22 August 2014
Programme Director and Speaker of the Provincial Legislature, Ms Ntombi Mekgwe;
Premier of Gauteng, Mr David Makhura;
Members of the Executive Council of Gauteng;
The Mayor of the Ekurhuleni Metro, Councillor Mondli Gungubele;
Members of the Provincial Legislature;
Representatives from labour, business and civil society;
Chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Movement, Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for inviting me to address you on this occasion.
This summit presents a valuable opportunity for inclusive and participative engagement on matters of national importance such as social cohesion.
It serves as a forum for critical analysis and dialogue on matters that are central to our quality of life and sense of worth.
By strengthening cooperation and collaboration among social partners, such occasions contribute practically to the pursuit of shared aspirations and the advancement of a common identity.
They cut across the boundaries of race, gender, space and class.
They allow us to redress the ravages of a long and bitter history of division, oppression, exploitation, exclusion, strife and dispossession.
As we gather here, we are mindful both of the progress we have made and the significant challenges we still face.
In pondering over the topic of your Summit I came across a construct of social cohesion in the publication Social Cohesion and Social Justice in South Africa which states that “Social cohesion is deemed to be present by the extent to which participants and observers of society find the lived existence of citizens to be relatively peaceful, gainfully employed, harmonious and free from deprivation, whether in terms of basic needs such as food, water, shelter, in terms of basic human rights such as freedom, democracy and governance, or in terms of culture, language and intellectual stimulation”.
Social cohesion therefore goes beyond mere slogans and lofty platitudes about unity and nationhood. Social cohesion is be about the lives of real people.
In the last two decades of democracy, we have laid a firm foundation for our people to transcend the iniquities of our past.
We have sought to forge a new society in which human rights are respected, where the essential humanity of each person is celebrated, and where all may live in peace and comfort.
We have adopted a democratic Constitution that aims to transform South Africa into a more equitable, integrated and just society.
The Preamble of our Constitution lays the foundation for our nation’s noble mission of building social cohesion when it states:
“Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to
• Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
• Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
• Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
• Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations”.
We have chosen national symbols that are inclusive and aspirational.
Through institutions like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we have sought to uncover past truths of pain and suffering, promote meaningful reconciliation, and clearly delineate the values of our new society.
We have done all this to build and enhance social cohesion.
But we are still a society in transition.
And despite our gains, we are in many ways still a divided country.
The Diagnostic Report released by the National Planning Commission in 2011 describes some of the fault lines in our society.
“Opportunity is not only defined by race; it also differs for men and women, and for rural and urban dwellers. Language and ethnic background continue to divide South Africa, as does economic participation, because those who have work have access to income and opportunities that the unemployed do not have.”
The report underlines the fact that the human cost – and the social cost – of apartheid is still firmly with us.
We are reminded daily by the lived experiences of our people of the devastation of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
The material conditions under which our people live represent the greatest challenge to the advancement of social cohesion.
Speaking at the Social Cohesion Summit in 2012, President Jacob Zuma said:
“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. Our responsibility as government is to lead the South African people towards a national democratic society. This is a society that is united, non-sexist, non-racial, democratic and prosperous.”
In the exercise of this responsibility, government is investing heavily in building capabilities and promoting equality of opportunity. It is our firm determination that the circumstances of one’s birth should be no barrier to the achievement of one’s aspirations.
Government has embarked on bold programmes in education, health, infrastructure development, women and youth empowerment, rural development and many others with a singular intention of moving South Africa forward and enhancing social cohesion. Cognisant of the fact that it cannot move South Africa forward alone Government seeks to work with all social partners to create an enabling environment for inclusive economic growth and job creation
Social cohesion can best be realised in a country in which all social partners work together to ensure that all our people are educated and have skills, in which all are employed, in which all enjoy a decent standard of living, and in which all feel safe and secure.
As we work to address the material determinants of social cohesion, so too must we address the attitudes, practices and prejudices that undermine our efforts to forge a nation united in its diversity.
Now more than ever, we need to direct our energies towards the achievement of a common vision through unified action.
