More and more people define themselves in terms of their citizenry and not race or language or ethnic group, writes Sandile Memela.
Cape Town - After nearly 20 years of democracy, we are still confining the national discourse on social cohesion and nation building in South Africa to measuring race relations and how many people see a happy future for all races.
This was revealed in the development indicators released by Minister of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency Collins Chabane.
At 39 percent, the number of people who see a decline in race relations presents a bleak picture of the state of race relations. Yet we have 58 percent who see a happy future for all races.
It is time that we not only reconsidered this barometer but discarded race as a yardstick to measure social cohesion and nation building. An obsession with race not only distorts the picture of the progress made but perpetuates the myth that race is the all-important criterion to determine human development and progress.
It also reveals a preoccupation with the status and position of whites, for instance, as a group. Blacks will always be measured by how they are doing against whites. Why?
Significantly, only 4.1 percent of people describe themselves by their language or tribe, while a mere 8.8 percent use race as a self-descriptor. Contrast this with the 52 percent who identify themselves as South Africans, first, and the 88 percent who are proud to be South African citizens.
There is no doubt that, increasingly, South Africans do not see race, language and tribe as an important criterion for self-identity. They are well on their way towards a non-racial society.
A social cohesion barometer should emphasise common values and principles that citizens can use to determine how, at an individual and organisational level, their behaviour, conduct and attitude is aligned to the constitution and, for instance, the Charter of Positive Values championed by the Moral Regeneration Movement.
Human relations must be measured by how good or bad you are, and not the colour of your skin.
After all, the bulk of South Africans define themselves as proud citizens who are hopeful about the future for all races, compared to only 13 percent who continue to make a big deal of race, language and or ethnic group identity. Increasingly, people are opting to be agents of the South Africa that belongs to all who live in it.
The resolutions of the 2012 National Social Cohesion Summit in Kliptown, Soweto, committed over 2 300 delegates from all races and backgrounds to mobilise all of society to work together to build a caring and proud society. This must, inevitably, be based on shared values and principles.
Thus all forms of self-identity or discrimination or social measurement based on race, ethnicity and other forms of prejudicial standards should be seriously reconsidered or done away with. This can only happen when individuals, organisations and communities emphasise and promote their South African identity and judge people by the content of their character and not race or language.
The pessimistic figure on declining race relations does not portray the positive and progressive picture of developments in the country. There is no evidence to support the claim that blacks and whites are not getting along and working together to build a better future.
The mistake of drumming up this dry statistic is that it elevates race relations into the single most important criterion in measuring human relations and national developments.
Social cohesion is not just about relations between blacks and whites, but also delves into other relationships and discrimination, including sexism, ethnicity, class and, above all, xenophobia.
It would be incorrect to presume that all is well within the black community, for instance, when it has splintered into different interest groups. Also, it does not help to attribute or link pessimism on race relations to global financial and economic crises.
We cannot relieve our consciences by blaming external factors for how we treat fellow citizens. The problem here is that many people are reluctant to take responsibility for what happens in this country.
The global economic crisis has nothing to do with whether neighbours greet each other in the morning, offer a sandwich to a beggar, or smile at fellow patrons in a restaurant.
Much as economic inequality is the greatest stumbling block to social cohesion, the latter can happen when people focus on embracing values enshrined in the constitution and identify themselves as South African citizens, first. This is the basis of an egalitarian society.
We have to begin to realise that this obsession with race and global economic crisis is not a good excuse for citizens to not just be nice to each other.
To engage in a serious discussion about social cohesion, we must begin to look beyond black and white.
It helps a great deal that more and more people define themselves in terms of their citizenry and not race or language/ethnic group. Much as inequality is rooted in race, the past 20 years have shown the widest gap to be between black and black. Thus race is on the decrease as a yardstick of inequality or individual values and principles.
We need to come up with measurements that will shape us as agents of a non-racial, non-sexist and inclusive society where everyone has a sense of belonging and ownership. It is a giant leap into the future that more people are defining themselves as South Africans and are proud of belonging to this nation in the making.
* Sandile Memela is chief director for social cohesion at the Department of Arts & Culture. He writes in his personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.