Political Comment: Culture and cultural diversity


Adv Jacques du Preez, FW de Klerk Foundation

Today we celebrate World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

The phrase “cultural diversity” is used to describe the variety of human societies or different cultures in a specific region, or the world as a whole. The day was recognised in 2002 by the United Nations General Assembly in order to raise awareness about the importance of intercultural dialogue, diversity and inclusion worldwide.

A central theme on this day is our understanding of the value of cultural diversity and learning to live together better based on that understanding. In this sense, cultural diversity and its importance is recognised in a number of international legal instruments:

  • The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity adopted by UNESCO in 2001 is a powerful legal instrument that not only recognizes cultural diversity as a “common heritage of humanity” but also considers its safeguarding to be a paramount ethical imperative which is inseparably linked to respect for human dignity;
  • The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions of 2005 recognises the distinctive nature of cultural goods, services and activities as vehicles of identity, values and meaning and also that, while cultural goods, services and activities have important economic value, they are not mere commodities or consumer goods to be regarded as objects of trade; and
  • Cultural diversity is also promoted by the Montreal Declaration of 2007.

The South African Constitution takes full note of the diverse nature of our society and states that South Africa belongs to all who live in it – united in our diversity. Powerful constitutional protection is given by the Bill of Rights to all South Africans’ language rights (sections 6 and 29), cultural rights (section 30) and the right to belong to cultural, religious and linguistic communities (section 31).

Through these and other provisions our Constitution provides the very necessary framework of respect for different cultural interests in South Africa and also for their protection and promotion. This empowers us as South Africans to build a community of individuals who are committed to diversity and to combating cultural polarization and negative cultural stereotypes.

Can we as South Africans however – on this day – say that we are truly honouring and nurturing a mutual respect and understanding for each other’s differences and varied cultures?

  • Why did it take so long to enact the Use of Official Languages Act and its regulations so that proper effect can be given to the provisions of section 6 regarding official language use by government?
  • Why does the Act still fall so far short of the language requirements in section 6 of the Constitution?
  • 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?

The blame for the ineffectiveness of especially these two organisations (the CRL Commission and PANSALB) cannot be placed only on the two institutions.

Increased pressure must be placed on Government and Parliament as both the CRL Commission and PANSALB have to report to the National Assembly. Can the failure to take any real steps to improve their effectiveness indicate a lack of serious political commitment to promote respect for cultural and language diversity and for maintaining harmonious relationships between our different communities?

Where different cultures co-exist in the same geographic area, there is often friction. As South Africans, we must guard against the idea that one of our peoples’ culture, traditions or heritage is worth more than others. Our Constitution forbids this. As a nation we must refrain from publicly airing opinions that some cultures and people in South Africa are worth less than others. The effect of such statements decays the socio-cultural cohesion of our nation and the principle of equality on which it is founded.

There are numerous ways to explore cultures different to our own. Visit an art exhibit or a museum dedicated to other cultures. Invite a family or people in the neighbourhood from another culture or religion to share a meal with you and exchange views on life. Rent a movie or read a book from another country or religion other than your own. Invite people from a different culture to share your customs. Read about the great thinkers of cultures other than yours. Spread your own culture around the world and learn about other cultures by using social and electronic media.

Know about, and claim your constitutional rights regarding language, culture and heritage using the Constitution and various other levers at your disposal.

If mutual respect can be shown for different cultures, a healthy respect for cultural diversity and human creativity can be fostered and implemented – in line with our culturally progressive Constitution.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
This entry was posted in Articles from South Africa and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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