National cohesion ‘up to all of us’: Zuma


4 July 2012

Promoting social cohesion, nation building and a sense of national identity are high on the list of South Africa’s priorities, says President Jacob Zuma, but will require a joint effort from all sectors of society to achieve.

Speaking at the Social Cohesion Summit at the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown, Soweto on Wednesday, Zuma said the summit itself was confirmation of the importance the government placed on these issues.

However, Zuma pointed out, while the government was embarking on a number of programmes to promote national unity and reconciliation, this was a continuous two-way process, particularly in a society that had emerged from three centuries of colonialism and apartheid.

“As we gather here to develop a national strategy on social cohesion and nation building, we felt that this was not a strategy that government should design alone,” Zuma said. “It is a national effort that requires the views of many sectors and stakeholders.”


South Africa ‘a nation that finds solutions’


South Africans had on many occasions proven to be a nation that finds solutions to difficult problems through dialogue, discussion and reaching out to one another, the President said.

However, there were bound to be challenges along the journey to social cohesion.

“We are under no illusion that it is going to be easy. The South African nation is a product of many streams of history and culture, representing the origins, dispersal and re-integration of humanity over hundreds of years.

“We have to build one national identity out of multiple identities based on class, gender, age, language, geographic location, and religion.”

While there had been progress in institutionalising the principle of an inclusive citizenship since 1994, certain matters still caused “divisions and frustrations”.

“The challenges of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, landlessness, and the divisions around race, class and gender make it difficult to arrive at a socially cohesive and united society as fast as we would want to,” Zuma said.

The government’s responsibility was to lead South Africans toward a national, democratic society.

“This is a society that is united, non-sexist, non-racial, democratic and prosperous. It is a society with a value system that is based on human solidarity and ubuntu, which promotes a society which prioritises caring for and respecting others.”


Socio-economic transformation


Zuma noted that the socio-economic transformation programme was a primary tool of national reconciliation, nation building and social cohesion.

Continuous programmes of democratic transformation as well the expansion of basic services and improving the performance of the economy to create jobs, were all designed to create a united, cohesive society.

In addition, heritage transformation projects helped promote reconciliation, unity and nation building. The government, through the Department of Arts and Culture, had identified 28 heritage projects.

“Through the upgrading and declaration of historic sites, we will ensure a more representative and inclusive South African history and heritage. More importantly, this will also contribute towards shared values and a common national identity in the country.”


Power of sport to unite


Zuma also noted the power of sport as a social cohesion tool.

“As a result of the value of sports in nation building, government is now investing in school sports more than ever before. The school sport budget has been increased from R27.3-million in the previous year to R42.6-million.”

The ongoing process of geographical names change and standardisation was also one of the tools to bring South Africans together, to promote a common nationhood and craft a new and inclusive narrative for the country.

In addition, the government had developed the Use of Official Languages Bill as part of promoting social cohesion.

The Bill is in response to the provisions of Section 6 of the Constitution that not only identifies 11 official languages, but also obliges the state to take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of indigenous languages.

He noted that the languages spoken by the majority were marginalised, and this should be corrected.

Another important part of promoting social cohesion was the protection and promotion of indigenous knowledge systems, which included promoting formal indigenous knowledge education and assisting indigenous communities to establish cooperative structures to organise themselves, Zuma said.