Zuma calls for citizens to build ‘the South African vision’

"Every citizen became an ambassador of our beautiful country," he told the national social cohesion summit in Soweto on Wednesday.

In the build-up to the summit, community conversations were held to ask what it meant to be South African. Many participants identified the unity and national pride of South Africans during the World Cup as a success story. "It showed us what is possible if we put our country first," Zuma said.

"We need to ask ourselves whether that is the standard of South Africans that we ask, or if there is more that we should and can do to build the South African vision?" The summit is being held in Kliptown, where 3 000 delegates of all races met in 1955 to draft the Freedom Charter, which calls for a non-racial South Africa that belongs to all who live in it.

"As leaders we have the responsibility to bring about [the] South Africa as it was envisaged by those who met here," Zuma told the hall packed with delegates, many of them wearing scarves and beanies in the colours of the South African flag.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi echoed Zuma's World Cup nostalgia. "Although now it seems a long way in the past, we must never lose sight of the glimpse it gave us of how we could indeed become a more united and cohesive society."

'Biggest obstacle to national unity'
Vavi said the optimism of that time had faded and South Africa would not achieve social cohesion unless inequality, poverty and unemployment were dealt with. "This inequality is by far the biggest obstacle to national unity and social cohesion, and no amount of talk at summits like this will bring us closer together unless we can solve the underlying structural problems within our economy, which are the root cause of our unemployment, poverty, inequality and social divisions."

Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma agreed that social ills must be fixed, but added that if South Africa was to achieve social cohesion some people could not continue feeling superior to others.

"It doesn't augur well for social cohesion if there are people who still feel superior to others … There are people who still feel superior by the mere fact that they belong to a different race."

Earlier, Freedom Front Plus MP Corne Mulder called for a ministry for minority affairs.

Dlamini-Zuma said: "It is actually divisive when minorities want always to be apart from the majority."

Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, whose department was hosting the two-day event, said the summit would not be a mere talk shop. "Out of it must come decisive steps," he said. These included a clear plan of action to heal the wounds of the past and strengthen social cohesion.

'The centre of initiatives'
Black Business Council secretary Sandile Zungu said business must not just throw money at perceived problems, then walk away feeling it had assuaged its guilt. "Business must be at the centre of initiatives … business must be involved in the entire social cohesion value chain."

Delegates spent the morning looking at the role of the judiciary, Parliament, political parties and traditional leaders, among others, in building an inclusive society. The afternoon was devoted to exploring the role of civil society in building a socially inclusive society.

Political parties, business leaders, and civil society and government representatives attended the summit, themed "Working together to create a proud and caring society".

On Thursday, delegates would divide into commissions to discuss economic inequalities, spatial divisions, social interaction, prejudice and discrimination, and national identify and unity.

Zuma first called for such a summit in 2009. The call for the summit was made again in May, following the controversy caused by artist Brett Murray's painting the Spear, which depicted Zuma with his genitals exposed, and exposed rifts in South African society. – Sapa

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Gillian Jones
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