Together, we can overcome that which seeks to divide us

1 April 2016
Opinion piece by Minister Faith Muthambi

For centuries, family units, communities and individuals have been united by the power of prayer and a sense of higher purpose. This sense of unity and striving for the greater good is universally practiced across all faiths.

It is part of the social fabric of societies and has endured even in an ever changing world. A similar sense of unity and purpose swept through our nation in the momentous months   leading up to the first democratic election in 1994, and in the first few years thereafter.

However, as the events of the last few months have shown, much work still remains to be done.

Simply put: the dawning of democracy did not erase the social injustice of our past, and could only do so much to bring an end to the artificial social, racial and cultural divides which were inculcated by the apartheid state.

The year 1994 was only the beginning of our journey and it is now incumbent on this generation to continue building on the legacy of those who sacrificed everything so that we could be free.

It is now in our hands and we need to have serious national conversations about our efforts at social cohesion and nation-building. Speaking of what divides us will undoubtedly be uncomfortable and may even open old wounds. But if we ignore it or try to wish away the uncomfortable realities of present-day South Africa we risk division at a time when our nation is crying out for unity.

Our goal as South Africans should be to promote inclusive nation-building and social cohesion. The only way to ensure this is through dialogue. Together we must deepen community and societal conversations.

Such conversations can begin in our families or in our social circle.  They can be led by communities or by faiths. Wherever it starts, we need these conversations to take place.

It is these honest and open discussions that will shine a light on the inequalities, exclusions and disparities which still exist in society. These same discussions must also surface our triumphs where we have risen above the fray and extended a hand of friendship and uplifted our neighbours.

Greater social cohesion is within our collective grasp.  It starts with living our Constitution and embracing the enduring spirit of our freedom and democracy as our true north. We need to build on our strong foundations by systematically working towards eradicating divisions and injustices, and together creating a more inclusive society and economy.

We must push for a recognition of shared symbols and values; and promote a countrywide conscious sense of being proudly South African. There are many more things that unite us then things which divide us.

This was once again reaffirmed during the recent commemoration of Human Rights Month where South Africans paid tribute to those who made sacrifices and put their lives in danger for the sake of freedom and human rights for all. Their sacrifices are a timely reminder that South Africans need to be united on all fronts if we are to foster greater social cohesion, address the scourge of racism and strive for inclusive nation-building.       

When we join the conversation in our places of worship, in our schools, our communities and among our friends we begin to create the building blocks of social cohesion and common understanding.

I urge all South Africans to join the conversation! As former President Nelson Mandela once famously said; it’s in our hands now.

Faith Muthambi is the Minister of Communications.