Learn more languages, says Cyril Ramaphosa as he calls for better race relations
President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged South Africans to learn more languages as part of bridging racial divides in the country.
In his weekly newsletter, themed around Reconciliation Day, Ramaphosa used the popular #ImStaying Facebook group to inspire South Africans to embrace reconciliation.
By trying to learn the language of your friend, your colleague, your neighbour or the people you interact with daily, you open up the space for real communication.President Cyril Ramaphosa
Reconciliation Day is observed on December 16.
“On this Reconciliation Day, I call on each of our citizens to think of the simple things they could do to reach out across the racial divide in their everyday lives. One way of doing this is to learn another South African language.
“By trying to learn the language of your friend, your colleague, your neighbour or the people you interact with daily in public places, you go beyond just demonstrating cross-cultural understanding. You open up the space for real communication,” said Ramaphosa.
He said South Africans needed to find ways to reach beyond their social and professional circles to appreciate other people’s points of view.
“Through sporting, cultural and religious activities, we can find ways to interact with fellow South Africans from a diversity of backgrounds,” said Ramaphosa.
The president used an example of a photo he was sent from the #ImStaying Facebook group. The picture was of two women sitting side by side at a bus stop in Cape Town.
“One [of the women] is white, elderly and frail, and rests her head on the shoulder of the younger black woman. This simple image, of these two women sitting there with their hands locked tightly, resonated deeply with me as we approach Reconciliation Day on December 16.
“It brought to mind the powerful words of Steve Bantu Biko that captured our aspirations for a new country: 'In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift — a more human face.'
“Such a scene, of kindness and compassion, and of two people simply being human, would have been unthinkable in SA just over three decades ago. Under that most insidious manifestation of petty apartheid, the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, only the white woman would have been allowed to sit at that bus stop, or travel on the bus,” said Ramaphosa.
“A black woman holding a white woman’s hand would have been met with disapproval from the city’s white residents. It is often difficult to explain to the younger generation of South Africans, who were born to freedom, that apartheid was both brutal and extraordinarily petty.”
The president said it was important to deal decisively with the obstacles to reconciliation, which included high levels of inequality and the persistence of racist attitudes and practices.
“But it is equally important to acknowledge just how vastly different our country is today to what it was 26 years ago. For every negative story of racism that makes the news, there are countless other positive stories of racial integration, communities living in harmony and social cohesion that do not generate headlines,” he said.
“Many of these can be found on the same #ImStaying thread. They are simple, everyday stories of South Africans living and working alongside each other, being friends and helping each other.
“We know divisions of race and class remain very real in SA, but these stories do show race relations in our country are not as toxic as we are often led to believe.”
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