Minister Nathi Mthethwa: National Convention on Nation Building, Social Cohesion and Safe Communities

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06 Feb 2020

Address by Hon. EN Mthethwa, Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, on the occasion of the National Convention on Nation Building, Social Cohesion and Safe Communities, Saint George Hotel, Irene, City of Tshwane, Gauteng Province

Programme Director
Ministers present
Deputy Minister, Hon. N Mafu
Premier David Makhura
Members of the Diplomatic Corps.
Members of the National and Provincial legislatures
Executive Mayors
Esteemed members of the National House of Traditional Leaders, including provincial houses of traditional leaders.
Business Community.
Members of Labour Organisations.
Members of Civil Society Organisations.
Distinguished guests
Members of the Media
Fellow South Africans

It is an honour and great privilege for me that I stand before this august forum of South Africans from all walks of life to address a gathering that seeks to tackle a very important and timely subject – that of building a social compact for Nation Building and Social Cohesion.

Some may be mistaken to think that this project on social cohesion and nation building is a new societal preoccupation, coming with the dawn of democracy in 1994. It has always been part of the architecture of the new democratic order which is based on Constitutionalism, equality, rule of law, human rights and the independence of the Judiciary has been the pre-occupation of the liberation movement right from day one of their existence. This was early in the 20th century.

In a book titled: “The Land is ours” by Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. Has this to say about Seme during his law school days and in practice:

“The notions that especially impressed young Seme were the following: equality is intrinsic to the law, government should be ruled by law; individual rights cannot be removed without following due process before an independent judiciary and the government should not behave in an arbitrary manner, and should abide by clear rules. These resonated with the ideals of African society founded on the notion of fairness and respect for others”.

This happened at the time that these were not expected especially from a person of African origin. They were trail blazers in the field of law.

In 1955, the people of South Africa from all walks of life gathered in Kliptown, near Johannesburg over two days and adopted the famous political document of our revolution, the Freedom Charter.

The Freedom Charter amongst others speaks of the following:

The Preamble of the Freedom Charter declares that: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people”.

It goes on to say: “No government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will, not just of the whites, but of all the people of the country. The Freedom Charter thus begins by an assertion of what is and has been a cardinal democratic principle that all can live in South Africa whatever their origin, in equality and democracy. That the South Africa of the future will not be a country divided unto itself and dominated by a particular racial group. It will be the country of all its inhabitants”.

As demonstrated above, the concept of nation building and social cohesion project precedes the dawn of democracy in 1994. That is, the mass democratic movement was always seized with the question as to what kind of society South Africa should be once it is liberated from its colonialism and apartheid. And nowhere is this more self-evident than in the series of papers on the National Question. It was therefore unsurprising that among many other important priorities of the new administration was the effort to progressively make South Africa a socially integrated and inclusive society – given the socio-historical context of deep societal divisions along the contours of race, class, gender, culture, language, religion, sexual orientation, among others.

While there is recognition that the various axes of human difference intersect and that there needs to be a simultaneous effort in dealing with all forms of discrimination, there is no denying the fact in terms of the centrality of race and race being the foremost social construct that continues to circumscribe life experience, given our socio-historical context in relation to racial prejudice, racial discrimination and outright racism. Thus, it would be dishonest of a social cohesion and nation building programme to avoid this fact.

The commitment in building a non-racial, non-sexist, free and democratic society is an integral part of the Preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. The National Development Plan (NDP) envisions a type of society in 2030 that would embrace its diversity rather than reify phenotypical human differences. Such a society, as envisioned in the NDP will have a common set of values, an inclusive economy, and increased social interaction among the different racial groups. The NDP also envisions a visibly strong leadership cadre across society buttressed by a mobilized, active and responsible citizenry.

Despite positive strides since 1994, South African society remains divided. The privilege attached to race, class, space and gender has not yet been fully reversed. The social, psychological and geographic elements of apartheid continue to shape the lives and outlook of many South Africans.

Through the social compact business, government, labour and civil society will agree to work together to bring about future change. It will reaffirm the importance of freedom, peace and security as well as the respect for all human rights.

The social compact is aimed at promoting national unity, cohesion and nation building.

  • The strategic objectives of the compact are focused on inviting all sectors of the society to play a role in the following:
  • Advancing constitutional democracy, human rights and equality;
  • Promoting non-racialism, non-sexism, equality and human solidarity;
  • Building unity amongst South Africans, as well as with the region, continent and the international community; and
  • Encouraging healing of individuals and communities.

Social; cohesion can never be separated from Economic justice 

The social compact will create a common front in overcoming our nation’s challenges. It also seeks to make every South African an agent for positive change. It will contribute to our long term development.

