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Integrity and Faithfullness for a Christian in a Corrupt and Unjust Society in Zimbabwe Today - An Ethical Perspective

(Dr. David Kaulemu, AFCAST Regional Coordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa)


I was asked to talk about integrity and faithfulness for a Christian in a corrupt and unjust society. As I reflected on this topic, I began to think that in the context of Zimbabwe today, this was an ambitious topic. How can we start to talk about high level virtues like integrity and faithfulness when we have not even begun to acquire and encourage more basic ones? Basic ones like living well with my neighbour, that human beings are human beings; accepting that human beings, as human beings will have different views, about life, about politics and about economics; that children need to be protected and yet encouraged to think and to grow; that racism, tribalism, sexism are wrong; that public institutions are for the public - they are a common good, not pieces of private property.

I think that the topic is ambitious because of the assumptions it makes. I may be wrong but the topic seems to presume that, or at least it opens the possibility for a Christian to live with integrity and faithfulness in a corrupt and unjust society. I hope it is not our goal to have Christians of integrity and faithfulness who proudly live in a corrupt and unjust society. I am not saying that the church should not encourage the growth of people of integrity and faithfulness. No. This is not what I am saying. But I do not understand the kind of integrity of Christians and indeed of the church which allows corruption and injustice to continue to exist. How can we claim integrity and faithfulness in the face of corruption and injustice? In other words, as long as the rest of society is corrupt and unjust, the church and Christians generally cannot claim integrity and faithfulness to the Christian message and life. This is why I find it problematic to think of integrity and faithfulness for a Christian in a corrupt and unjust society. If I am a true Christian, my faith and integrity will be scandalized by corruption and injustice in my society.

We must have integrity and faithfulness in a society of integrity. Part of the meaning of integrity and faithfulness for a Christian, has to do with transforming a corrupt and unjust society. The integrity of the Christian depends on their contribution to creating a better world, not in separating and contrasting themselves from the world.

I will argue that ultimately, we must encourage individuals to acquire faithfulness and moral integrity. These must also be the goals of our social, political and economic structures, institutions and cultures. However, in the context of the Zimbabwe of today, this is too ambitious a goal. What we need urgently is just to develop the minimum basic values needed by any human society. Before we think of integrity and faithfulness, we need to develop a sense that we are a human society, populated by human beings. Too many of us have lost the sense to recognize the humanity of others. Society can do without political parties. It can do without many of our social, political and economic institutions. In fact human society has lived without the state for longer than with it. Yet it cannot do without human persons, human capacities and human relationships. Therefore any society which tries to degrade human persons, to suppress human capacities and undermine natural human relationships is doomed to failure and destruction.

I do not want to talk about the big questions of politics, economics or social developments. I want to focus on the ethical foundations of society, that is, what values that must be in place in order for other activities like economics, politics, and social struggles to be possible. When political and economic activities threaten these basic ethical values, society runs the danger of cutting off the branch on which it is sitting. Even Adam Smith, the economist and philosopher of the capitalist free market economy admitted that the market cannot work without certain human values as the moral bases of society. For him sympathy and justice are social virtues without which economics and indeed politics cannot succeed. Hence, his book Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Thus, we need a basic ethical perspective which is inspired by a concept of the common good. The Vatican Council II, in the document “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World or Gaudium et Spes, explain the common good in the following words;

Because of the closer bonds of human interdependence and their spread over the world, we are today witnessing a widening of the role of the common good, which is the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily. The whole human race is consequently involved with regard to the rights and obligations which result. Every group must take into account the needs and legitimate aspirations of every other group, and still more of the human family as a whole. (p.927)

In Zimbabwe we are moving in the opposite direction to the common good. This is why we must go back to the basics of an ethical perspective.

What is an Ethical Perspective?

