Social Cohesion and Nation Building: Department of Arts & Culture briefing

Arts and Culture

25 May 2010
Chairperson: Ms J Tshivhase (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Arts and Culture gave a presentation on its work in social cohesion and Nation building. Social cohesion included all factors that impacted on society’s ability to unite towards a common goal, and could be measured by the extent to which members of a society responded collectively in pursuit of shared goals, and how they dealt with the political, socio-economic, environmental and other challenges they faced. A Social Cohesion Colloquium was held in October 2009, as a build-up to the national Social Cohesion Conference in 2010, and various recommendations were outlined The Department indicated that although it was largely successful in promoting national identity symbols, there were still challenges around the national anthem, and suggested that there was a need to foster understanding and acceptance of it as a national prayer, so that the correct etiquette would be observed.

The Department also noted that National days were formerly considered merely as holidays but a new approach for commemorating and celebrating national days had been introduced in an attempt to bring all communities together. The idea was tested during Human Rights Day and Freedom Day, where all political parties represented in Parliament were invited to participate and give messages of support. This would develop a new consciousness that despite political differences there were still unifying factors for all South Africans. The Department also tried to ensure that festivals reflected cultural diversity. Although heritage landscapes could build national identity and social cohesion, but this was also an area fraught with political sensitivities. There were some notable examples of museums and monuments that, whilst depicting different sides of an event, nonetheless promoted each other actively, such as Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument, and new memorials tried to affirm Khoi and San projects. The challenge was how to affirm multiculturism without entrenching divisions.

The Department commented that it was unfortunately true that different festivals tended to be supported by different race groups, and in some cases two festivals would be funded without any visible crossover. The Department would like to see more top intellectuals engaging with the issues of social cohesion. Research capacity in the Arts and Culture sector was limited, and there was a need to invest more in understanding the issues and building a caring nation that was driven by substance, not slogans.

Several Members commented on disparities and suggested improvements to access to monuments, the venues, staging and entertainment of festivals and events, and the need to promote the idea of these being for all, rather than being turned into political rallies or events only for the youth. Members were worried that perhaps the Department was not able to assess and treat the causes of social division, and stressed that social cohesion must be addressed also at the level of government and politicians, as well as the need for the Department to stress that Constitutional values must always be upheld by each person, for the benefit of every other person. Members commented on the difficulties around name changes and urged that there should be great sensitivity to this emotive issue, and that the correct procedures must be followed. They also questioned how involved was the Department of Basic Education in the programmes, including heraldry awareness. Members felt that different cultural groups were willing to attend events, but often there was insufficient notice or planning by the Department. Members and the Department commended the hosting of the Blue Bulls match in Soweto and pointed out that this should be used as a building block to entrench social cohesive programmes. They also indicated that a person’s environment would often dictate his or her behaviour and there was a need for several departments to become involved to assist in improving conditions. Concerns were also raised about language use, violence on television, depiction of different races in some advertisements, the need to consciously include informal settlements and to call for their comments, and the need to improve the telling of the history at Robben Island. 

Meeting report

Social Cohesion and Nation building: Department of Arts and Culture briefing
Ms Tshivhase was elected as Acting Chairperson.

Mr H Maluleke (ANC) asked for it to be recorded that he did not consider it acceptable for the meeting to begin half an hour late.

Mr Themba Waskashe, Director General, Department of Arts and Culture, noted that issues of social cohesion and nation building, both of which were quite complex, formed part of the work of the Cluster, together with the Departments of Social Development, of Education, and of Correctional Services. His briefing would focus on the details that were dealt with by the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC or the Department). The Department’s vision was to develop and preserve a South African culture to ensure social cohesion and nation building.

Social cohesion referred to those factors that had an impact on the ability of a society to be united for the attainment of a common goal, and could be measured by the extent to which members of a society responded collectively in pursuit of shared goals, and how they dealt with the political, socio-economic, environmental and other challenges they faced.

Some factors that impeded the building of a cohesive society were racial difference, cultural differences, religious differences, along with class, gender and age differences. In the South African context, those were exacerbated by the divided past that was fraught with social and economic inequities.

