Social cohesion, nation building and promoting national identity are all high on the list of South Africa’s priorities, says President Jacob Zuma.
Speaking at the Social Cohesion Summit in Kliptown, Soweto, on Wednesday, Zuma said the summit itself was confirmation of the importance government placed on these issues.
And while government was embarking on a number of programmes to promote unity, reconciliation, nation building and cohesion, Zuma was quick to point out that reconciliation was a continuous two-way process, particularly in a society that had emerged from three centuries of colonialism and apartheid.
Crucial dialogue would take place at the summit, the President said, including discussions on how to bring to fruition the legacy left by the nation’s forebears, which acknowledges that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.
“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. It is a national effort that requires the views of many sectors and stakeholders,” he said.
South Africans had on many occasions proven to be a nation that thrives and finds solutions to difficult problems through dialogue, discussion and reaching out to one another, the President pointed out.
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,” he 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,” he noted.
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.”
The President 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 R 27.3 million in the previous year to R 42.6 million,” he said.
The on-going 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.