Some people make a distinction between ethics and morality. They believe that ethics are connected to professional associations. Thus according to this definition, ethics are the rules of conduct that are specific to a professional association like that of the doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers or even priests. Usually, this sense of ethics precludes looking at human beings as human beings. It encourages looking at human beings as either clients or customers of professionals or providers of professional service. For example, lawyers as professionals are supposed to have rules which guide their practice. When they break these rules, they are summoned to a professional committee that will look into their case. When found guilty, a professional lawyer can be cancelled from the professional register. This will mean that they will not be able to practice. But the professional rules of any profession, tends to protect the interests of the profession as distinct from protecting the interests of all human beings. Professional ethics in this narrow sense is not inspired by a sense of common good. In this sense the professional ethics is not necessarily moral in the wider sense of the term. Professional ethics can coincide with morality but it does not have to. Its main task is to set out rules which guide the professional practice of its members. In this sense it tends to be protecting the interests of its professionals. Morality deals with the rights, duties, welfare, and general human flourishing.

I want to use the word ethical in its wide sense. It will go beyond the limits of the professions to talk about human beings in general. In this sense, what I mean by ethics is not any different from what is meant by morality. What is generally meant by morality is the area of human action or human conduct. This includes human conduct at an individual level as well as at a social level where groups of individuals, institutions and human systems do things in the world. Morality or ethics, is about how we distinguish between good and bad, between good and evil, right and wrong, just and unjust, virtues and vices, etc. Bad actions are discouraged and punished while good actions are encouraged and rewarded.

In ethics, several things are evaluated. We evaluate the behaviour of humans whether it is good or bad. We also evaluate human persons, whether they are kind or cruel, oppressive or just. We evaluate social arrangements. For example, social structures, institutions, and cultural practices. Some social structures are oppressive and exploitative while others allow for the individual social, spiritual and economic development of humans.

Guidelines for ethical assessment.

I said that the ethical perspective I want to use is a very wide one. It includes all human beings. And it tries very hard not make any theological or religious assumptions. What I want to say in this ethical perspective should be true even to non-believers.

There should be no discrimination

This is a very important point given that in real life, many of us are full of prejudices. The prejudices may be sexual, tribal, racial, nationalistic and class based. Morality requires of us to treat humans as humans and to go beyond all our prejudices. It is difficult, but we have to learn to go beyond our prejudices if we are to take a moral perspective

The moral perspective also regards human persons as having a worthiness that is deep and sacred. A human being ought to be treated as special. A human being is not like a stone or a piece of property. I also think that a human being is more special than an animal. But his is not to say we can be allowed to be cruel to animals. I hold as fundamental the sanctity of human life. This means, firstly, that human life, in its physical biological sense, should never be treated casually. Hence the importance of human physical security which calls upon humans, human social, political and economic systems and institutions to secure and guarantee, for all humans, freedom from all threats to their physical and biological security and growth. Such threats include disease, poverty, violence, intimidation, and organized human activities such as war, legal abortions and executions.

Secondly, human beings have a dignity that must be respected at all times. This means that the lives of human beings must not be allowed to sink to levels of destitution that degrade humans to live and behave like wild animals. When I look at how street people live in our cities, I think that our social systems have degraded them to the point of living like animals. It also means that human goals, life plans and needs must be taken seriously and be met. Humans and their social and political systems and institutions must justify why they fail to meet these needs.

These criteria for social evaluation of human conduct and organization cut across religion, tribe, race, age, sex, and political affiliation. When we are talking about ethics, we are talking about how human beings are being allowed, and even being encouraged to grow naturally and to fulfillment in all their qualities, capabilities and relationships. Human beings are physical, mental, and spiritual - they participate in social, economic, spiritual, cultural and political systems and processes. They have capacities in all these areas which need to be facilitated to grow and flourish. This means human beings need to be allowed to grow physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially. Our social, political, economic institutions, systems and cultures are all invented or constructed to facilitate that growth and fulfillment. This must include the growth and fulfillment of human relationships. Economic arrangements which make it difficult for marriages to be maintained will need to be looked into. The fact that many Zimbabwean people today are being forced to live away from their families because they have to look for jobs, security, education and self-fulfilment away from home, does not speak well of our economic, political and social system.

