The 21st May 2021 sees South Africa join the world in celebrating ‘World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development’. This day has been held annually since 2001 when UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity.
This year, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) calls on everyone to observe the day in several ways: inviting people from different cultures, religious and language communities to share your own customs or undertaking a visit to a place of worship or museum different to your traditional one to participate in their celebration and learn more about traditional celebrations from other cultures.
“This day provides us with the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity and to learn to live together better,” says Paula Hildebrand, Chairperson of the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice (SAASWIPP). Yet, continues Hildebrand, this practice should not be limited to one day only. “It needs to be built into the very fabric of how we, as South Africans, engage and communicate with each other on an ongoing basis.”
Ndepu Moselenyane, a social worker in private practice and SAASWIPP member agrees. “The South African belief system is very diverse. Unless we accept each other’s cultural belief systems, we are not taking the nation anywhere. Before we acknowledge and understand each other, we need to accept each other first and accept that no two individuals are the same.” Moselenyane goes on to add that acceptance and the embracing of ‘different, yet equal’ begins at home.
“Every family is made up of unique individuals. Accepting and embracing individual roles within the home, and those of family members, leads to a functioning and emotionally healthy family unit capable of providing a strong foundation upon which members of said unit can grow and flourish.” And the ripple effect of this is obvious. “Families are the building blocks of a community and communities are what build a nation. If we are not taught, at home, to accept and respect each other’s differences, it will prove difficult to accept the differences of others outside the home.”
As important as the celebration of special days focused on cultural diversity is in order to raise awareness and mindfulness, Moselenyane reiterates that it must extend beyond this. “It needs to go deeper than displaying traditional attire and traditional foods. It needs to reach to the very core of the issue and that is a change and shift in the mindset of all of us.” And, it should not be a once-off incident. People and organizations need to be assigned to proactively monitor core issues around cultural diversity, as opposed to only a responsive approach when challenges arise
“Cultural diversity brings with it potential for huge power,” continues Moselenyane. “It provides the opportunity to draw strengths from each other, across diverse cultures, and to learn from each other.” However, she re-emphasizes that this can only be possible if acceptance, understanding and acknowledgment of our differences is present. “We need ‘difference’”, stresses Moselenyane, “without which certain basic, yet critical, happenings could never occur. A case in point – a world consisting of only one gender (male or female) would lead to the end of that world. We do not choose our gender at birth. It is predetermined. The same can be said for so many of our cultural differences. We need each other and we need each other’s differences and unique strengths and wisdom in order to ensure our sustainability and growth.”
Yet, challenges do exist. “Superiority complexes often hinder open mindfulness,” says Moselenyane, “this causes the nation to lose out on the wealth of the diversity. Because, simply put, we need each other. There are instances where the ‘least regarded’ need the ‘highly esteemed’ and vice versa. On the other side of the continuum, another challenge is that often this same nation is responsible for the standards that are set that we then use to evaluate each other.” To help overcome some of these challenges, Moselenyane believes it is important for everyone to liberate themselves from the prison of believing in ‘concretised cultural intelligence’. “Do not see culture as a barrier, but rather as something that adds value.”
Moselenyane also goes on to add that greater equality and balance is required in order to help level the playing fields, helping to reduce tension across different cultures. “Within business contexts, the ‘shared tension’ point centres around inclusion and exclusion from economic sectors. What we see as ‘shared tension’ is the rippling effect of a problem of cultural mix in the economy of the country.
“We are seeing inroads into this area with more and more of our schools increasing involvement and student participation in areas such as innovation and technology. These students need to be monitored so that they do not disappear as they move up the ladder of their career training. It may be that some come from disadvantaged families who do not have the necessary support systems.” Another case in point is the move from simply buying and selling to that of innovation and local manufacturing that will enable many South Africans to move to the next level of participation in the economy of the country. “All people have a huge wealth of potential. However, it can be left potent because of cultural barriers,” continues Moselenyane. “Development of the local economy is key to ensure increased financial stability and greater flow of currency within all communities.”
“Culture is an intricate part of human nature,” concludes Moselenyane. “We cannot run away from this reality. Much as we all appreciate and believe in our own individual culture, so too does the other person. Days such as ‘World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development’ is an important reminder that we need to nurture our culture and remember where we come from, whilst increasing our understanding, respect and acceptance of the many diverse cultures around us.”
Actions need to follow dialogues; let there be ‘purposeful’ dialogues.