Indentured Indian labourers arrive at in Durban. Picture: Local History Museum

Reaction in the last week to comments by two economists on the living standard of South African Indians, carried in a report in this newspaper, have loudly signalled the dire need for social cohesion in our country.

Responses, mainly from that community, have reflected a mix of outrage, pain and pride.

These passions, the articles today on the opposite page, the recent election campaigns, and everyday life in South Africa tell us that the day of being identified simply as a citizen – and not by race, gender or background – is still distant. There is much work to do.

Though the Daily News headline on that article might have been conclusory, over-winding the essential arguments, and seemed to draw much of the focus, this newspaper has been and remains committed to nation-building. Every South African should be.

All too regularly, there are flare-ups, where someone of no particular standing says something reflecting prejudice, even hatred, and the fault lines quickly re-emerge in the ensuing controversy. Offending bigotry begets more of the same in reaction, and it soon becomes evident that our mission is an immense one, a process.

There will always be envy, it is a human weakness. But the trap we too often fall into is directing that resentment at a specific group of fellow citizens. It is an offence many of us are guilty of.

Poet William Blake said that “to generalise is to be an idiot”, and that applies here.

So it is wrong to attribute qualities, ills or values to all members of a particular group. There might be some who are so, there might even be a lot in that group, but there are probably some in other groups who live and act similarly.

Honest debate must be had, and should be reflected in forums such as the Daily News. But top of mind should always be the dream of social cohesion where, one day, we are all just regarded as South Africans.