The Social Cohesion Colloquium held in October 2009 was organised to start the national dialogue on social cohesion, as a build up to the national Social Cohesion conference to be held in 2010. He summarised the recommendations of the Colloquium. These were:
- Mobilisation campaigns should be rolled out in all provinces
- Promotion of social cohesion should be integrated in the work of all government departments
- The concept of Ubuntu must be promoted amongst all South African citizens. This was not just a sentiment because the concept of humanity and human values was recognised in all countries, but Mr Wakashe noted that this referred to a revival of those values that enhanced humanity
- All structures of civil society must be involved in the promotion of social cohesion. The Moral Regeneration Movement was a partner in the promotion of social cohesion and quality values
- More dialogue should be facilitated on issues hindering social cohesion, such as xenophobia, racism and social inequities
- Government should improve its communication channels.

Consultative meetings after the colloquium were held with various non government organisations (NGOs). Discussions were under way with stakeholders for the preparation of the National Social Cohesion Conference, planned to take place in 2010, and mobilisation campaigns would take place in provinces to address issues of nation building and positive values.

In terms of nation building, Mr Wakashe made the point that the popularisation of national symbols was important, so several projects were undertaken to increase levels of understanding and appreciation of national symbols, with visible displays of the flag, such as the “Fly the Flag” campaign, putting a flag in every school, taxi or car, and ensuring that the national anthem was sung correctly, with proper dignity, that it was internationalised and proper etiquette be shown. Although the Department was generally being successful, it had difficulty with the national anthem. One of the challenges was a conceptual understanding of what an anthem was, since the sanctity of the national prayer was not understood. Perhaps the approach should be that the anthem was a national prayer, to make for a better understanding of the issues of etiquette around the anthem, so people would behave appropriately. The lyrics were generally understood but the challenge was around the etiquette and behaviour. South Africans, even those living overseas, tended to be patriotic.

Mr Wakashe commended the idea of having the Blue Bulls match at Orlando, which was hugely successful, showing that the building blocks were in place.

Mr Wakashe then spoke of National days. These were presently simply considered as holidays. He said that the national meaning behind those historical days had become lost, with the days generally being celebrated as rallies. Human Rights day should not be celebrated but commemorated. A new approach for commemorating and celebrating national days had been introduced in an attempt to bring all communities together. The idea was tested during Human Rights Day in Sharpeville this year, and Freedom Day, where all political parties represented in Parliament were invited to participate, by giving messages of support. That could help develop a new consciousness among South African citizens that despite political differences there were still unifying factors.

Festivals reflected cultural diversity by ensuring participation of artists from different cultures, and he cited the Gcwala Ngamasiko and Grahamstown festivals. Theatres hosted productions presenting non-racialism and multicultural beliefs and practices. He noted that the revitalisation of Windybrow Theatre was an attempt to address the challenges of xenophobia as a threat to social cohesion. Exhibitions could portray the rich and diverse histories of South African communities. There was still a challenge in addressing the heritage landscapes of the country. There was huge potential for building national identity and social cohesion, but this was also an area fraught with political sensitivities; the issue of geographical names and place names was one of these issues.

New museums, memorials and monuments depicted the history and heritage of people from different population groups, such as the Wall of Names at Freedom Park. There was still something of a struggle to get people to recognise both sides of historical events. General Opperman, working with the Heritage Foundation, had done some sterling work, but there was also an element of right wing interference in the process of nation building, with different flags being flown by different people. He pointed out that the United States of America would not allow certain flags other than the national flag to be flown, because of the significant effect on the American national psyche. The challenge was how to protect the dignity and integrity of South Africa’s national symbols. Heritage was one of the most sensitive areas in terms of nation building. New memorials had tried to affirm the Khoi and the San projects. The challenge was intellectual and philosophical, revolving around how far to go in affirming multiculturalism without entrenching divisions.

Mr Wakashe noted that in the previous week the Chairperson of the Select Committee had noted that in Northwest one festival was largely attended and supported by blacks, while another a couple of weeks later was attended by white. Government was funding both festivals but there was no visible crossover. Sometimes the manner of doing things entrenched the divisions. He pointed out that South Africa was fortunate that white heritage had not been tampered with after 1994. It was disappointing that insufficient top-end intellectuals were engaging enough with the issues of social cohesion.

