This was followed by 185 member states of UNESCO declaring the day, 16 November, as a day to focus attention on meanings and actions aimed at promoting tolerance and its invidious converse, intolerance. It aimed to complement core values embodied in the UN Charter to “practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours” and crucially to undergird the letter and spirit of a multitude of international human rights instruments with the values of a common and shared humanity.

The purpose of an International Day of Tolerance is well summed up by current Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, herself a national of a country that transitioned from a Soviet republic to a member of the European Union. In a 2016 address, she wrote “in a world of diversity, tolerance is a prerequisite for peace. It is also a lever for sustainable development, as it encourages the construction of more inclusive and thus more resilient societies that are able to draw on the ideas, creative energy and talents of each of their members. We must say again that tolerance is not naïve or passive acceptance of difference: it is a fight for the respect of fundamental rights. Tolerance is not relativism or indifference. It is a commitment renewed every day to seek in our diversity the bonds that unite humanity.

The sentiments so wholesomely articulated above are deeply embedded in the Constitution of South Africa, complimented by laws that seek to institutionalise fundamental values of human dignity, equality and freedoms for all, notwithstanding differences based on race, ethnicity, language, religion, sexual orientation, opinion and belief.

That intolerance, discrimination, hatred and conflict – globally and locally – still prevail, reinforces the imperative to dig deeper in self, family, community and nation to call out discrimination and prejudice where it manifests, whatever its guise. To do otherwise is to imperil the future of generations who will remain captive to views and behaviours that are the antithesis of a world growing richer and more peaceful based on respect for diversity, pluralism and justice. November 16 is every day.

By Ms Zohra Dawood, Director

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