Johannesburg - Negative attitudes towards foreigners and high racial tensions among South Africans are undermining the country’s efforts to forge social cohesion among its people.
This is according to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who said this week these efforts would also fail if the material conditions of the poor were not improved.
Ramaphosa, who was speaking at the opening of the Gauteng Social Cohesion Summit this week, bemoaned what he called the trust deficit between various racial groupings in South Africa.
His comments follow the release of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory quality of life survey, which revealed that xenophobic attitudes were hardening in the province.
According to the survey, negative attitudes towards foreigners were on the increase among residents of the province, including among the middle class.
Xenophobic attitudes were found to be particularly highest in the Tshwane and Ekurhuleni metros, with 44 and 40 percent of respondents respectively saying all foreigners should be sent home.
“As the province with the largest number of immigrants, Gauteng must lead the way in combating xenophobia in all its manifestations.
“The people of this province must, through their actions, underscore the fact that foreign nationals pose no threat to our desire for social cohesion, nor do they present any impediment to the achievement of a common South African nationhood,” he said.
He said social cohesion would remain far from being achieved if the material needs of the poor where not addressed. “The material conditions under which our people live represent the greatest challenge to the advancement of social cohesion.
“As we work to address the material determinants of social cohesion, so too must we address the attitudes, practices and prejudices that undermine our efforts to forge a nation united in its diversity,” he said.
He cited the 2011 diagnostic report by the National Planning Commission, which stressed that the legacy of apartheid was deeply entrenched in society, and contributed to the levels of poverty. “The report underlines the fact that the human cost, and the social cost, of apartheid is still firmly with us.
“We are reminded daily by the lived experiences of our people of the devastation of poverty, inequality and unemployment,” he said.
He called for society to attend to challenges facing women in the country, saying failure to do so would undermine efforts to forge social cohesion.
“Women still bear the brunt of societal problems like poverty, inequality, discrimination and violence.
“There can be no social cohesion without a recognition and promotion of the equal rights of women and a concerted effort to improve their economic and social position,” he said.
According to Ramaphosa, one of the ways to begin on the path to social cohesion was for people to start learning each other’s languages.
“We should learn each other’s languages. It does not matter how broken it may sound. My Afrikaans is not good, but I try it to reach out to those who speak it,” he said, switching to speak in Afrikaans.
The issue of xenophobia was earlier emphasised by Gauteng Premier David Makhura, who also stressed the issue of distrust highlighted in the report.
Gauteng was the hardest hit by widespread xenophobic attacks that broke out and shocked the country in May 2008, resulting in more than 50 people being killed. Foreigners fled townships like Alexandra, Diepsloot in Johannesburg and Atteridgeville in Tshwane as they were attacked and their shops looted.
According to Makhura, the number of black people who had responded “never” to the question of whether they trusted white people was on the increase. The number of white people who had responded “never” to the question of whether they trusted black people, was also on the increase
He also lamented the survey results showed that mistrust between government officials and elected officials were exceptionally high in the province.