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Isha Bekia

Bill of Responsibilities – call to action

Mar 9, 2011 | SA Media, SA's democracy


By Heidi Hurwitz

“I accept the call to responsibility that comes with the many rights and freedoms that I have been privileged to inherit from the sacrifice and suffering of those who came before me. I appreciate that the rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa are inseparable from my duties and responsibilities to others. Therefore I accept that with every right comes a set of responsibilities.”

This is the opening paragraph of the Bill of Responsibilities, a document that will become as crucial to the success of South Africa as its forerunner, the Bill of Rights. It “outlines the responsibilities that flow from each of the rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa”. This means that as citizens of the ‘Rainbow Nation’, we must show gratitude for the rights that we have been granted, by acting in a manner that is responsible toward our fellow human beings and compatriots.

“The document is a mirror document to the Bill of Rights,” says Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, who drafted the Bill himself, and received endorsements from the South African government as well as the National Religious Leaders Forum.

Rabbi Goldstein came up with the idea and concept of the Bill of Responsibilities four years ago, and presented it to the then Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, who welcomed it, and so the Chief Rabbi went ahead with the project and drafted the document of the Bill of Responsibilities, and circulated it to the Department of Education and the faith leaders on the executive of the NRLF until a final draft was agreed upon. The Department of Education has since then compiled a teachers training manual for educators, and has incorporated the Bill of Responsibilities into the Life Orientation syllabus.

Rabbi Goldstein adds, “Moral values are the crucial foundation of building a successful society. The Torah says we can’t build a successful civilisation without moral values and that moral values are rooted in duties and responsibilities.” But how does the country create a programme for moral values when there are so many different cultures and religions among South Africans? Rabbi Goldstein answers: “The Bill of Rights has legitimacy. It is a legal document but there are values embedded in it, like the right to education. The power of the Bill of Responsibilities lies in tapping into this already legitimate document, which is already a part of the South African psyche, and subtly, yet profoundly, changing the rights to values and responsibilities.

“The power to transform the country through this Bill is tremendous. Today’s children are the future of South Africa. If properly implemented, children in Grade 1 today throughout South Africa will in 12 years’ time matriculate with a deep appreciation for the moral values of responsibility, integrity and compassion.”
The Chief Rabbi approached ORT SA to help implement the project. A few months ago ORT did a pilot project at the Makhorane Primary School, in Soweto. “This was historic as this was the first school where the Bill of Responsibilities has been properly implemented,” says Rabbi Goldstein. At a presentation ceremony recently, the school highlighted the values it has learned from the Bill of Responsibilities. Learners performed plays, explained the projects they worked on, “and made it come alive in a way that is not purely academic”, Rabbi Goldstein says.

Carol Rod, business development executive at ORT SA, says part of what the organisation does is to empower and teach the teachers, which is why Rabbi Goldstein approached ORT SA to roll out the pilot project. The organisation selected Makhorane Primary School as the first school at which to teach the Bill of Responsibilities. “We have an ongoing project with them, sponsored by Peregrine, so it was ideally place to roll out the pilot project there.

“When you see the result, you can’t help but be enthusiastic and passionate about it.”

Ariellah Rosenberg, head of educator empowerment at ORT SA, said, “The Bill of Responsibilities brought the practicalities of what we were already doing there together in a very practical way. We see the Bill of Responsibilities as a language which teachers, parents and children should be talking.”

ORT SA has also approached certain non-governmental organisations that it works with to ‘sell’ the Bill of Responsibilities to them, and the response has been positive. PSP in the Western Cape is involved in the development of science, but when the NGO saw the Bill of Responsibilities, they loved it, Rosenberg says. “They took the books and plan to run with it, even though they are science-based. The Bill is something that talks to everybody.”

Christina April, whole school development co-ordinator at ORT SA, was involved with educating the teachers about the Bill. Making use of the manual, they looked at the vision, mission and code of conduct at Makhorane Primary School and aligned it to the Bill of Responsibilities. “We got them to adopt it and live by it,” she says.

The Chief Rabbi also took the project to Lead SA, thinking it would fit perfectly as one of their projects, that way ensuring that the Bill was really entrenched by South Africans. Terry Volkwyn, CEO of Primedia Broadcasting and the founder of Lead SA, loved the concept so much, she and her team decided to make it their main project. Volkwyn when approached for comment said :“Lead SA believes that each one of us has the potential to change our country. We believe that when one of us changes our behaviour, this has a ripple effect in our community, encouraging others to do the same. In this way, we all have the power to Lead SA by building an active civic society. It starts with the simple acts of standing up and doing the right thing. What is so exciting about the Bill of Responsibilities is that it shows us how to do the right thing. It takes the ideals of Lead SA and turns them into practical guidelines that we can use in everything we do. The Bill achieves this by outlining the responsibilities that correspond to each of the rights we are afforded in our Constitution.”

