Talking together for a better future

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

By Minister of Human Settlements Lindiwe Sisulu

When asked for their opinion on Africa Day, some might speak glowingly of the African leaders who stood up to colonial and white minority rule.  Others may well reflect on how the march towards democracy has taken hold on the continent.  No matter the images it invokes, Africa Day is a celebration of a continent on the rise.

Africa Day commemorates the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor to the African Union (AU), in 1963. It signified the defining moment when the continent stood up as one to rid Africa of the remaining vestiges of colonisation and apartheid. To the world, it signalled that the continent was united in its determination to better the lives of all Africans.

It would, however, be 31 long years before South Africa was able to finally join the rest of the continental family as a free and democratic nation. We should never forget that the continent stood by us during this time and ensured that the struggle against apartheid remained on the world agenda.

Those who were fortunate enough to live through the momentous months leading up to the first democratic election in 1994, will never forget the tangible feeling of change which swept through the country.  On April 27, 1994 our new nation was born and a few weeks later on May 23, 1994 we became the 53rd member of the then- OAU.

Each year on 25 May we celebrate Africa Day and look back at the road travelled by Africans since that momentous day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, all those years ago.

At the heart of the African Union is the shared belief that we must promote greater unity and solidarity between African countries. This goes hand in hand with accelerating the political and socio-economic integration of Africa and promoting peace, security and stability on the continent.

On Africa Day, we have an opportunity to reflect where we have come from, acknowledge the progress that Africans have made and reflect on the common challenges we face in a global environment.

What will the people of the continent reflect on this Africa Day?  There will no doubt be much soul searching, but there will also be great pride at the strides made by Africa and her people.

At home we must use Africa Month (1 to 31 May) and Africa Day (25 May) to reinforce our solidarity with the continent.  We must move decisively to ensure that the shameful attacks on foreign nationals never happen again.

Government has moved swiftly in bringing an end to the attacks and is now actively working towards ensuring that foreigners return to their respective communities. 

Undoubtedly, there are many underlying factors that led to the attacks and the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Migration appointed by President Jacob Zuma is looking at various aspects related to migration, including social, economic and security aspects.

The work of the IMC will take a holistic approach.  Government is aware that interventions must tackle the root causes.  This includes identifying and resolving challenges highlighted by communities and local traders.

The IMC will also pinpoint challenges around migration and identify suitable interventions at the Department of Home Affairs while the Ministry of Small Business Development is giving priority to issues relevant to small businesses.   

Although these interventions are sorely needed, there must be an honest national conversation about our social cohesion in South Africa.  The attacks revealed that we are a nation still grappling with the artificial social, racial and cultural divides which were inculcated by the apartheid state.

In 1994, many thought that democracy would cure all ills.  However, the euphoria which greeted our triumphant march to democracy was never going to translate into a sustained reality without hard work.

If we are honest, we would all agree that we could have done more collectively to promote inclusive nation-building and social cohesion.  Nevertheless, all is not lost as there are many more things that unite us than divide us.  It is within our grasp to push for a recognition of shared symbols and values; and promote a countrywide consciousness of being proudly South African and African.

This journey begins with you and me. Together we must deepen community and societal conversations.  There is room to speak openly and honestly about our shared history, no matter how painful it may be. 

Some might argue that this amounts to nothing more than a feel good exercise.  In truth we have shunned these difficult conversations for far too long. We must do more to ensure that the inequalities, exclusions and disparities which still exist 21 years after democracy are minimised.  Our nation will never truly be free until every South African is afforded a chance to live their dreams through hard work and dedication.

The tools for this endeavour are already at our disposal. It starts with the Constitution as our guide, and systematically working towards eradicating divisions and injustices. It resides in building a more inclusive society and economy.  It resides in a willingness to ensure greater daily interactions, on an equal footing, with diverse fellow South Africans and Africans.

During Africa Month we call on everyone to join the conversation.  By talking to each other, by honestly and openly discussing our debilitating history and our shared future, we can build a better future.

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