Social or political demands which undermine children’s respect for their elders or encourage adults to exploit their children, cannot be morally sustained. Social processes which insult human freedom and intelligence are morally problematic. When human beings are not allowed to say what they want to say, or to gather together and organize themselves, or when events in the country are not reported accurately for people t make up their minds on things, this is an insult to people’s intelligence and freedom.

Human beings are not created to fulfill the requirements of social and political institutions. Rather, social institutions are created and put in place, with the moral justification that they will allow humans to grow and fulfill themselves. So we can safely assess our institutions by looking at the extent to which they facilitate or hinder human flourishing. It is in this sense that a moral assessment of any society has both negative and positive aspect. The negative aspect is in identifying, criticizing, discouraging and abandoning the institutions, structures, processes, vices, and cultures that hinder humans from flourishing. The positive aspect is in identifying, encouraging and strengthening virtues in individual persons, in groups, institutions, and in cultural practices.

The topic I was given assumes that the Zimbabwean society is corrupt and unjust. I am not the one who describes it as corrupt and unjust. But I think that there is a sense in which our society is indeed corrupt and unjust. To describe any society that it is corrupt and unjust is not to give it any complement. In fact, it is to condemn it.


Some dictionary definitions of corruption include “to make putrid; to defile; to debase; to rot; decomposition; to lose purity; full of errors; perversion; impurity; bribery”. Incidentally, the definition of integrity is the very opposite of “corruption”. Integrity is given as “wholeness or completeness; soundness; genuine; unadulterated state; rectitude; high principle”. Thus to be corrupt is to lose integrity – to lose rectitude or high principle.

When we say the Zimbabwe of today is corrupt, we are saying that the people of this nation are no longer what they ought to be; they no longer think, act and relate to each other in the way they ought to – they have lost their moral rectitude, their moral soundness. This is the same thing as being morally decomposed or perverted. In other words people of this nation have lost their virtues i.e. good moral qualities of being respectful of themselves, of others and especially of women and children – especially children.

When we say Zimbabwe is corrupt, we are saying that the social, economic and political structures, processes and institutions of this nation have lost their purity – i.e. they are perverted, they are full of social, political and economic errors - especially bribery. Hence, to describe a society as corrupt is to admit that the institutions, the social processes, and people in positions of power and influence are no longer fulfilling what they are there for – that teachers are no longer teaching; students are no longer interested in studying, doctors no longer concerned with health; courts and judges in justice; police and soldiers in law and order, mass media in informing, banks no longer conducting banking business; and government is no longer governing. We are also saying that people in positions of power and influence are no longer using those positions, and the institutions and structures they work within, for the common good – i.e. to allow the flourishing of every one without discrimination. We are saying that national positions, structures, processes and institutions are now being used for private interests. They are being privatized and particularized. For example they are being used to keep individuals and groups of individuals in power, and being used to acquire more private wealth and influence.

A corrupt society cannot be just for in a corrupt society, no institution will do what it ought to do. In a corrupt society, individuals do not do what they are supposed to do. For example, the police, the army, and the courts tend to neglect their duties unless they have something to gain directly and personally. In such a society, we begin to see officers wanting to be bribed so that they can do what they are supposed to do. This is why bribery is one of the major signs of a corrupt society.

Unjust Society

No society is completely unjust. We must identify the areas in which our society is unjust. Usually, when we talk of justice, we are thinking of social justice. There are a number of ways in which the Zimbabwean society is an unjust society. A number of injustices are historical and they persist up to today. The colonial legacies of systems which encouraged racial and tribal segregation and created class and gender discrepancies, continue to exist. New injustices continue to be created and to be recycled.

When we talk of social justice, we refer to how social goods are created and distributed by our structures, institutions, social processes and cultures. By social goods, I refer to all those material and immaterial requirements for human growth which we find in the world or organize and produce. Material goods are things like land, water, plants, food, clothing, shelter, roads, schools, health care institutions and entertainment. Immaterial social goods include things like self-respect, dignity, justice, equality, and legitimate pride. Thus justice asks about how things like social, economic and political positions are created and distributed. It asks questions about the fairness of how dignity and security are produced and distributed in society. In a corrupt and unjust society, security and human dignity are made to be a scarce commodity monopolized by a few. It is even worse with material commodities like food, health care, shelter, water and land.

