Social cohesion needs common norms, values
RECENTLY the Department of Arts and Culture organised a summit on social cohesion. Ido Lekota spoke to ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe on the challenges the country faces in its quest for social cohesion.
What is the ANC's approach to social cohesion?
We feel that there is an overemphasis on the economic aspect of social cohesion.
There is a focus on how material inequalities impact on the country's ability to achieve social cohesion.
For social cohesion to happen, there must be common norms and values that our nation shares. We should all accept that racism is unacceptable and then make an effort to internalise that.
The unfortunate reality is, we have accepted the principle of non-racialism, but we do not practice it. For example, just look at the way we stare at mixed-race couples.
But surely economic disparities are an important factor when it comes to whether a society achieves social cohesion or not. Poor people cannot be expected to share a sense of belonging with their well-off counterparts.
What we are saying is, the fact that the majority of the poor and unemployed are black is as a result of norms and values that were adopted in an apartheid society.
For example, patriarchy results in income disparities between men and women.
It is because of those values that we have an "Irish coffee society" (black at the base, mainly white at the top with a sprinkling of black).
An issue often raised is that we are a multicultural society and how that could impact on our ability to achieve or not achieve social cohesion. What is the ANC's view on this?
It is a misnomer to say we are a multicultural society. The reality is, the majority is a cultural minority. The dominant Western culture undermines the cultural practices of the majority.
Social cohesion must include the right to exercise choice without being, or made to feel in a weaker position. This should include the acceptance of the majority's cultural practices and the development of the various indigenous languages.
You cannot separate culture from language.
The argument by the Afrikaners that their language is becoming extinct is all about their fight to maintain the cultural hegemony they enjoyed during apartheid.
During the summit, the importance of ubuntu was raised. But there are those who argue that ubuntu is nothing special because it is about promoting the universal values of honesty and respect (which are promoted in western cultures too).
Ubuntu is about understanding that your socioeconomic status must not alienate you from your community. This is what has happened to some members of the black middle-class. They are alienated from their own communities because they 'walk around in borrowed robes'.
Unfortunately, there are also attempts (especially in business to westernise ubuntu - thereby downgrading it.
What concrete steps should the various sectors of society take to promote social cohesion?
One of the things society needs to do is to accelerate integration.
This should include reorganising our spatial planning. We should strive towards a situation whereby, for example, our housing allocation is need-based rather than colour-based.
The reality is that the majority of the homeless are black and therefore our housing plans will be geared towards providing housing for that majority.
We must, however, also understand that although there are few squatters in white communities, proportionally in those communities their homelessness is a major problem.
We should build communities where the homeless of all races can reside.
Political parties must educate their members about their rights and responsibilities.
The ANC believes that we need to mobilise cadres away from the culture of protest to the culture of development. We need to deal with the culture of people destroying what they have simply because they now have the right to protest. Some ANC members use the cover of service delivery protest to physically attack other ANC members because they want to replace them as leaders.
As for the white community, it must rid itself of cultural and racial supremacy.
The black community must also wake up to the fact that there are institutions - such as the Equality Court - that they can use to challenge those who undermine non-racialism and equality. Because culturally we never used such institutions to settle disputes, we are not utilising them effectively - unlike the previous beneficiaries of institutions.