Define new concepts of diversity, says Asmal

24 August 2009

South Africans need to value multiculturalism in order to create a society that encourage 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 mythologizing of our past, best guarantees a peaceful, just, multicultural society in which each individual is offered the best chance for flourishing and fulfilment.

"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 differences," 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 new, balancing concept of cultural diversity, liberty and rights, and to define what constitutes national identity.

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