The reason why I tend to agree with the description that Zimbabwe today is a corrupt and unjust society is that there are certain facts that I fail to explain. It may be that people who understand political structures and processes more than I do can explain and justify these things but from an ethical perspective, the following are really puzzling.

Why is it that working hard is no longer a way to success?
Why is it that a person who tries to be moral and honest, will almost always lose?
Why is it that at a time when general poverty is growing there are more and more billionares coming into being?
At a time when the economy is said to be collapsing, we see the latest and biggest cars on our roads and unbelievable mansions coming up on Zimbabwean hills and valleys.
Why is it that if I want something I have to know someone?
Why is it that everyone who helps expects to be paid?
Things are no longer where they are expected to be – petrol at petrol stations, bread at bakeries, and passports at the passport office.

Eclipse of the Ethical Perspective

In a corrupt and unjust society, the ethical perspective is drowned or eclipsed by other interests – especially private selfish interests. It is also eclipsed by the share need to survive. Both wealth and poverty tends to undermine ethical considerations. Ethical considerations are universalist and they are inspired by a sense of the common good.

The common good of society consists in the sum total of those conditions of social life which enable human beings to achieve a fuller measure of perfection with greater ease. It consists especially in safeguarding the rights and duties of the human person. (Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, Vatican II, 18 Nov. 1965)

Building a better world for better people

I have said that it is ambitious for us to think of a Christian being faithful and maintaining some integrity in a corrupt and unjust Zimbabwe. It is ambitious because in order to achieve the goal, we have got to have the basics in the first place. Following Marslow’s hierarchy of needs, integrity and faithfulness are by far much higher needs than decency. We need to remind ourselves of basic “decency” before we can even attempt to be faithful and showing integrity.

According to the dictionary, to be decent means the following; “Becoming, modest, decorous; respectable; passable; moderately good.” Thus to be decent, one does not have to aim for high moral principles. To be decent means to recognize that a human being is a human being. We do not need any theology or philosophy to know that a human being is not an animal - that it is wrong to harm or kill others. Decency requires that one accepts that others have a right to be there in the world and to live their lives without much unnecessary interference. Decency avoids unnecessary quarrels, with others. Decency does not require that one goes out of their way to help others, at one’s expense, or to be committed to high moral standards, but it asks for a certain sense of reasonableness, a certain emotional maturity which draws a definite and firm line to what things can be allowed by any institutions, social systems, and society to happen to their citizens. For example, a decent society may not abolish exploitation, or oppression, but it will not accept it as normal. Decent social institutions and structures deliver what they are created for. In a decent society, offices operate as offices, not as supermarkets. Courts deliver justice and the distribution of houses, jobs, citizenship is not based on party-political affiliation. In a decent society one who needs a birth certificate, a driver’s license, or a passport, one will get it without going through horrendous experiences and frustrations. In a decent society you do not have to know someone, or to be a member of some political party to get service. In such a society, it is not a crime to join any legally recognized political party or to read any legally available newspaper.

But of course Christians are supposed to be decent. But they must aim higher than decency. Faithful Christians should aim for integrity. As the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People says, “They (Lay people) should also hold in high esteem professional competence, family and civic sense, and the virtues related social behaviour such as honesty, sense of justice, sincerity, courtesy, moral courage; without them there is no true Christian life.” (p771)

Without social virtues, without a sense of justice – indeed with corruption, there is no Christian life. This is why I said that I do not understand how a Christian can maintain integrity and faithfulness in a corrupt and unjust world. The Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People goes on to summarise the lay vacation;

Laymen ought to take on themselves as their distinctive task this renewal of the temporal order. Guided by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church, prompted by Christian love, they should act in this domain in a direct way and in their specific manner. As citizens among citizens they must bring to their cooperation with others their own special competence, and act on their own responsibility; everywhere and always they have a seek the justice of the kingdom of God. The temporal order is to be renewed in such a way that, while its own principles are fully respected, it is harmonized with the principles of the Christian life and adapted to the various conditions of times, places, and peoples. Among the tasks of this apostolate Christian social action in preeminent. The Council desires to see it extended today to every sector of life, not forgetting the cultural sphere.” (pp774-5)

