Reconciliation begins with learning about others' worldviews
Wilmot James, DA Federal Chairperson
10 June 2012
Note to readers: This is an extract of the speech that was delivered by DA Federal Chairperson, Dr Wilmot James MP, at the Limpopo Provincial Congress.
One of the many lessons we need to take from the response to The Spear painting is that, as a nation of diverse communities, we still do not understand each other. Again and again, we are surprised by how different people behave in the face of new stimuli or controversy, such as a work of art, engineered, exploited and manipulated as it was by the Machiavellians in the ANC.
Many, many South Africans saw the painting as nothing more than a provocative criticism of power as part of a proud artistic tradition. It challenged certain conventions of polite society but it also located itself in a recognizable tradition of art. It was something most people who believe in the rights-based culture that celebrates freedom of expression could understand.
Yet for many the painting represented an almost unimaginable pornographic humiliation of a black leader and elder. If it was part of any tradition, it was simply that of a racist one that denigrated black people - and the black man in particular. It didn't call to mind the protest art of the struggle, but an older, nastier heritage borne of white contempt. It was comprehensible for many only as an insult to their dignity.
The debates that followed made a key social fact abundantly clear: that, as a nation, we don't really understand each other. We might think we do, or we may presume that it doesn't matter if we don't, but it regularly leads to situations where, when we engage with each other in important conversations, we end up talking past each other in mutual incomprehension.
Because we don't grasp the historical or cultural foundations upon which others speak, we try to communicate with only our own perspective in mind, never that of the neighbour we're trying to interact with.
Indeed, it sometimes seems that we desire to remain a nation perpetually naïve and unwittingly indifferent about each other’s' thoughts and motivations.
Because of this, I worry that we lack the will and interest to learn about each other in a manner that will foster reconciliation, the main quality necessary for lasting stability, prosperity and national unity.
It is tempting to think that reconciliation is something that is produced through a cathartic and emotional explosive sharing of feelings, as happened most visibly during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. At an individual level, between identifiable victims and perpetrators, this can be a crucial dimension to the process.
But at a big picture where entire groups are considered "victims" or "perpetrators" or "beneficiaries", then momentary outpourings of emotion by individuals are insufficient for securing the broader racial reconciliation that we desire.
We need something more durable.
We need something more resilient.
What do we need?
Knowledge of each other. Tseba motho omongwe.
Insight into one another’s circumstance.
We need understanding.
We need empathy.
We need to be able to see the world through each other's eyes.
Dit gaan nie maklik wees nie.
Dit sal nie gou gebeur nie.
Goeie wyn neem lank.
Goeie brandewyn raak beter met ouderdom.
It requires real work. Mosomo wa nnete wa nyakega.
We need to take an interest in the histories, languages, experiences and cultures of the people around us.
It's still too easy to care only about the group we each come from. A life lived apart remains the norm, requiring a special effort on our parts to overcome these barriers.
Sadly, we cannot take the act of communication for granted. We do not share a common world of knowledge and meaning that we can tap into together. We must rather learn about others' perspectives if we want to communicate effectively with them, or if we want to understand what they are trying to communicate with us.
That's the price demanded in a diverse, low-trust, society that carries a massive historical burden.
The question is: do we care enough about other groups in South Africa to actually bother to learn about their worldviews?
Do we care enough to ask others about themselves?
Essentially, do we give a damn about the future of our country?
Paradoxically, diversity is both our greatest asset and our greatest threat. It is an asset if we trust, understand and empathize with each other. But in our context of pervasive distrust, our diversity often serves as the fault line for division.
The DA will build trust in our country.
The DA will build unity and genuine non-racialism.
The DA boldly rejects all manner of nationalism.
The DA does not stand for black people.
The DA does not stand for white people.
We are a values-based party.
We stand firm to represent all South Africans.
We stand firm to serve all South Africans.
We stand firm as party honouring our Constitution.
We stand firm as a party with integrity.
We stand firm as a party of delivery.
We stand firm as a party of diversity.
We stand firm as a party of redress.
We stand firm as a party of reconciliation.
The Spear controversy reminds us again just how much work must be done if we are to reconcile with each other and build a prosperous future together.
Om dit te bereik, vra a bietijie vir jou buurman and buurvrou en hulle storie te vertel sodat almal begin omgee vir mekaar se welsyn.
Ke a leboga.