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The people of SA need a “big hug”.
That’s what DA MP and spokesman on arts and culture Niekie van den Berg felt after two days at the national social cohesion summit.
Admitting that after day one he had felt disheartened by the “rhetoric and repeated statements”, Van den Berg said Thursday had been an “eye-opener” for him.
“Just to listen to the people… there is a lot of pain and rawness, still, in the people’s hearts. And I think we must acknowledge that. People are angry for a reason. People are angry because we are not living in a perfect society,” he said.
He said there was still a great deal of work to be done to address poverty, education and joblessness. “I think any person in life likes to be cared about. If you are a child, you love it when your mother or father gives you a kiss or hugs you. I think our people in South Africa need a big hug. We all, we as South Africans, must embrace all the people in our country – we must make them feel better. I think that’s very important,” he said.
The all-you-need-is-love sentiment was raised several times during the two-day summit. One delegate, in the prejudice and discrimination commission, reminded those assembled of Indian pacifist Mahatma Gandhi’s view that a society should be judged by how it treated its animals.
Although on the last day of the summit delegates had gone into five different commissions covering economic inequalities; spatial division; social interaction, co-operation and solidarity; prejudice and discrimination; and national identity and unity, it was clear from their reports that many issues overlapped.
For example, Wits deputy vice-chancellor Yunus Ballim, who was the rapporteur from the economic inequalities commission, reported back on the need for South Africans to be able to greet each other, or say thank you, in indigenous languages.
Land ownership and housing also featured strongly, with agreement among delegates that interventions – such as setting up relevant legislative frameworks and completing the land audit – were required urgently.
Recommendations were made by Dr Allan Boesak, who was at the social interaction commission, that the social dialogue initiated at the national summit be extended to local communities.
In the same commission, ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga suggested that members of parliament – who had constituencies – could go back to those communities and establish “talking workshops” on issues of social cohesion.
The problems identified by Khoi and San South Africans – for example that they were referred to as coloured – featured prominently in a number of commissions.
Former SA ambassador to the US Barbara Masekela summed up the discussion on the country’s national psyche as “too difficult, too complex and too painful” to follow up.
“Naturally we’d like to think of ourselves as a free people. But there is an inside pain that all South Africans have within us,” she said.