Speech by Annelizé Van Wyk during debate on Social Cohesion

25 October 2007

Madam Speaker one single definition for social cohesion does not exist. In the multitude of definitions, there are however common characteristics. These are amongst others: shared values, shared challenges and equal opportunities. In other words that we have a common vision and a sense of belonging amongst all communities, that we appreciate the diversity of our people\'s backgrounds and circumstances, and that we create similar life opportunities for people from different backgrounds and that we share in this responsibility. (In our terms mean that we address the inequalities of the past)

What are some of the key challenges that we face in order to ensure a cohesive nation?

While we acknowledge, respect and yes, also celebrate our diversities, we should work actively towards reaching social cohesion within this kaleidoscope of diversity. Our diversity should start to feed into an overarching national identity. It should become the glue that binds us together, not serve as the borders that divide us.

Madam Speaker achieving cohesion is not and can never be the responsibility of the state and government on its own. Cohesion can not be achieved from the top down, but will only be successful and sustainable if it involves grassroots and organized civil society. As public representatives, that places a particular responsibility upon our shoulders. In many ways it provides direction to us on how to approach our Parliamentary duties and execute our different political roles. For example it means that in our oversight as Parliament over the work of the executive that while we can and should be vigilant, not only to the extent of criticizing, but that we have the responsibility to collectively find solutions for the challenges that we face. It requires a special kind of opposition party; one that will share in this responsibility, one that will join hands in finding solutions and that will not celebrate perceived failures of programs aimed at promoting cohesion, but that will rather collectively take responsibility in addressing the challenges that leads to setbacks. The ability to accept responsibility is the measure of the man. Roy L Smith.

Achieving cohesion demands selflessness and patriotism. Infusing ubuntu into our lives means that there is a readiness to sacrifice and that selfless action then becomes the transformative force that is needed in order to achieve the changes required in order to create opportunities for those who most need it. That selflessness should also be reflective in our public service.

The ANC has identified key groups as vulnerable; The poor in general, but especially those in rural areas, those living in under-developed informal settlements, children, but especially those children that heads households. In order for us to achieve social cohesion an intervening developmental state is required. This developmental state needs to intervene in the lives of the vulnerable groups, but also needs to get directly involved in creating equal opportunities to address inequalities. This should be complemented with redistributive processes that can express the journey to cohesion in concrete terms.

We need to determine how we can include the objective to promote cohesion in all the policies of our country, we as public representatives of our country has the shared responsibility to create, implement and combine initiatives to escape and to overcome poverty. As elected representatives of our diverse nation we share the responsibility to develop measures against discrimination of any kind and to harness and protect the recognition of fundamental rights and to insist and ensure effective co-ordination between our social and economic policies.

With acknowledgement to J D Rockefeller Jnr, Our responsibility: every opportunity is an obligation; every possession, a duty. History and generations to follow will judge us.