We can be greater than the sum of our parts

2015-02-03 15:00

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Astring of racially motivated incidents and public outbursts by some leading South African personalities suggest the glossy veneer of the rainbow nation is peeling off. It is a reality that South African society is still configured along ethnic and class lines.

This sticky issue will remain unless we do something bold and systematic to change it.

What should have been a glorious 20 years of democracy is now being brought into question. There are several tell-tale signs that tolerance and social cohesion are not adequately ­embedded in oursociety; some may still choose to see racial incidents as isolated events, but deeper faultlines reveal there is a greater problem; if ignored, the issue is likely to fester until it becomes uncontrollable.

South Africa was supposed to have been at peace with itself, and levels of integration between communities should have been more profound by now.

But this has mostly been limited to the upper levels of society. And not even here is the integration genuine and sustainable; it is based on class, status and influence – smacking of materialism.

The mind shift among the haves is based not on the “contents of one’s character”, but what you can “bring to the party”. The apathy of the middle class about the history of the country and the realities impoverished communities face daily is obvious.

Surely this is not what our founding fathers had in mind. It was hoped Madiba’s legacy and his generation of leaders would unite us as a nation. But nation-building means more than just acknowledging their exemplary legacy.

Yes, the Constitution and a slew of laws have been enacted to guide the country towards being a better society. But the law is punitive in nature and does not foster a culture of unity, integration and tolerance.

What are the missing ingredients to make the project of nation-building in South Africa a success?

It starts with leadership and political will. It is disappointing that most political parties have not grasped the opportunity to serve as catalysts for unity and tolerance and have often played a polarising role.

The worst of this canbe seen during election time and how the impoverished masses fall prey to this manipulation.

But the mark of true leadership, as demonstrated by Madiba, is the ability to unify. This characteristic in leadership is, ­however, dwindling. Political will is required to ensure consistency and discipline to avoid resorting to racial profiling of communities whenever it is convenient or self-serving.

Education and information have also not been used well enough to bring about a truly unified country based on the broad values of the Freedom Charter and the urgent demands of the Constitution.

Nonracialism and nonsexism should be espoused institutionally almost as an ideology. This will serve to unlock the country’s true potential in its entirety. Apartheid was institutionalised and depended on the education system for sustenance. But education about the history of the country in isolation will not be helpful either; it should be accompanied by a sense of the road ahead and the broad vision that was set for South Africa in 1994.

Political leadership and well-founded education should be followed by structured programmes that will build social cohesion. So far, we have depended mainly on sporadic sports events to spark a sense of unity and national pride.

For a country with our past, such random goodwill events are not enough to create the critical mass to sustain the long-term unity, harmony and tolerance required to make South Africa a thriving democracy and a prosperous country.

Language is a better unifier than sports or music; it is the basis of our humanity. So it is shameful in a country where language was used oppressively that our official languages have not been used to our advantage.

While most of South Africa depends on English to communicate, there is still an opportunity to bridge the divisions we continue to experience. New worlds and experiences await those who have been deprived or have refused to learn about a different culture by learning its vernacular.

Opportunities should be created for South Africans to learn and appreciate one another’s languages and cultures. How else will unity, tolerance and integration be fostered, if understanding – which comes about through language – is not at the centre of our existence as a country?

Wecan acquire true wealth through enriching ourselves by getting to know others in the belief that our differences are not a threat or a source of insecurity.

Looking at the state’s agenda, it is telling that few nation-building programmes exist to bring about a sense of national unity likely to last beyond the euphoria of sporting events.

To truly underpin our nation-building efforts, more sustainable programmes are required to bring different communities together, especially among those who have only been exposed to a stratified relationship with other groups.

All spheres of government seem to have been divisive and local government’s divisive role, particularly, should be reviewed. The role of all state institutions should be to unite communities and local government is best placed to do this.

To reverse-engineer and undo what apartheid has done demands a deeper understanding of what is required to move the country forward. Harping on our past to score points is rarely helpful.

All is not lost in actualising the dream of a nonracial, non-sexist democratic South Africa. A strong foundation has been laid; let us build on it.

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