Any society is as strong as the shared beliefs and values its members hold. When the social unit is a country — such as is the case when we claim democratic rights through shared citizenship — then understanding and acceptance of democratic processes and the right of all to participate in those are fundamental. “Democratic processes” refer to much more than periodic casting of votes, such as the April elections, although those moments provide a focus for examining our general commitment to social cohesion and the rights and duties that are given and demanded of all of us.
Implied in such an approach is something as basic as that of accepting a common humanity, with dignity and equality as essential goals, and the commitment of all to work towards and to protect those goals. The South African Constitution espouses these values of a common human dignity and of equality. Read the Preamble and the Founding Provisions. These values hold true, irrespective of what differences we perceive and choose to emphasise: be they gender, religion, citizenship or, most recently and immediately in the current context, just before and during the 2009 elections, political affiliation.
In response to gross and extensive violence against fellow human beings, analysts have warned against the first step of classifying people into essentialised groups, and attributing to them shared characteristics. That is, however, merely the first stage — to turn people into only women, only Tutsi, only Jews, only blacks, only Bosnians or only Catholics. These categories are given characteristics, abilities, behaviours and beliefs, which are said to be shared by all, without exception. The next step is clear, all individuality is removed, each member of the group is effaced and each one is only a “specimen” of the category.
Article by centre director Gerhard Mare, published in The Witness, 21 April 2009.