The Department acknowledged the magnitude of the task of building a cohesive society and a caring nation. As the Department implemented this programme, it would continue to explore ways of deepening and consolidating social cohesion campaigns, and would also monitor and evaluate the outcomes of the campaign. However, Mr Wakashe pointed out that in the arts and culture sector, research and research capacity was very thin, and there was a need to invest in an understanding of the issues of social cohesion and in building a caring nation. There did not seem to be a concerted attempt to deconstruct and understand, and there was a danger of being driven by slogans rather than substance.

He finally noted that he hoped that the national dialogue would happen with the decorum shown at this meeting, saying that often South Africans tended to argue rather than have a reasonable conversation.

The Acting Chairperson said there seemed to be growing disparity in certain areas. She suggested that there should be a bridge between Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument, rather than a road that went around them.

Mr Wakashe said there was very good rapport between the Chief Executive Officers of both places, but he was concerned what would happen when they no longer held their posts. Their personal friendship led to better understanding between Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument, and there was a willingness from both parties to engage with each other.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) referred to the issue of research. She had a serious concern that everything seemed to be done in a very formalistic way, assuming that once activities had been done, social cohesion would result. She said that the issue was far more complex. She asked for clarity as to whether any form of survey or investigation had been done as to why there was not ideal social cohesion. She was worried that the Department was treating the symptoms rather than getting to the root causes of why there was no social cohesion.

Mr Wakashe agreed that social cohesion could not be “doctored”. Such attempts created resentment, and the failures of these attempts could be seen throughout the world. The challenge was how to guide the process in an organic way, taking into consideration that it was impossible to be dogmatic. He agreed that flexibility and creativity were needed. South Africa had the ingredients to come up with a socially cohesive society, and there was no better starting point than that social cohesion should be treated Constitutionally, as that would be a common agreed point of departure, and the values would be Constitutionally enshrined. 

A Departmental representative acknowledged that Ms Lotriet’s questions were very valid. He noted that although she had questioned whether any research was conducted. The Department had listened to the problems raised around social cohesion, and took an all encompassing approach. There was a need to strike a balance in participation so the Department would draw on the expertise both of trained researchers and people on the ground. The plan was to allow people to research their own areas of particular interest and then present their findings at a national conference. Some might describe the research findings on the characteristics or problems of social cohesion in their areas, while others would talk about what needed to be done to achieve the goals.

Dr Lotriet also referred to the presentation’s focus on civil society. She believed that, given human nature and the nature of society, it would be a futile exercise if social cohesion was not addressed at the level of government and politicians. She had not seen any reference in the presentation to this point, and said that people would follow good examples.

Ms D van der Walt (DA) felt these were such a broad issue that the Committee would need a workshop on this topic alone.

Ms van der Walt agreed that whilst the hosting of the rugby at Orlando Stadium in Soweto was excellent, it was completely different from the everyday life of Soweto. She recommended that it should be used as the beginning of a project rather than a once-off event.

Ms van der Walt still had concerns about how people understood nation building, social cohesion and polarisation. She said that the alleged planting of bombs in Phalaborwa, the Eugene Terblanche murder and protest marches all indicated that races were still working contrary to each other. She had rarely seen an integrated march. It did not matter who had been murdered as one murder was always one too many, and the Constitutional values must be upheld. The Department should be campaigning on how to defend the Constitution, which belonged to all, and emphasise that it was important for each person to stand up for the rights of every other person.

Ms van der Walt pointed out that her party, the Democratic Alliance, had no objection to name changes that were done on a certain basis. She noted that when the new provincial names were launched, there had been a specific purpose, but this was defeated by some people demanding that the names of entire areas must change. The specific purpose of name changes then was to try to replace offensive names, duplications and the like. She had commented a week or two ago on changing the name of Tzaneen, commenting that failure to go into the history was dividing communities. There were various emotional issues and people’s sorrow and experiences must be taken into consideration. She thought that people were being divided instead of united because incorrect processes were followed.

