One City, Many Cultures was launched at a time of great hatred and distrust in Cape Town between Muslims and Jews, black and white, rich and poor, says the writer. File picture: David Ritchie
Cape Town - Twenty years ago, we hosted the first One City Festival at the Grand Parade on Heritage Day in 1999. It was the culmination of an editorial-led campaign in the Cape Times, called One City, Many Cultures, which aimed to show that while we think we are different, we probably have a lot more in common than we realise.

For most of the past 20 years, and even after the initial sponsors withdrew, we continued trying to promote the vision and values of the campaign, which is to create a more integrated and tolerant Cape Town.

We did this mainly through an annual festival where we tried to showcase diverse cultures and religions, until we ran out of money a few years ago. More recently, we have been hosting discussions in partnership with other organisations and, on Tuesday, we are supporting a programme called Bridge the Gap to bring together the Bonteheuwel and Langa communities.

The programme includes a unity procession from Gugu S’Thebe cultural centre in Langa to Bonteheuwel civic centre, starting at 12.30pm. This will be followed by a cultural concert at the Bonteheuwel civic centre from 1.30pm to 5pm. Entry is free.

But I have also been speaking about the campaign on different platforms, most recently on Wednesday night at the twilight supper of the Jewish seniors club in Wynberg with Beryl Eichenberger, who was promotions manager at Independent Newspapers in Cape Town when I asked her to run the campaign.

These presentations have made me reflect on why we started the campaign, how far we have come in the past 20 years and how far we still have to go to create better understanding among people who think they are different from others.

One City, Many Cultures was launched at a time of great hatred and distrust in Cape Town between Muslims and Jews, black and white, rich and poor. It was a time of bombings and attempted assassinations of people who disagreed with your views.

As editor of the Cape Times at the time, I felt that while a newspaper’s primary purpose is to reflect society, there are times when we have to play a leadership role in society. We have to show people what is possible and what can be different. That is why I launched the campaign, which quickly gained a life of its own, culminating in the festival which later moved to Human Rights Day.

We have not moved on much from the dark days that inspired us. We still have a lot of hatred in our society towards people we think are different from us. We might not have had bombings and assassination attempts recently, but we are perilously close to it in many ways.

I have always tried to look for things that people have in common because I believe that, once we realise what we have in common, it becomes easier for us to talk to each other instead of focusing on our differences.

Unfortunately, what often happens is people that seek solutions to society’s problems by delving into group identities. For instance, ‘I can’t find work because I am coloured or white’ or ‘people are discriminating against me because I am Muslim or Jewish’.

I am not disputing that there might be merit in both of the examples I have cited, but I believe in looking beyond the obvious when dealing with complex societal issues. It is possible that you are not able to find a job because there are no jobs or that everyone is being discriminated against. If we work together, we might be able to create jobs or stop discrimination.

As I reflect on 20 years of One City, Many Cultures, I would like to believe that we still have hope of uniting our diverse nation, based on what we have in common and not our perceived differences.

* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.