There Are No Shortcuts to Social Cohesion

Helen Zille
Leader of the Democratic Alliance

This is an extract of the speech delivered by Helen Zille on 4 July 2012 at the National Social Cohesion Summit in Kliptown, Soweto.

I am pleased to be addressing the National Social Cohesion Summit, the theme of which is ‘creating a caring and proud society’, because I believe that we need more care and compassion in our society.

And we need to take more pride in discharging our responsibilities, whether as members of government or as private citizens.

What does this mean?

It means a government that cares passionately whether learners get their textbooks on time. Because if we don’t equip our children with the education and skills they need to take advantage of their opportunities, we will never have a cohesive society.

It means citizens who care about using their opportunities in life, and who take responsibility for using them, because every citizen is an active partner in his or her own development and that of the country.

Opportunity only makes a difference if you use it. And there can be no nation-building without active, responsible citizens using their opportunities for the benefit of the country.

In the Western Cape, the DA government has prioritised social inclusion as one of our main provincial strategic objectives, because inclusive societies are cohesive societies.

And we have learnt a few lessons.

First, there are no short-cuts to social cohesion. 

Social cohesion is about people living together harmoniously, feeling a sense of belonging, and participating in the civic and social life of their communities.
It is an integral component of what we in the DA call the open, opportunity society for all. When individuals feel empowered and families are functional and communities are connected, there is less crime, substance abuse, child abuse, unemployment and, ultimately, less poverty. And so society coheres.

In a cohesive society, children grow up understanding that you become free by using your opportunities. People are safe, sheltered and nourished. And they recognise that learning opens the door to prosperity.

Social cohesion isn’t something that the state can impose on society. No government can, by itself, ‘create’ a cohesive society, or foist a common culture upon a passive populace.

In cohesive societies, progress is achieved through partnerships between government, citizens, civil society and business. Each has a role and specific responsibilities. That is why the Western Cape Government has adopted the slogan “Better Together” to capture and convey its message to the people of the Western Cape.

Social cohesion also means balancing rights with responsibilities. Individuals, communities, and governments must all take responsibility. So must parents. This is critical. Our society is deeply damaged because of absent fathers and fathers who won’t take responsibility for their offspring.

If parental – and especially paternal – responsibility does not become engrained in South Africa’s national culture, then social cohesion will remain a pipe-dream.

Finally, social cohesion requires us to choose policies that create opportunity, lessen dependency and reward responsibility. And in making and implementing those policies, of course we must acknowledge and understand the terrible legacy of the past that has left the majority of South Africans socially excluded. 

But the only way we are going to achieve an inclusive society and social cohesion is by extending opportunities and providing support – mainly through education and training – to individuals who must then use those opportunities through hard work and commitment.

That is the real path to creating a caring and proud society and a successful South Africa in which everyone can live a life they value.

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