The task before us today however is to put a seal to the mechanism that will ensure that all sectors of society are mobilised so that they too contribute meaningfully and optimally to this important national project on social cohesion and nation building. That social mechanism of engagement is what we now refer to as social compact.

The rationale for the social compact convention comes upon the realisation that no single sector, including government, can single-handedly succeed in the goal towards a socially integrated and inclusive society. That is, for South Africa to become a socially integrated and inclusive society, the different sectors in society need to make commitments and hold each other to account.

On this auspicious day, we have set time aside as South Africans from across the societal divide and from a wide range of sectors, to bargain with one another and reach a broad consensus in terms of the letter and the spirit of the social compact – itself a social contract that we all shall voluntarily enter into as part of our contribution to the promise of the Constitution and the vision of the NDP.

As government, we are hopeful that this collective will set us on a path towards that desired trajectory of societal integration and transformation. Necessarily, this convention must, among other objectives, (a) provide a dialogic platform on social cohesion to various key role players; (b) obtain a broad consensus on the role that different sectors will play in promoting social cohesion and nation building; and (c) obtain agreement on the spirit and the letter of the social compact and its binding force on all sectors.

I am glad that all sectors are here including civil society, business, labour, the media, and traditional authorities.

And so, what is the state of play? What then is the nature of the problem we have to deal with, which mechanism such a social compact has become necessary? The Baseline Survey by the Foundation for Human Rights concluded in their recent survey that race is a dominant variable in terms of the high levels of distrust in society.

In terms of this survey, 44% of adults have no trust, none whatsoever, on people of other race groups. Only 56% indicated some level of trust of the other. Even here, 28% of adults can be classified in the low trust category, with 15% in the medium category.

Further, 45% of the sample indicated to have experienced some kind of discrimination, with racism often cited as the sole reason for that perceived or felt discrimination. This, again, attest to the staying power of race and racism in limiting lived experiences of people in this country. This is not to say that racism is solely responsible for all the social fissures and division in society. Indeed there are other manifestations of discrimination such as class, ethnicity, gender, culture, language, sexual orientation and many others. However, the centrality of race, given the peculiarities of our socio-historical context cannot be denied.

For example, patriarchy, like racism, also continues to be part of the lived experience. Thus, gender relations are still skewed in favor of men. The results from the Baseline Survey are hardly surprising as they corroborate this claim. Women constitutes a majority in the population stakes; yet in many respects remain marginalized and more often fall victim to discrimination, abuse and some in the process pay with their lives.

Despite their precarious status in society, women had over centuries played a significant role in fostering cohesion across society. It is an irrefutable truth that women tend to be predisposed to such critical roles in society as peacemaking, mediation, and nurturing of relationships. Implicit in this is the view that all effort towards social cohesion and nation building will stutter, unless women are at the very center of that project and play a meaningful role.

Thus, in terms of strategic interventions on social cohesion and nation building, much focus is required in terms of the extent to which these interventions are responsive to ravages of patriarchy in general and gender based violence in particular. Experience of most women however intimates a worrying experience. Women and young girls still experience discrimination and gender based violence remains a worrying concern. Hence government now has issued a call to action and all government departments and state entities are now required to have related interventions about which they periodically report, as part of the Emergency Response Plan to deal with Gender Based Violence.

There can be no success in the social cohesion and nation building programme if women are violated and rendered invisible – this is particularly relevant, given the fact that women constitutes a majority in the population. Even in terms of sexual identity and orientation, the Baseline Survey seems to suggest that there is tolerance and understanding in the general population of sexual minorities as in the LGBTIQ+.

However, the lived experience of sexual minorities suggest that homophobia is still rife and rampant. The corrective rape phenomenon for example is indicative of the extent of the scourge and that a collective effort is not only necessary but urgent, if we are to rid our society of most of these social ills.

There has been criticism in some quarters that we had not recognized the lived realities of unemployment, inequality and poverty – which threaten to stymie any progress that may have been made since the dawn of democracy. It is an undeniable truth that South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world, with the global inequality measure i.e. the Gini Co-efficient at 0.68.

Greater Social Cohesion and overcoming the injustices of the past are within our collective grasp. Change begin with each one of us. It resides in the willingness to ensure greater daily and frank interaction with diverse fellow South Africans on an equal footing, by talking to each other honestly and openly about our debilitating history and future we will build social cohesion and common understanding.

Ultimately we all want a nation that is defined by greater social interaction, cooperation and solidarity. This vision is possible to achieve and let us unite to grow South Africa together.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Issued by: Department of Arts and Culture