keynote SPEAKER: President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Babalo Ndenze

THE controversy over The Spear painting came at just the right time for the country to take the debate on national unity further, says the Department of Arts and Culture, which is hosting a national social cohesion summit starting today.

But the Brett Murray painting – which depicted President Jacob Zuma with exposed genitals – was not the reason for the summit, said Arts and Culture spokesman Mack Lewele.

Zuma, who will attend the summit and deliver the keynote address, announced it during his budget vote speech in May, shortly after the furore over the painting split the nation.

Lewele said the summit would table and discuss the National Strategy for Developing an Inclusive and a Cohesive South African Society document, which was put together by the department.

“This is a draft document by the government and we’re hoping the summit will enhance it.

“But The Spear was just a coincidence. If you go to the government’s programme of action you’ll see it (the summit) there. Since 2007 it was one of the objectives, even before this government’s current term. But The Spear came at the right time for us to be able to take these issues further,” Lewele said.

He was unable to say how much the summit would cost.

The report makes no mention of the painting but points to section 10 of the constitution, which states: “Everyone has inherent dignity and has the right to have their dignity respected and protected.”

This formed the basis of the legal argument in the case brought by the ANC and Zuma to have the painting removed from the Goodman Gallery and the website of City Press.

According to the report, divisions imposed on society over three centuries persist almost two decades after the democratisation of South Africa.

“If left unchecked, this will continue indefinitely, to ultimately threaten the long-term sustainability of democracy in South Africa.

“To counter this, government, public and private institutions, along with all the citizens of this diverse society, have been working together to build an inclusive, just and cohesive society in which not just a privileged few, but all members of society, live in peace and prosper together,” the report says.

It states that an effective national strategy on social cohesion and nation building is required. It says SA has much unfinished business dating back to 1994, and to bridge some of its racial and social divisions the country must engage in more “community conversations”.

The summit will be attended by political parties, representatives of civil society, business leaders and government officials. The theme will be Creating a caring and proud society. It will attempt to find solutions to widespread service delivery protests, xenophobia, high levels of crime, gender violence, child abuse, chronic diseases and corruption.