Speech by CT Trolick on the debate on Social Cohesion & Challenges that Need to be Confronted in the Building of a Cohesive Nation and the Natonal Democratic Society

25 October 2007

Chairperson and Honorable Members, when participating in this debate it is appropriate to repeat the clause in the Freedom Charter that states that: "South belongs to all who live in it, Black and White, united in our diversity". President Mbeki has on numerous occasions in speeches in this House referred to the issue of social cohesion whether it was during the state-of-the-nation address or in reply to those debates. The President more recently also referred to this matter in reply to questions asked by political parties represented here in Parliament. One of the outcomes of such interactions is the task conferred on us in this House to debate social cohesion and to move towards a common understanding of what is meant by the concept. This will hopefully set us on the path in identifying those issues that need to be addressed through collective action to put our country on path in the realization of a national democratic society.

This debate also comes at a time when the country is basking in the glory of being Rugby World Champions. The scenes of sheer joy and jubiliation at the momentous success the nation achieved bears testimony the fact that we are a winning nation that can proudly take our place amongst the nations of the world. It also illustrate the potential of sport to unite our people across gender, race and cultural lines. Rather than just celebrate social unity at key points of victory on the sports fields, we have to strive towards a united nation by improving the lives of the disadvantaged as a key element of building a unified nation. Such significant victories for our nation must be utilized as building blocks to achieve our objective of building one nation, united in our diversity.

I am thus reminded of the following extract from the 2007 state of the nation address when President Mbeki said: " we are duty bound to ask the question - have we all fully internalized our responsibility in building social cohesion and promoting a common sense of belonging, reinforcing the glue that holds our nation together?" It is my submission that we must continuously work towards the creation of a National Identity that is fundamentally focused on strengthening a sense of belonging. It is clear from our experiences that national reconciliation and social cohesion will not happen on its own. It requires visionary leadership and demands from all of us to focus on the bigger picture.

The ultimate goal of a national democratic society has not yet been reached! We therefore in this debate highlight the key elements of the national democratic state that we are striving to realise:

  1. A united state based on the will of all the people, without regard to race, gender, belief or geographic location;
  2. A dignified and improving quality of life among all the people by providing equal rights and opportunities to all citizens; and
  3. The restoration of the birthright of all South Africans regarding access to land and other resources .

The 10-year Macro-Social Report published by government highlights the progress made in the attainment of these objectives. This report "point to our transition from an inhumane society characterised by racism, division, inequality, injustice and subjugation to a society that is ostensibly caring, open and democratic, committed to the ethos of non-racialism, non-sexism and freedom". It further reflect on the positive mood and confidence that has been developed since 1994, in the economy, the enormous strides that have been made in the delivery of basic needs, including housing, education, health, social development, and sport and recreation, and focuses our attention on a trajectory of accelerated delivery, acceleration in growth and social cohesion.

Macro-social trends that has emerged in our society since 1994:

  • Rapid rates of migration to areas with better economic potential, with resultant sprawls of informal settlements in the major cities and towns;
  • Greater self-assertion by the youth in taking advantage of professions now opened up and opportunities in the arts and other areas; but also marginalisation of millions of young people who do not have the skills required by the economy;
  • Better gender representation in the legislatures and other organs of state; but also slow progress in the private sector and serious manifestations of poverty and women abuse;
  • Better advocacy and access in relation to the rights of people with disability; but a huge legacy of marginalisation; and
  • Greater focus on the rights of children; but still unacceptable levels of child poverty and abuse.

It is in this context that we need to focus on issues of social exclusion and inequality and recognize that all our people do not have equal access to education, health, employment, housing and economic wealth. The ANC-led government together with all political parties need to confront these challenges to decisively deal with poverty and underdevelopment. Challenges with the implementation of programmes aimed at providing a better life for all our people should thus not be used as a celebration of failure by the opposition. Instead, concrete proposals and action is required by all South Africans to make democracy work to the benefit of all our people.

It is thus fundamentally important to be guided by the principle that we can only claim to be human if we give full attention to the well-being of our fellow-South Africans - The Xhosa proverb that states: "umntu ngumntu ngabanye abantu". This is one of the key elements we need to ensure a cohesive nation.