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Social cohesion: Leadership, political vision, maturity essential for unity

FILE – Our children cannot afford the debt and nightmares that we are bequeathing them. We can do better. They deserve better, says the writer. 16.12.18. Day of Reconciliation rallied the #I AM THE FLAG campaign in 2018. File photo: Elmond Jiyane, GCIS

FILE – Our children cannot afford the debt and nightmares that we are bequeathing them. We can do better. They deserve better, says the writer. 16.12.18. Day of Reconciliation rallied the #I AM THE FLAG campaign in 2018. File photo: Elmond Jiyane, GCIS

Published Dec 19, 2021

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OPINION: It is in our hands to create a better future for all; beyond the rhetoric, outdated politics, ridiculous excuses, and unconvincing leaders... Our children cannot afford the debt and nightmares that we are bequeathing them. We can do better. They deserve better, writes Professor Saths Cooper.

While other, especially multicultural, countries constantly review their cohesiveness as viable and sustainable nations, we merely continue to talk of social cohesion.

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We trot out the social cohesion mantra when some horrific incident – which should have been predicted and could have been prevented – occurs, or when there are these hopelessly boring formal events that assault our senses on the airwaves, as just happened on Thursday, with official, instantly forgettable, statements on the recognition of democracy’s 27th Day of Reconciliation.

It’s almost as if repeating the social cohesion mantra will make these huge transformations in all areas of all our lives magically become a reality.

The majority of us mark this day very differently, as we usually do with almost all our official holidays, thus making social cohesion yet another convenient slogan.

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This past Thursday was no different. Most of us just revelled in a much-needed break, expressing relief after the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic and another devastating year of economic decline, joblessness, and new revelations of corruption by those who were supposed to be clean and selfless.

A few flew the flag of past conquest, recalling the 1838 Battle of “Blood Rivier”, with some recalling it as “Dingane’s Day”.

Others went further, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the formation of Umkhonto weSizwe, when a stirring call was made by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others in the ANC underground leadership declaring that they “shall not submit”, as they had “no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom”.

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Predictably, those who benefited from what the world proclaimed as a “crime against humanity” saw reason to gloat over yet another judgement against former president Jacob Zuma. The latter will not return to jail while South Africa’s prison bosses will appeal the matter, and all of us have some opinion on this, whether informed by fact or law or neither.

Such matters of grave consequence for our country require political vision and maturity, beyond limited legal understanding. Can we expect this?

Now that the bruited ANC unifier is acting President, Deputy President David Mabuza can pardon former president Zuma and stop the threat of another July mayhem afflicting us. If he doesn’t, President Cyril Ramaphosa, when he returns to office, can.

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Such annual pardons are usually given in the spirit of Christmas and a new year. This would indicate new beginnings, a realistic appreciation by top national leadership of the grave socio-economic perils that require better management and turnaround.

This would signify understanding of social cohesion as the basis on which to “build, better” away from personal pique, agendas that have no ideology but public wealth aggrandisement at the expense of the ever-suffering majority.

Social cohesion cannot be imposed in the midst of such glaring disparities, which have made us the most unequal society on earth, where the richest 10% own over 85% of household wealth. The system of entitlement must stop.

Social cohesion cannot exist in isolation from the basic necessities of life for all, not just the privileged few. It entails a focus on those conditions which prevent our children from self-actualisation, instead of being consigned to being superfluous, living on the fringes, beset by lack of hope, indignity, injustice, inequality, and other structural limitations which culminated in apartheid and which have been “normalised” under democracy.

The dangers of continuing to ignore this harsh reality will result in more children and youth remaining outside the system, not participating in the obvious benefit of democracy – such as registering to vote, let alone actually voting – merely awaiting more July irruptions.

Perhaps that time has come when we, the people, “have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our(selves), our future, and our freedom” to rid ourselves of the shackles of the past, and the grinding poverty of the present.

It is in our hands to create a better future for all; beyond the rhetoric, outdated politics, ridiculous excuses, and unconvincing leaders who proliferate in nearly all walks of our worsening existence. Our children cannot afford the debt and nightmares that we are bequeathing them. We can do better. They deserve better.

* Professor Saths Cooper is a former political prisoner and a member of the 70s Group.

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

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