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Paulus Zulu’s A Nation in Crisis: An Appeal for Morality Launched at Ike’s Books and Collectables

Paulus Zulu

A Nation in CrisisA small crowd braved the chilly weather last week Tuesday to sit on the balcony at Ike’s Books & Collectables and listen to Professor Paulus Zulu, academic and author, talk about his most recent book, A Nation in crisis: An appeal for morality.

Mary de Haas, academic and violence monitor, introduced Zulu, noting that in addition to his skills as a social scientist and writer, he is also a league tennis player bearing the nickname “the Mauser”. She said that although some of his students might label him authoritarian, he is a dedicated teacher, as well as being a “rigorous researcher and critical analyst”. She praised him for staying at the University of KwaZulu-Natal instead of going into the corporate sector where he could have “creamed it”. De Haas also described Zulu as being very family- and community-orientated (he has six children). She noted enviously that, as a devout Catholic, he is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and travels to Rome regularly. De Haas quoted a former Vice-Chancellor of Research at UKZN, Eleanor Preston-Whyte, who said she wished they “could clone Paulus”.

Taking the mic, Prof Zulu explained that his book tries to address the tensions that exist between notions of social justice and democracy. He described South Africa as “a country of palaces and shacks”, noting that we have problems of distributive justice here, with widespread self-enrichment. Other possible titles for his book had been “Contested Registers” or “Social Justice under Siege”, before settling on A Nation in Crisis.

He noted that the book has a chapter on elite greed in which he compares the salaries of politicians with what wage earners get in SA. He noted that a parliamentarian in SA earns six times more than a factory worker (in Australia an MP only earns twice as much as a wage-earner). He explores the contested role of the judiciary in his book, finding that it is the only institution which has some clout in protecting civilians, but that it is “under siege”. Introducing the term “restitutive morality” Zulu appealed to South Africans to “regroup themselves”, quoting Reuel Khoza who wrote: “SA is perishing for want of men of courage who, in devotion to the cause of right and truth, can rise above personal feeling and private ambition.”

Cedric Sissing, bookseller, thanked Zulu for his speech and noted that Don Africana library, UKZN and the Killie Campbell library had all sent representatives to the launch. The floor was then opened for questions. Dr Deena Padayachee, a regular at Durban book launches, asked Zulu his opinion about racism and xenophobia in SA. Zulu said he though the SA education system is our biggest problem: “Ill-informed people see conspicuous consumption as a valid way of life. Contending cultures of entitlement have created a national psyche where everybody’s entitled”. He said gloomily that he believed SA has reached “a state of near anarchy”.

Another question from the floor called for “anger to be accompanied by conscientisation”. Zulu agreed that academic insights must be followed by praxis at grassroots level, but noted that it was also important to get “bread on every table”.

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