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Social cohesion for South Africa

Terence Pillay believes that we should be looking at social cohesion in the country rather than focusing on things that are divisive.

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There have been quite a few incidents of racism on social media recently, and I can’t believe that in 2018 this is still such a huge problem. And it seems like it’s not going anywhere, so much so that an app to report racism was launched in March this year.

But where is this discord coming from? Are these real incidents being reported or are people’s sensibilities being taken advantage of by the likes of Julius Malema who uses every opportunity to spew racist drivel in public, with complete impunity? My conspiracy theorist friends also seem to think there’s a third force at play sowing these divisive seeds to create chaos in the country. And when you consider what Bell Pottinger did, you have to wonder if there’s any truth to these conspiracies. 

If you want people to take you seriously and you really want to be able to defend yourself on real issues, stop being a racist. And instead of being all up in arms about it, do some introspection and ask yourself, “am I a racist or am I not?”

I think that people should really just keep their mouths shut or at the very least invoke the filter from brain to mouth or keyboard before they speak. And if they want to speak then they need to create opportunities to engage in decent, rational conversations about this kind of stuff in order to educate and move forward rather than these diatribes that people go into because when all’s said and done, it really is meaningless. And it’s not helpful.

If you look at what used to be Afrikaners Against Racism, which was a very popular Facebook group, they changed their name to Forum Against Injustice and Racism and there is a real concerted effort to actually work through these issues, to give black people a voice in those forums, to be taught by black people about racism and how other people’s behaviour, actions, and thinking actually is racist or continues this whole legacy. And if you look at these mainstream bulls***t platforms, it’s not constructive at all. It is in fact quite divisive. And it’s a small group of people that create this chaos.

And the elephant in the room is the silence on the part of people who won’t speak up. For example, are you prepared to stand up and say to someone, “that’s not acceptable, you can’t say that” Or because you’re the lone voice around the braai on a Saturday around a bunch of racists, do you just sit quietly in a corner and ignore it? Or do you confront it and say, “That’s actually not acceptable!”

It’s 2018 and for all intents and purposes, we shouldn’t be having this conversation. But we haven’t dealt with it; 80% of the population live in abject poverty and no matter what we say, we are not a transformed society. And we shouldn’t really expect the government to come and hold our hands and lead us into a transformed society. Yes, to some extent, they needed to create policies and things that would do that, but at the end of the day, they’re only interested in one thing – a fast track to wealth, but that’s another show altogether.

The problem is the whole discourse in our country is dominated by this. Those people who are not willing to work for social cohesion, transformation and a unified country, should really just be silent.

I’m not going to waste too much time talking about this racial division and enter the fray. I’ve already done that with Julius Malema on his racial statements on Indian people, and so clearly more of the same is not going to take us anywhere, which is why I’m really pleased to share with you some news about the Indlulamithi scenarios, which talks about social cohesion as opposed to social division. 

So last week the government released a set of social cohesion scenarios to help people think more positively. It’s like the idea of doing future planning – so for example, if we were to adopt this strategy or this scenario, we would ask ourselves: what would the future look like? A couple of years ago we had the Dinokeng Scenarios, where we were looking into the future and asking: what kind of future do we want for South Africa? Do we want a “walk apart” future or a “walk together” future and that initiative had great merit and was important at the time.

And I’ve realised that we can continue to go back and forth with someone like Julius Malema and all it would do is continue to divide because that’s his agenda. But actually, I would like to flip it around and ask, “How do we move forward together and build social cohesion?”

A cohesive society is one that exists without inequality, exclusion, and disparity based on race, gender, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, religion, disability, or any other distinction that drives division, distrust, and conflict.

But the fact is: it’s not all about idealism in these scenarios. Some of the scenarios paint a really terrifying picture – for example, Gwara Gwara: a floundering false dawn – it writes it in a story. The people of South Africa are torn between immobility and restless energy and Gwara Gwara is the name for a demoralised land of disorder and decay – and that’s a potential scenario for this country. How do we deal with that?

The other scenario is: Nayi Le Walk – A nation in step with itself. So the precision of steps in the Nayi Le Walk and the confident spirit denote a country where growing social cohesion, economic expansion, and a renewed spirit of constitutionism gets the nation going. And these are the kinds of scenarios that they are presenting that make it really interesting.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was among the 250-plus launch participants. He welcomed the scenarios as a timely contribution which had the potential to help individuals and organisations deal with the uncertainties of the future. He encouraged those who have the means to help build a better nation to resist the role of spectator and use the scenarios to “move from the armchair to the drawing board”.

The project is a response to the reality that despite progress in the past two decades, South Africa still faces major challenges. As a nation, we are struggling to deal with the confluence of inadequate economic growth, widespread unemployment, sharp inequalities, and, of course, racism, which I believe is a big part of it.

And so our discussions now around these issues should be constructive and cohesive rather than the divisive drivel that exists at the moment.

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and engage with him there.

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