We need to act together, consciously and deliberately, to ensure that the differences and discord of the past do not define our future.
We must work together to harness the energies of all sectors and social partners to contribute to this national effort.
Active citizenry is the cornerstone for achieving this vision.
Every South African needs to see themselves as a leader and a nation builder.
Every South African has the ability to lead. They have the ability to set an example – to be honest, compassionate, trustworthy and demonstrate integrity. Those to whom a lot has been given should demonstrate solidarity and lead in helping to empower others.
They have the ability to hold fast to a core set of values while embracing change and striving for transformation.
They are able to innovate, persuade, communicate, empathise and accept criticism.
These leaders, these ordinary South Africans, actively promote meaningful inclusion and help to overcome barriers. They always seek to build consensus.
They learn each other’s languages. They understand, respect, promote and celebrate each other’s culture. They are tolerant of those who hold views they do not agree with.
These leaders seek to empower the otherwise powerless.
Our society continues to be marred by atrocious acts of criminality that take place in our homes, schools and communities. They target the most vulnerable and often the most innocent among us.
This is an affront to everything we hold dear.
If we want to rid our society of crime, communities must fight crime and corruption wherever it manifests itself. We must not turn our homes and streets into safe havens for criminals.
We must not buy stolen goods. We must not pay bribes. We must not take something that does not belong to us.
We must revere human life. And we must protect the vulnerable.
We must always remember that our sense of nationhood is founded on an appreciation of the essential humanity of all people.
We are bound by our values to respect the rights and dignity of those in our midst who are not of South African origin.
As the province with the largest number of immigrants, Gauteng must lead the way in combating xenophobia in all its manifestations. The people of this province must, through their actions, underscore the fact that foreign nationals pose no threat to our desire for social cohesion, nor do they present any impediment to the achievement of a common South African nationhood.
This summit takes place during August, a month in which we honour the women of our country. We also remember and celebrate the brave and courageous women who played a decisive role in our struggle.
While we have made great strides in advancing the rights of women and increasing the representation of women in public institutions, we need to do more to protect, advance and defend the rights of women.
Women still bear the brunt of societal problems like poverty, inequality, discrimination and violence.
There can be no social cohesion without a recognition and promotion of the equal rights of women and a concerted effort to improve their economic and social position.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is essential that everyone in society should come together to craft a social compact that will propel South Africa onto a higher developmental trajectory and build a more cohesive and equitable society.
We must take to heart what our founding President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, said at his inauguration:
“We must … act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.”
If we are to become a viable nation, our people need to share a common identity and a common destiny. They must feel bound together by shared values that are reinforced by shared symbols and institutions.
We should use this time wisely to reflect on and evaluate our actions.
We should use it to reaffirm our commitment to building a just, tolerant and moral society.
We are all born free, with an equal expectation that we should enjoy the right to life, shelter, food and security. We all expect that we will be members of a society that is cohesive and prosperous.
These rights and expectations are indivisible.
Let us work today to make them a reality for all.
I want to end with a glance at the future we all share as we become more socially cohesive. The National Development Plan vision statement says:
“In 2030 South Africans will be more conscious of the things they have in common than their differences. Their lived experiences will progressively undermine and cut across the divisions of race, gender, space and class. The nation will be more accepting of people’s multiple identities. We are a people, who have joined and shared extraordinarily to remake our society.
We say to one another: I cannot be without you, without you this South African community is an incomplete community, without one single person, without one single group, we are not the best that we can be;
We are connected by the sounds we hear, the sights we see, the scents we smell, the objects we touch, and the food we eat and liquids we drink, the thoughts we think, the emotions we feel, the dreams we imagine. We are a web of relationships, fashioned in a web of histories, the stories of our lives inescapably shaped by stories of others.
We share our stories in our schools, churches, libraries, electronic media and wherever they may be.
We are inevitably implicated in one another.
Our connectedness across time and distance is the central principle of our nationhood”.
Ladies and gentlemen that is the South Africa we are enjoined to build today for our common future.
I thank you.