Address by the President of the United Democratic Movement "Sudan workshop on diversity and management of diversity" hosted by the Institute for Conflict Management and Peacebuilding (16 April 2008) in Pretoria
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. Managing diversity is an ongoing process, of which we have a decade and a half of experience in South Africa. Prior to that we had 350 years of mismanaging diversity - from our perspective of both sides of the coin, there is no doubt that the peaceful management of diversity is far more desirable than the alternative.
I am only qualified to talk about the lessons that we have learnt in our country, it is up to people from another country to decide whether the same would apply to their situation.
One of the cardinal differences that distinguish South Africa from other countries that have not succeeded in attaining a peaceful settlement after such a long history of conflict, is that there was goodwill on the part of the leaders. Here in SA a culture of goodwill between diverse groups who were previously locked in conflict was established by Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk. Through their personal behaviour they set the tone for the dialogue between them, but also for those they led. Because they demonstrated mutual respect others were willing to follow in their footsteps, and it was possible to begin and sustain a dialogue among the diverse groups in South Africa. Today the former party of De Klerk - the National Party - has done what was unthinkable in the past; they disbanded themselves and joined the ANC. They realised that their continued existence would remind people of the atrocities committed in the past. This has further strengthened the reconciliation in the country. Today, because of these reconciliatory steps, millions of white former National Party supporters vote for the ANC. In fact this move has put the opposition parties in the country to shame, because the opposition parties in the country tend to represent specific minorities and interest groups. The public in South Africa are yearning for one strong multi-racial party to challenge the ruling party, thereby further strengthening our transition to democracy and also giving effect to our constitution which promotes non-racialism.
Another lesson that South Africa has learnt, and which I believe is pivotal to our continued peace and unity, is that once you have reached settlement you require institutions to support your new dispensation and peace.
In the South African context these include institutions such as the Constitutional Court, the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality, the Independent Electoral Commission, and the Independent Complaints Directorate (which investigates complaints against the police).
Institutions such as these ensure that the new order is maintained and that the terms of the peaceful settlement aren't violated. These institutions also provide peaceful channels for grievances to be raised, irrespective of whether the complainant is in the minority or not. These institutions provide a further layer of checks-and-balances that are created to support the basic fabric of a successful state, namely a legitimate Executive, a functioning parliament, an independent judiciary and a free media. Together these form a framework of opportunities for diversity and conflict to be managed in structured and peaceful ways.
One of the things that has handicapped democracy in other African countries has been a lack of tolerance. In South Africa, the media, particularly radio talk shows, have given people place to vent their frustrations and engage in dialogue, as opposed to bottling up those frustrations until people rush into the streets and commit violence. But for the media to play this role it is absolutely imperative that media freedom is zealously protected.
The political, social and civil leaders of society need to promote tolerance - whether racial or religious. Here in South Africa we live alongside one another, and with each passing year our society becomes more integrated as we share public spaces, transport, education, residential areas and more. In the process there is opportunity for conflict, but with patience and tolerance, there is also opportunity for us to begin to comprehend each other.
Aside from recognising and managing diversity there is also the major task of finding those things that we all have in common - because we need to realise that our identity and sense of nationhood is not defined by what differentiates us, but by what we have in common.
Therefore it is important to find avenues for the nation to unite behind common causes. In this regard sport has always been a powerful unifier and South Africa has over the years had many occasions to unite behind our sport teams, who compete on the international arena. Simultaneously these sport teams act as ambassadors for the entire nation and fill us with a sense of pride that they represent those qualities that we as a nation admire.
In conclusion, allow me to refer to another aspect of diversity in societies with a history of conflict, namely the economy.
Any government that emerges from a peaceful settlement in a diverse society must prioritise economic development. People need to see improvements in their lives and feel like they are no longer living in times of war and conflict. A growing economy that addresses poverty, hunger and unemployment, is the most tangible incentive for peace.
I thank you.
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