Tue, 11 Dec 2018
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Des Moines

Under the skin we are all the same

News24
23 Sep 2018, 14:37 GMT+10

Often, with the best of intentions, we use impressive terminology to describe or refer to things. However, it could be that in using such words, as government or as individuals, we are talking to ourselves, because the terminology is not well understood by all concerned.

In the process good strategies or policies might not filter down properly. For example, we often talk of social cohesion. But what is social cohesion and why is it important for a country like South Africa, particularly in this Heritage Month?

Social cohesion is defined as engaging with others in an inclusive and collective way as a diverse society, ensuring that people from our full cross-section are involved in the different activities and interactions that make up a community, bringing about a healthy, engaging, trustworthy, honest society with equal opportunities.

These are the building blocks of a nation founded on destroying the barriers that divided it. Social cohesion is important for our country, which has emerged from the apartheid past with physical and mental scars. Apartheid, racism, segregation and tribalism have left us divided and in need of healing.

For example, the South African Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 left its protagonists - the Afrikaners and the British - bitterly divided. Even today, more than a hundred years later, conservatives from both groups tend to cling to stereotypes and frown on marriages and other close relationships between people from another group. This deep-seated mistrust is because of differences traceable to various events of conflict.

For conservatives in these two white communities to marry across ethnic lines can be viewed as a betrayal, not to mention marriages between whites and blacks. In South Africa such marriages are to this day viewed with suspicion, a betrayal of historical and cultural values. It is as if the term "acculturation" does not exist in the dictionary of these narrow-minded folk.

We have emerged from a country where homelands were created as a divide-and-rule strategy by the apartheid regime, pitting ethnic groups against one another. So serious was the regime about its tribal agenda that it even zoned some townships, such as Daveyton, Duduza and Tsakane in the East Rand, along ethnic lines - Sotho, Zulu and Xhosa sections.

Sadly, some of our people have absorbed and internalised these tribal stereotypes, believing that one ethnic group is superior to and more intelligent than another. Sometimes intermarriages between ethnic groups are not blessed by the families, leaving them torn apart and making outcasts of those who marry "outsiders".

The political violence of the 1980s turned many East Rand and KwaZulu-Natal townships into war-torn areas, leaving thousands dead, maimed and displaced. This is another example of how we have emerged from the apartheid era with deep psychic wounds. It has taken years to restore hope and trust in these communities, enabling them to interact again and, for this more hopeful outlook we have to thank, at least in part, social cohesion.

But still we live in a country where racism continues to rear its ugly head, leaving us wondering if government's efforts at reconciliation and nation-building are, at times, taken for granted. Recently, a South African, Adam Catzavelos, revealed himself as a bitter racist when he unashamedly used the K-word on holiday on a Greek beach. This was despite his family restaurant being in the heart of Braamfontein where most of the clientele is black. It is from these fellow citizens that the restaurant's profits are derived. Catzavelos' twisted outburst is deeply worrying.

Also highly concerning are the outbursts of xenophobia that continue to shame us. Social cohesion is not a concept to be applied only to those born in South Africa: it applies also to our neighbours from other parts of this continent, our fellow Africans whose countries sheltered our refugees in the dark days of apartheid.

A nation as seriously broken as ours is in dire need of social cohesion. Heritage Day is important in bringing our diverse people together, performing their cultural activities, interacting, learning from one another's cultures and realising we have more in common than we might think.

Equally, sites that commemorate our heritage and struggle, such as Robben Island, the Apartheid Museum and the Sharpeville Memorial, are important for national healing and reconciliation. It is crucial that South Africans from divergent backgrounds visit them. Equally, sporting activities, such as soccer and rugby matches, are excellent platforms for social cohesion - the national anthem should be sung with gusto and the country's flag flown with pride.

As South Africans we should view Heritage Month as particularly important for social cohesion. The month is an important ingredient for social integration and for bringing about a nonracial society as espoused by Nelson Mandela.

- Mancotywa is the chief executive officer of the National Heritage Council

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