responsibilities to instil tolerance centric values in their children to schools and indeed the government. How parents raise their children and more importantly the parents’ deeds inform how children will respond to the morals that the parents seek to inculcate into them. The government does not have feeling and neither do the courts. They do not have a spiritual and/or religious home. So, that means we can not look to them to always take decision that will resonate with our beliefs. They will look at the most reason argument and weight it with what the Constitution of the land provides and it such an argument does not clash with the Constitution then chances of it being legislated are quite high. People in homosexual relationship are capable of raising children. Just because people are in heterosexual relationship does not automatically mean they will be good parents and there are numerous example that support such an argument. The lynching and persecution of gay and lesbian people in the townships because they are different should not be tolerated at all. In as much as there should not any reason for women to be beaten up for wearing trousers. Tolerance must inform our moral basis because we are not a monolith of people who act, think alike and subscribe to one form of belief.