Government’s harmony plan

2012-07-09 10:28

The Department of Arts and Culture hosted a social cohesion summit in Kliptown last week. Carien du Plessis spoke to minister Paul Mashatile about the outcome of the gathering.

What were you trying to achieve with the social cohesion summit?

Basically we are trying to get South Africans to focus on building social cohesion and one nation. One of the things we want to see is engagement by all stakeholders: government, business, civil society.

We have been engaging the community about what kind of South Africa they want to see.

This summit was a culmination of all those processes where we brought all political parties from across the spectrum and trade unions, et cetera, to say: Let’s discuss how we work together.

Where did the idea for the summit come from?

In 2009 when the President (Jacob Zuma) was delivering his State of the Nation he said he thinks South Africans need to talk and enter into dialogue about the kind of South Africa they want to live in, and talk about understanding each other’s values and cultures.

We as the Department of Arts and Culture then started a process to ensure that South Africans are able to engage. We as South Africans have accepted that we come from diverse background and we must use that as a strength and not a weakness, as the Constitution says.

We went to provinces, had colloquiums and conferences, and decided it must culminate into this summit so that there is a common platform and so that in the long run we can build a South Africa that we can all be proud of – free of racism, sexism and xenophobia, and prosperous.

What does social cohesion mean?

It is to ensure there is harmony. In societies where there is conflict and war there is no social cohesion.

It is also about ensuring people have employment opportunities, and that children go to school, and that there is peace and harmony and equality.

How far have we come in achieving that?

We have done away with laws that created inequalities. Our children go to the same schools, and there is no longer a Group Areas Act.

But we still have to learn each other’s languages – people don’t take interest in each other’s languages. We need to understand each other’s cultures more.

But generally people do work together, and we have demonstrated this with the 2010 Fifa World Cup, so there is progress, but more is to be done especially to ensure that the socio-economic conditions of the poor are addressed.

If you have people unhappy you are bound to have instability and protests.

How will you measure the progress in establishing social cohesion?

We have programmes. One of the things we must do is introduce arts education in schools. That is a measurable target. We hope to get 3 000 people in the next two years.

We also want flags in all schools and departments will be looking at human settlements and land restitution. We as the Department of Arts and culture will come up with keys to say how far are we with these issues, then we will be able to see where in society we are not making progress.

We are passing the Use of Official Languages Bill in Parliament and we appointed someone at the Pan South African Languages Board to ensure multilingualism.

Human Settlements must let us know how they are eliminating informal settlements. All government departments must mainstream social cohesion in their programmes, but arts and culture is the lead department.

Do you have the co-operation of other ministers?

There is a buy-in already because this is a programme of Cabinet. The draft strategy for social cohesion is a document of Cabinet.

And how did the summit go?

It was a big success. We have ended our two days agreeing we must build a caring society and a cohesive society, but we must address unemployment, poverty and inequality, so all of us have agreed there must be a programme of action, monitored by the Department of Arts and Culture and mainstreamed by this summit.

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