Not forgetting the cultural sphere. What kind of culture does exist in our country today? Is it not a culture of intimidation and fear? Is it not a culture of hatred and disrespect of human life, human dignity and natural human relationships? In the passage above, the Vatican Council assumes that Christians will be operating in a normal social context where citizens work among other citizens – where they can act – in a direct way - on their own responsibility. The council assumed a context where Christians could genuinely debate and collaborate with others freely and engage in Christian social action. Indeed the Council declares;

On the national and international planes the field of the apostolate is vast; and it is there that the laity more than others are the channels of Christian wisdom. In their patriotism and in their fidelity to their civic duties Catholics will feel themselves bound to promote the true common good; they will make the weight of their convictions so influential that as a result civil authority will be justly exercised and laws will accord with the moral precepts and the common good. Catholics versed in politics and, as should be the case, firm in the faith and Christian teaching, should not decline to enter public life; for a worthy discharge of their functions, they can work for the common good and at the same time prepare for the Gospel. (p782)

Now the Council was right to assume that healthy political participation needs a certain minimum level of civility, of freedom and a sense of common good. Yet it cannot be assumed that this minimum level of civil virtue comes on its own. People have to work very hard to achieve even this minimum level of civic virtue – this level of social decency. Corruption and injustice always threatens it.

This is what has happened in Zimbabwe. The minimum level of social virtue, and a genuine sense of common good has been eroded by corruption and injustice. We must remember that we have come from a history of social injustices, a history of racial and tribal wars. Experiences of racially based injustices taught us to hate. The experiences of fighting for liberation or to protect our privileges got us caught up in the language of war, in institutions of death and cultures of violence. We lost the sense of common good, that is if we ever had it. We must acknowledge and deal with this before we can be ambitious enough to hope to be “firm in the faith and Christian teaching”.

I am not saying that we must stop the good work of spreading the Good Universal News. No. But unless we deal with our deep seated prejudices, anxieties and negative myths about ourselves and about others, - unless we deal with our negative cultures, language of war, and our ceaseless desire to always protect our privileges and our sense of superiority, - and indeed unless we become human again and learn basic human virtues, we cannot hope to gain integrity and live an authentic and faith Christian life.

Some may think that I am exaggerating. We have lived with each other for more than a century. We have even lived with each other for more than a century in the same church. And yet we still have myths about each other. And we continue to construct even more myths and prejudices. This is why we sometimes come up with laws that express these prejudices instead of enacting laws which facilitate the growth and fulfillment of all.


I have argued against the idea that Christians can achieve integrity and faithfulness in a corrupt and unjust society. For as long as Christians, just like anybody else in the nation, want to get petrol, use foreign currency, acquire passports and birth certificate, buy houses, get jobs, school and university education – in short, as long as Christians will want to live normal lives, they will not achieve integrity in a corrupt and unjust society. I have demonstrated the sense in which I believe Zimbabwe has become a corrupt and unjust society. And then went on to propose that the corruption has become so deep that what we require is not too an ambitious a project. What we require is to follow St. Paul’s advice who says that babies start by taking milk before they move to eating solids. Here, he advices to go to the basics. This is what we need in Zimbabwe. We need first to learn and to create a culture which recognises and respects the obvious – that human beings are human beings. As such each person’s capacities, needs, freedom, and desires should be given the dignity they deserve. This is the role of our social, political, and economic institutions, systems and cultures. Human beings and human lives are not cannon fodder for social and political institutions. Neither are they there to fulfill other people’s political ambitious nor to support their privileged lives.

I therefore conclude that integrity and faithfulness have little meaning for a Christian living in a corrupt and unjust society. This is however not to say that the Christian should not have these virtues as her goal. But for us in Zimbabwe today, we better get back to the basics.