Dr Vusithemba Ndima, Acting Deputy Director General: Heritage, Department of Arts and Culture, responded that it was true that the programme referred to had looked at the correction of spellings, but also at the correction of autography in dealing with the names. There was further a transformatory aspect. Some names currently being used had replaced names used in the past, and that was where the sensitivities were found, because the previous names had come from individuals or community groups, who must be allowed to raise their comments on the issues. He agreed that due processes had to be followed. The Department must ensure that consultative processes were done properly, so that everyone was comfortable with the decisions taken. Public hearings had been conducted all over South Africa, with Northern Cape still to be heard. Those public hearings were designed to ensure national dialogue around issues of name change, and also to ensure that people understood the processes, procedures and policy guidelines that governed the whole process of standardisation. The Department also worked hard to try and tighten up issues of consultation in the relevant legislation, to avoid matters going awry.

Ms van der Walt questioned whether many schoolchildren would be aware of the national fish or national tree of the country, and whether the school curriculum was assisting.

Mr Ndima could not comment on the curriculum, but could confirm that the Department had held various programmes on heraldry with different schools. These consisted of programmes and exhibitions aimed at educating learners about the national symbols, including the flags and the national anthem, and explaining the symbolism. These programmes were run by the Department and the Bureau of Heraldry, together with the Department of Basic Education. He suggested that a presentation on them could be given.

Ms van der Walt noted that a year or two ago, a National South African Day was considered, and at this time Mandela Day was instituted, with a different meaning. She pointed out that certain communities, and even Members of this Committee, did not receive invitations from the Department to events. She commented that the events and the venues selected turned into political rallies, which was incorrect. Proper notice had to be given, so people from other sectors of the community could plan how to travel there and ensure a broader participation. There was a lot of willingness from different cultural groups, but there was not enough Departmental planning.

Mr Wakashe agreed that there had to be balanced programming on national days, and it was important to be inclusive in terms of catering for the broader population.
Mr Maluleke referred to the factors impeding the building of a cohesive society. He suggested adding the five values system.

Mr Maluleke agreed with Ms van der Walt on the choice of venues and said he had also raised this matter on numerous occasions. He felt part of the problem lay with the entertainers for the events. For instance, whilst he respected and agreed that the artist Yvonne Chaka Chaka was good, he believed that it would have been more relevant to use someone like David Kramer for Africa Day celebrations. He noted that there was an argument that the events were designed to attract young people but noted that not only the young celebrated Freedom Day, as elderly people were also interested in music and cultural activities. He suggested that in future events be held in more than one venue, or if one venue was used, then there must be a good spread of artists. Previous Freedom Day celebrations were held at the State Theatre or the City Hall, attracting a different audience.

Mr Maluleke also referred to the Blue Bulls game, noting that 99% of the rugby fans were not concerned with the reputation of Soweto being crime-ridden and dangerous, but were pleasantly surprised by the welcome they received from the ordinary people of Soweto, and friendships were established. These factors would help in uniting the people of South Africa.

Mr Wakashe also agreed that some people would prefer to celebrate Freedom Day at the State Theatre, and some at the Market Theatre, or in their churches, synagogues or mosques. He agreed that tribal ethnicity was an ever-present problem. The country was fortunate, in many ways, in that the issue of tribal ethnicity was brought to the front and had to be dealt with, during the struggle for liberation the. The Department would look into the suggestions.

Mr Maluleke asked how much interaction there was around school sports, and whether urban schools would visit township schools to play sports matches.

Mr Maluleke asked when the mobilisation campaign would start to be rolled out to all provinces, and what the Committee’s role in that would be.

Mr Maluleke also believed that Ubuntu (or “menslikheid” in Afrikaans) had to do with the environment in which a person was brought up. Although churches might speak out against antisocial behaviour, it was very difficult for those brought up in antisocial environments to act properly towards others, until taken out of those circumstances. There was also the question of moral regeneration. If a young child lived in a one-roomed house with his parents, that child would behave as his parents did, and communicate as they did, because there was no privacy. The Department of Human Settlements, as well as all other departments, also had a responsibility towards building social cohesion, and he hoped that the DAC could be the lead department on social cohesion, although he did not think that it was in this role yet. and he did not think they were.

The Acting Chairperson agreed with the comments of Mr Maluleke. She also asked the Department to respond on how it dealt with languages. She noted that there was different predominance of different languages in different provinces, and asked whether people felt that their own language was adequately catered for.

Mr Wakashe responded that the generation after 1994 generation had to be a very multilingual generation. The majority of white children who were born after1994 were still not encouraged to speak one of the African languages, so there would be social exclusion based on linguistic understanding.