Volkwyn says the organisation will use the document and the principles it holds true to reach all South Africans. “We’re targeting schools in particular because Lead SA believes that by instilling a strong moral foundation in our children, we reach a far larger audience as the message spreads to their families and communities. If our children have the right values, we can change the future.”

“Sceptics will say that the Bill of Responsibilities can achieve nothing; that words are cheap and lip-service means nothing,” says Rabbi Goldstein in his foreword for the Bill of Responsibilities Teachers Training Guide. “These are the conventional wisdoms, but they are wrong. They presume that the importance of something is measured by its market price. Oxygen is also cheap but we cannot live without it. Words are the oxygen of human identity on every level, whether emotional, intellectual, social, moral or spiritual. We think, speak, pray, conceptualise and communicate with words. Words create worlds. Human beings are unique in the natural world in that we do not only experience reality but we construct it with our words as we try to understand and give expression to the world around us.”

Rabbi Goldstein says historically, human beings have trouble with taking responsibility for their actions. “From the beginning of time, human beings have struggled with the notion of responsibility. The Book of Genesis describes how Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. Their immediate response was to try to hide from G-d, who calls out to Adam, ‘Where are you?’ meaning ‘What has happened to you…why have you sinned?’ Adam’s response is to blame Eve. Eve blames the serpent. Both refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Responsibility means taking ownership of the consequences of one’s actions. Every action has consequences, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Responsibility is about acknowledging that these consequences are the results of our actions and that, in a sense, the consequences belong to us.”

Responsibility is the logical extension of freedom, he says. “G-d has granted each one of us the freedom to choose how we live our lives. Freedom of choice means that the decisions we make are ultimately our own, albeit with various pressures brought to bear upon us. Because we are free, we must accept responsibility for what we do. Freedom is one of the foundational values of the new South Africa and, therefore, so is responsibility. No human society can function without a deeply entrenched commitment to responsibility. All of the principles of accountability, transparency, and indeed democracy itself, are held together by the binding force of responsibility.”

South Africa has an exceptional future, if the ideas contained in the Bill of Responsibilities are taught to the leaders of the future, and become entrenched in all South African citizens’ core value systems. As Rabbi Goldstein says, “People who live with these values will build a truly great South Africa.”

Leading by example

Some examples taken from The Bill of Responsibilities:

My responsibility in ensuring the right to human dignity
The right to human dignity places on me the responsibility to:

§ treat people with reverence, respect and dignity
§ to be kind, compassionate and sensitive to every human being, including greeting them warmly and speaking to them courteously

My responsibility in ensuring the right to life
The right to life places on me the responsibility to:
§ protect and defend the lives of others
§ not endanger the lives of others by carrying dangerous weapons or by acting recklessly or disobeying our rules and laws
§ live a healthy life, by exercising, eating correctly, by not smoking, abusing alcohol, or taking drugs, or indulging in irresponsible behaviour that may result in my being infected or infecting others with communicable diseases such as HIV and Aids.

My responsibility in ensuring the right to family or parental care
This right expects me to:
§ honour and respect my parents, and to help them
§ to be kind and loyal to my family, to my brothers and sisters, my grandparents and all my relatives
§ recognise that love means long-term commitment, and the responsibility to establish strong and loving families

My responsibility in ensuring the right to education
The right to education places on me the responsibility to:
§ attend school regularly, to learn, and to work hard
§ co-operate respectfully with teachers and fellow learners
§ adhere to the rules and the Code of Conduct of the school, and concurrently places on my parents and caregivers the responsibility to:
▪ ensure that I attend school and receive their support, and places on my teachers the responsibility to:
▪ promote and reflect the culture of learning and teaching in giving effect to this right

My responsibility in ensuring the right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion
The right to freedom of conscience requires me to:
§ allow others to choose and practice the religion of their choice, and to hold their own beliefs and opinions, without fear or prejudice
§ respect the beliefs and opinions of others, and their right to express these, even when we may strongly disagree with these beliefs and opinions. That is what it means to be a free democracy