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Social cohesion will only succeed through changing material conditions of the populace for the better – Nathi Mthethwa

BY NATHI MTHETHWAThe year 2015 has been declared the ‘Year of the Freedom Charter’ celebrating it’s 60th anniversary. One of the key clauses of the Freedom Charter states ‘All shall enjoy equal human rights’. Almost two weeks ago commemorated Human Rights Day on the 21st March in the Eastern Cape Province to hightlight the Uitenhage massacre thirty years ago.

Our gathering at the Nelson Mandela Metro University, in Port Elizabeth, was to take stock of progress on our nation building and social cohesion programme. The National Development Plan states in Chapter 15 that in order to build a social cohesive nation, we need a society where opportunity is not determined by race or birth-right, where citizens accept that they have both rights and responsibilities. Most critically we seek to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. Social cohesion will only succeed through all round and interconnected efforts for social progress which will change material conditions of the populace for the better. It means the total transfer of political and economic power to the democratic majority.

It was important therefore that we assess honestly how far we have progressed in uniting our people against racism, xenophobia, Afrophobia, sexism, homophobia and other related intolerances. How have we as a society responded to the manifestations of such intolerances? What role have we played in transforming the heritage landscape in our society? Have we been able to deepen dialogue with the public since our first National Summit on Social Cohesion in Kliptown, Soweto in 2012? What are the unifying perspectives for nation building?

When we had in the last summit, we had identified key systemic challenges which are obstacles in achieving a socially cohesive nation. We have a responsibility as a nation unpack the path we have traversed in addressing them as we seek to realise our goal of fundamental socio-economic transformation and these include:

  • Economic Inequality
  • Spatial Divisions
  • Prejudice and discrimination
  • Social interaction, cooperation and solidarity
  • National Identity and unity.

As a nation we must be frank in examining the extent to which we have implemented the resolutions of 2012 Social Cohesion Summit. How have we fared in partnerships with organs of civil society in addressing the challenges mentioned above? Some progress has been made, in line with this we need to mention that in the past thirty three months:

  • The President has received the Summit report, declaration and resolutions
  • Social cohesion strategy was finalized and adopted by Cabinet in 2012
  • More than 40 community conversations were held where communities play a central role in solution seeking initiatives
  • Social cohesion advocates were appointed – leaders in their own right – drawn from all social stations, to be at the forefront in mobilizing all in society to be active citizenry in order to create a caring society

Having regard to all this it becomes apparent that the work of nation formation is not of government alone but rather of the people. As a nation we must recognise the role played by many South Africans who have taken a conscious decision to fulfil the most sacred of duties to humankind -Transformation for the better life for all. This is a duty that shows sensitivity to injustice committed against whoever it may be anywhere in the world. The tool at their disposal is Vision 2030 crafted from the Constitution of our country which in turn is drawn from the Freedom Charter representing the aspirations and dreams of a nation.

We need to draw strength from some of the foremost architects of our struggle for equal rights for all, Moses Kotane and JB Marks. The climax of the Human Rights month was the repatriation of their mortal remains from Russia to their motherland, South Africa. They were laid to rest during March symbolizing what they lived, struggled and died for – Human Rights. JB Marks was laid to rest exactly a day after Human Rights day which marked 112 years since he was born. They fought for a better Africa and a just and humane world, they fought so that you and I live in a free and democratic country.

It will be amiss of us not to engage in the contemporary discourse occasioned by some pockets of racist incidents, by bigots in our midst. We need to tackle this obstacle to social justice, as a society we are called upon to rise to the occasion and uproot such discriminatory acts. We owe it to both the past and future generations, not to be tolerant to this but to defeat it in all its manifestations whether it is overt or covert. We have seen such acts from schools to workplaces, universities, in some communities etc. If we are to build a caring society, we need to have a programme geared towards eradicating the scourge in visible ways. Equally we cannot turn a blind eye on self-hate acts by Africans, discriminating against their fellow Africans. No one should be discriminated against based on colour, creed, gender or in any way. It is worse when fellow Africans attack one another, it reminds us of the road ahead to a truly decolonised African mind. This is in no way simplifying the daily struggles of the poorest of the poor, like their scramble for economic survival and many other such challenges. However nothing is superior among Africans than Ubuntu.

Signs and symbols are also dominating the national discourse for the heritage of the future. This matter is led by the students in our universities. The struggle of the new pushing hard to be born, whilst the old is resisting to die. Whether it is the Rhodes’ statue, King George, Louis Botha or any other such, we need to realise that change has to happen and that change is pain. It has happened before with no skies falling. We have observed the students’ protests which have been largely peaceful and should be commended for that. There are instruments to be used as means to an end to realise transformation. The National Heritage Resources Act No. 25 of 1999 is an adequate tool to effect transformation desired in this instance. It must be followed to the latter and applied within the bounds of the law. There is no need to deface or destroy any statue but if it has to be removed the correct means to an end must be utilised.

This is in line with the governments’ reconciliation and nation building. The policy does not mean capitulation to retrogress, it means forgive but not forget, lest you repeat pitfalls of the past. The social cohesion advocates led by Department of Arts and Culture, will frequent universities and other institutions to deepen dialogue with all stakeholders.

As we continue with our task of building a common nationhood, we must identify as our way forward among others:

  • Engagement and identification more advocates for social cohesion in our communities to play their role in promoting nation building and social cohesion.
  • Deepening community and societal conversations to resolve challenges faced at that level.
  • Acknowledging, recognising and rewarding individuals, organisations and communities that are good examples of social cohesion endeavour.
  • Our programs should not be confined by our national borders since we are Africa and integral part of progressive world.

We must do our best to live according to the values enshrined in our constitution. Let us make our mark as part of the movement of the world peace, in this way we will not fail in our task of building a caring nation.

Article by Nathi Mthethwa.

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