Social cohesion a long journey worth the travel

Thursday, December 14, 2017

While South Africa has made progress in political freedom, the country has a way to go in dealing with issues of social cohesion and economic equality.

On the eve of National Reconciliation Day, Acting Director General at Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), Phumla Williams, reflected on the meaning of reconciliation for South Africans. 

The establishment of 16 December as a public holiday was an attempt by the democratic government to strike a balance between a divided past and promoting national unity and reconciliation in a new political dispensation. 

“We have achieved a lot in terms of political freedom but in terms of dealing with employment equity, equality in our schools and general inequality… we still have a long way to go.

“We have a long way to go in creating a society that competes fairly in whatever we do and we still have a lot of poor people who struggle to compete with rich people,” Williams told SAnews.

Fostering unity 

As 2017 marks 23 years of freedom, Williams challenged citizens to be self-critical on what has been done and their role in creating a united society.

“We didn’t have a focused programme in trying to deal with racial tensions within our society. We somehow thought that the racial tensions would go away without us working on them and that policies would [be sufficient].

“We have to work on the minds of the people. [We need] a programme that is directed at healing… If we don’t work on trying to [quell racial] tension, we are going to see things boiling (sic),” Williams said.

She said dealing with the wounds of the past can pave the way towards greater societal unity. 

“That’s what we all aspire to -- a prosperous country that every South African would be happy to live in... We want to have a landscape that [reflects] the demographic of our society, whether you go to Sandton or Soweto,” Williams said.

She reiterated that it is not only government’s responsibility to play a part in healing the wounds of the past, but that it is incumbent on everyone including NGOs, churches and businesses. 

“If we want to win this battle, government has a role to play, particularly in schools. Companies and NGOs have a role to play. Reconciliation Day is more than just a day. It’s a day to reflect on what we are doing in building a non-racial society,” Williams said. 

History of Reconciliation Day 

The 2017 National Day of Reconciliation marks 23 years of freedom from apartheid and colonial oppression and the second decade of constitutional democracy. 

The origins and significance of this day can partly be traced back to the Battle of Blood River in 1838, which saw the Voortrekker army, led by Andries Pretorius, defeating the Zulu army in the Ncome Stream.

During the days of apartheid, 16 December was commemorated as the Day of the Covenant, the Day of the Vow or Dingane’s Day, which was created to commemorate a vow taken by the Voortrekkers (a group of Afrikaners who had moved inland to escape the clutches of British colonialism and imperialism) in preparation for a battle with the Zulu people, under King Dingane kaSenzangakhona, with whom they had a serious land dispute.

With the advent of democracy, 16 December retained its status as a public holiday, however, this time with an intent of building a nation and unity amongst its people. –

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