'SA is at war with itself'
"We have forgotten how we arrived at where we are today... Instead, we have resorted to fighting"
South Africa is a country at war with itself, claiming to promote dialogue, but instead stifles those who do not march to the prescribed drum beat, said Rt Rev Dr Bishop Jo Seoka at the Just World Conference in Kempton Park today.
“We won our democratic character through negotiations where people came together to talk and discuss a way towards a solution for the common good for all, but we have forgotten how to do this. We have forgotten how we arrived at where we are today”.
He was speaking at the start of the two-day conference hosted by The Bench Marks Foundation, in collaboration with the Norwegian Church Aid. A copy of his speech was released in a statement to media.
In his address, Seoka said that the country now waits too long before embarking on negotiations.
“There is an African proverb that says that things are corrected through talking. People are encouraged to talk about their differences instead of resorting to fighting,” says Seoka.
“Unfortunately in my experience, we have resorted to fighting.
“In Marikana, mine management could have done things differently. The workers had asked them to create space for discussions but they ignored this request. Talking would have alleviated the tension from the start and the carnage we saw happen on that fateful day in August, would not have occurred.
“It took far too long before negotiations started, and too many lives were lost because of this.
“We need to find ways to create that space that our mineworkers are so desperate to attain, to reduce the level of violence, and to address the flaws in our democratic society."
Seoka said that representatives from a wide variety of sectors are attending today's conference — academics, policy makers, NGOs, representatives of local communities, traditional leaders, as well as mining companies — thereby ensuring that as many voices are heard as is possible. “We will discuss and explore the impacts of extractive industries on local communities and different models for ownership of natural resources. In addition, we will discuss how minerals can bring about development”.
“If we learn nothing else from the Marikana and Lonmin catastrophe, we should at least recognise that to ignore the root causes of discontent would be inviting another ‘Marikana’.
“We need to ensure that there is democratic participation in decision making. We need to remember that community and stakeholder relations are essential,” he said.
Bench Marks Foundation is an independent non-governmental organisation mandated by churches to monitor the practices of multi-national corporations to ensure they respect human rights; protect the environment; ensure that profit-making is not done at the expense of other interest groups; and ensure that those most negatively impacted upon are heard, protected and accommodated within the business plans of the corporations.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu launched the Foundation in 2001 and the Rt Rev Dr Jo Seoka chairs the organisation.