No South African culture supports violence against women, children and foreigners, or attempts to create divisions among the country’s diverse groups, said President Cyril Ramaphosa in a Heritage Day address in Upington, Northern Cape, on Tuesday 24 September.
“Over the past few weeks South Africa has had to confront acts of violence, acts of violence that have been borne out of a frustration and intolerance that has damaged our sense of solidarity and social cohesion,” said the President.
“Let us use the events of the past few weeks to affirm that amidst the great diversity of our society we are united by the values of dignity, respect and equality.”
Ramaphosa emphasised the need to pursue unity in diversity and challenged the perception that South Africa is a xenophobic country that is also unsafe for women. Fallout from multi-faceted violence in recent weeks saw him cancel a trip to the UN General Assembly and send envoys to calm waters in seven African nations.
“In the end there is nothing in any of our traditions, in any of our cultures, that supports that we must take action against one another, that supports that we must be violent against one another. There is nothing in our makeup as a people that allows the abuse of women and children, that allows men to want to rape young girls and women,” said Ramaphosa.
“So, all these things of the killing of women and the raping of children is foreign to our makeup as a nation and that is why we must get rid of it. There is nothing in our makeup that promotes racism. There is nothing in our makeup that promotes tribalism or any form of intolerance,” he continued.
Recently released 2018-19 crime statistics saw an increase in all contact crimes, with sexual offences jumping 4.6% in a year. Following widespread protests urging different sectors of society to take action, Ramaphosa recently announced an “emergency action plan” to combat the scourge of gender-based violence.
“Much as we may have challenges or difficulties of poverty, unemployment and inequality, those should never make us want to raise our hands against people from other nations,” added Ramaphosa.
The president has been trying to restore South Africa’s image following the latest round of attacks on foreigners and their properties, which descended into sporadic mob attacks in Gauteng, leaving 12 people dead, including 10 South Africans.
Ramaphosa continued his fair but tough approach on Tuesday. He said nothing justified attacking foreigners but migrants living in South Africa must respect the country’s laws.
Opposition DA leader Mmusi Maimane also addressed current divisions while speaking outside former president Nelson Mandela’s Soweto home on Heritage Day.
“The people who insist on dividing us and telling us we should hate and fear each other are not the South Africans who will build our country into the place we all know it can be. They are the people who have run out of ideas,” read Maimane’s prepared speech.
“The reason our society is split is because our economy is in trouble. And the only way to heal the divides in our society is by building prosperity for all,” he continued.
As Ramaphosa officially opened Upington’s Sandile Present Community Library he emphasised the importance of promoting local languages.
“Language really is the identity. It actually speaks to your identity as a person, as a South African, because it helps us to understand where we have come from and anchors us and our children in the present,” he said.
The president said African languages were denigrated under apartheid in an attempt to divide and alienate the majority of the population. He claimed that in the “last few years” the number of public schools not offering an African language as a subject had declined from 2,500 to 460 and pointed out that all 23,000 public schools should offer an African language by the end of 2020.
He also emphasised the need to embrace Khoi and San languages, including the local Northern Cape Nama and N|uu languages.
“Soon we will be reading novels and textbooks in the indigenous languages of the Northern Cape. We will soon be seeing TV shows and listening to radio dramas in Nama, in the N|uu language, and many other languages.”
All local languages must be embraced and learned from. “Therefore, there is no language that we can say belongs to the past and must stay there.”
Ramaphosa also linked restoration of dignity to land: “Our history, our identity as South Africans is closely linked to the question of land and it is for that reason that we say the land must be returned to our people because that is what really shapes our identity. Because as a people we cannot have an identity without the land.” DM
"We spend the first year of a child's life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There's something wrong there." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson