The 21st of May is World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.
It is recognised to provide an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity and to learn to "live together" better.
The South African Constitution fully recognises the diverse nature of our society and states that South Africa belongs to all who live in it - united in our diversity.
The rich cultural diversity of South Africa is constitutionally protected by the Bill of Rights in that it recognises all South Africans’ language rights (sections 6 and 29), cultural rights (section 30) and the right to belong to the cultural, religious and linguistic communities (section 31) of their choice.
This ought to empower us as South Africans to build a community of individuals who are committed to diversity and to combating cultural polarization and negative cultural stereotypes. Through these and other provisions, the Constitution provides the very necessary framework of respect for not only the numerous different cultural assets and interests in South Africa but also for their protection and promotion. It also helps to prevent the inter-group friction that occurs in so many socieities where different cultures co-exist in the same geographic area.
South Africa’s unique position as a truly diverse and culturally rich society - and the understandable sensitivity that goes with it - necessitates an effective system of diversity management, with due respect for the framework provided by the Constitution.
Diversity management usually refers to actions that are designed to create - through deliberate policies and programs - greater inclusion of employees from various backgrounds into the formal and informal organizational structures within a particular workplace and has has three main characteristics:
- It is voluntary;
- It uses a broad definition of diversity; and
- it aims at providing tangible benefits to the company.
Diversity management is usually proactive and aimed at creating an organization in which all members can contribute and achieve to their full potential. Implementing diversity management can give companies a competitive advantage in areas such as problem-solving, corporate image and marketing.
Although the concept of diversity management is usually raised within the context of corporations and businesses to create a peaceful workplace with a culturally accommodating atmosphere (as described above), effective diversity management is also crucial in a country such as South Africa.
The South African Constitution provides the aforementioned framework and spells out the parameters for effective and inclusive diversity management. Although this might be the case on paper, pressing questions persist:
- Why is there still so much hurtful and racially offensive discourse not only on modern social media platforms, but also in public and political spaces throughout South Africa?
- Why is there still so little appreciation and respect among South Africans for the richness of the cultural, linguistic and historic heritages of other communities?
- Why has the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Commission) done so little to carry out its constitutional mandate to promote respect for the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities?
- Why has the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) failed to carry out its constitutional duty to promote and develop conditions for the development and use of all our official languages and to promote respect for other languages used in South Africa?
We must manage our diversity better, and this starts, firstly, with the political will to do so.
Increased pressure must be placed on government and Parliament as both the CRL Commission and PanSALB have to report to the National Assembly. The failure to take any real steps to improve the effectiveness of these two bodies indicates a lack of serious political commitment to the promotion of respect for cultural and language diversity and for maintaining harmonious relationships between our different communities.
This in turn continuously negates and hampers any efforts to effectively manage South Africa’s diversity.
Yet, to say that diversity must be effectively managed - and this specifically by government - is perhaps not enough.
The responsibility to promote and manage South Africa’s diversity, secondly, falls to all South Africans. South Africans must be in continuous and constructive dialogue with each other - and government - as to how to effectively promote and manage South Africa’s diversity.
World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development 2014 might be the perfect opportunity to engage with one another on our diversity. It could be an opportunity to embrace and promote diversity, with a view to develop it in a manner consistent with the spirit of equality as embodied in our Constitution.
As a nation, we must guard against the idea that some cultures, traditions or heritages are worth more than others. Our Constitution forbids this and we must remember that the effect of such statements undermines the socio-cultural cohesion of our nation and the principle of equality on which it is founded.
On World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development we should all try to learn more about one another’s cultures, histories, languages and values. We should respect the cultural diversity that makes South Africa such a vibrant and interesting country.
By Adv Jacques du Preez, FW de Klerk Foundation