Working in tandem with the endeavors of government, the public, and both the public and the private sector to maintain a democratic society based in fundamental human rights, the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) has drafted ‘A National Strategy for Developing an Inclusive and a Cohesive South African Society.’ This document proposes a national strategy that would promote social cohesion through the implementation of relevant programs at every level of society.
So as to create a suitable context for exploring the proposed strategy, the DAC held the Social Cohesion Summit on July 4th and 5th convening African and South African representatives from government, trade unions, the business world and civil society organizations (CSOs). It was anticipated that the Summit, held in Kliptown, Soweto – the site of the signing of the Freedom Charter – would deliver a clear mandate to aid in the building of a more cohesive, united society.
Deputy Director of the FHR, Hanif Vally, was invited to participate in the panel addressing the role of Civil Society in building a socially inclusive society. Mr. Vally spoke of human rights as enabling the control of state power through law. He highlighted that in society, the greater the differences in socio-economic status, the greater the emphasis on consumption. This feeds into a status anxiety that results in serious crime and ill health. In addressing the role of civil society, Mr. Vally described it as multi-faceted and involving:
Supporting government in realizing our fundamental rights (e.g. the Department of Justice)
Lobbying and researching issues to change and improve our society
Confronting government when they fail to realize our fundamental rights with the intended result that the government will act to improve our society and address issues of inequality in a timely and effective manner.
At the close of the Summit, the representatives made a declaration outlining the steps to be taken going forward. Their commitments included: an agreement to convene a National Social Cohesion Report Back and Monitoring Summit in 2014 on the 20th anniversary of the end of apartheid; and in the interim, the development of a Nation-Building Project Management Manual and Toolkit for discussion at upcoming summits over the next year. For the long term, the representatives have also committed to the execution of the recommendations of the National Development Plan vision for 2030 and collectively to uphold the tenets of the constitution by advancing and enabling a more socially cohesive society.