South Africans need to value multiculturalism to create a society that encourages members to see beyond signifiers of religion, race or ethnicity as the sole markers of identity.
So said Professor Kader Asmal in his address, National Identity and Cultural Diversity at the fifth annual JD Baqwa Memorial lecture on 5 August.
A former national minister of education, Asmal argued that the construction of society on the basis of a shared vision of the future, rather than on any mythologising of our past, best guarantees a peaceful, just, multicultural society in which each is offered the best chance for flourishing and fulfillment.
“It means that people who make their homes in South Africa, who had no presence here in the past, should find a place, a sense not just of being, but of well-being, as they too participate, as full members, in articulating a vision of a shared future.”
In his entertaining speech, Asmal said the Constitution protects multiculturalism and that there must be more to identity than a description on a passport.
“We are each guaranteed equal claim, irrespective of our difference,” he said. “We have the right to be the same and the right to be different.”
Asmal said “identity politics" is one of the most dangerous forces now at play, and that there is a need to define a balancing new concept of cultural diversity, liberty and rights and what constitutes national identity.
Issues of ‘us’ and ‘them’ remain a razor sharp division embedded, all too often, in the landscape of nations and the wider international community.
He said that our sense of belonging, of what we are, is not determined by a DNA test, “which establishes racial purity – indeed tests might show we are all mongrels”, but the values of our Constitution – of dignity, equality, justice and freedom – help us to find out how to be ‘me and we’.
“Somehow I feel that Dumo Baqwa would have looked down kindly at this conclusion.”
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