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 to host a National Social Cohesion Summit, starting today.

But the Brett Murray painting – which depicted President Jacob Zuma in a Lenin pose with exposed genitals – was not the reason for the summit, just a coincidence, 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.”

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 City Press website.

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

It says SA has much unfinished business to take care of, 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, civil society, business leaders and government representatives and will be held under the theme “Creating a caring and proud society”.

It will attempt to find solutions to service delivery protests, xenophobia, high levels of crime, gender violence, child abuse, chronic diseases and corruption.