The Acting Chairperson also pointed out that advertising tended to convey the message that the white people were predominantly interested in business whilst black people were often shown drinking, or behaving in a demeaning way. She asked for the Department’s comment on and plans around these issues.

Mr Wakashe responded that the Department had been invited to meet with the Advertising Standards Authority and would see how it could deal with those issues. The Portfolio Committee could assist the Department with driving issues of television content. He pointed out that most television screened after 9pm, on SABC and M-Net, showed movies where all issues were resolved through violence and shooting. People then asked why there was so much violence in society. He asked if it was really necessary to screen so much violence.

The Acting Chairperson noted that the audiences in sports stadiums differed; if Blue Bulls were playing the stadium was full of white people but if Bafana Bafana played it would be full of black people. She asked how the Department could improve this and how sport could unite the people.

Ms van der Walt said that this was not always correct, but it depended on the game. If the Blue Bulls played the Stormers, this was considered the highlight of rugby in South Africa. If Bafana Bafana played Brazil the stadium would also be full of white people, but if weaker teams were playing then there tended not to be many white spectators.

Mr P Ntshiqela (COPE) was concerned about the curriculum. He pointed out that equal attention would not be paid to areas like Bekkersdal, Katlehong or Nelson Mandela squatter camp, and those were the groups who did not enjoy benefits from the government, and were seemingly forgotten, not assisted, and not made a part of the national events.

Mr Ntshiqela suggested that since informal settlements played an important role during the xenophobia attacks, this needed to be discussed at the National Conference, and that the people from the informal settlements should be given the opportunity to air their views.

Mr Ntshiqela thought that the presentation was good on national dialogue. He asked who would be attending the National Day celebrations. Whilst he accepted that some famous names were targeted, he urged the Department not to forget the people on the ground.

Mr Wakashe responded that there was a need to have a much broader spectrum of voices from the South African population.

The Acting Chairperson said that the Committee, during an oversight visit to Robben Island, had noted that the history was not being given sufficient prominence. Although Members knew the history, it was a shame that people who came from far away were not properly informed.

Mr Ndima responded that Cabinet had also picked up on that issue and a letter had been addressed to the Chief Executive Officer of Robben Island that there needed to be a standard script used for the tour groups, without any deviations, because some of the guides were not imparting the same as others. The tour staged last week was very specific, and was not about touring the entire Robben Island. The idea was to view the exhibition that had been mounted on Robben Island. The authenticity of that story needed to be kept there.

Mr Maluleke referred to the earlier discussions on monuments or museums that presented different sides of a historical event, and were willing to engage with each other. He agreed that there was a dynamic relationship between the Chief Executive Officers of Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument, and that each would inform their own visitors that they should also visit the other monument. He pointed out that since South Africa belonged to all, there must be strong relationships. He also said that although people liked to cling to the past, a new history had not started in 1994, and everything before that should not be erased, as South Africa could not be a country without that history. America was the oldest democracy but was still grappling with issues of race; South Africa’s democracy was only sixteen years old. However, it had achieved much, such as trying to address homelessness, that America had not done. He thought that South Africa was on the right track, but needed to consider everybody’s views and feelings on how to move forward in one direction.

Ms Veliswa Baduza, Chief Operating Officer, Department of Arts and Culture, thanked the Acting Chairperson and Members of the Committee for the spirit in which the discussions were held. The Department was mindful that DAC’s objectives and mandate dealt with issues of social cohesion and nation building. However, the output was something that talked to a variety of issues, people and matters, speaking to what the South African nation was, what its values were, and how to address some difficult and real issues. The Department was aware that it must engage with both government and private sectors to ensure that the issues of social cohesion and nation building were interwoven into government programmes.

She also noted that the Department had developed a document, shortly to be submitted to Cabinet, on the issue of how to try to shape the landscape and assist in promoting social cohesion and nation building in South Africa. Although the Department was on the right track it needed the support of the Committee. As the Department began to prepare for the conference, it would call upon the Committee to assist to drive the dialogue throughout the provinces.

Adoption of Minutes
The Minutes of the Committee meeting held on 12 May 2010 were adopted, subject to technical amendments.

The Minutes of the Committee meeting held on 19 May 2010 were not adopted, as none of the members present had attended that meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.


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