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SPEECH: THE ACCOMMODATION OF CULTURAL, RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC DIVERSITY: A CORE CHALLENGE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY FOR SOUTH AFRICA, FOR EUROPE AND FOR THE WORLD

fwdk podium

Everywhere people are on the move.

One of the inescapable implications of globalisation is an enormous increase in the interaction between people from different backgrounds, cultures, languages and religions.   The management of the resulting cultural, language and religious diversity will be one of this century’s greatest challenges.

Throughout the world populations are becoming more cosmopolitan: the world’s 200 countries now include more than 6 000 different cultural communities. More than 130 countries have cultural minorities comprising more than 10% of their populations.

As you in Europe know all too well cultural diversity is being augmented by new waves of migrants seeking economic opportunities and freedom. Everywhere people are on the move - and everywhere they are confronting once homogenous societies with new challenges.

The inability of countries to manage diversity has now become by far the greatest source of conflict in the world. The simple reality is that in the 21st century, the main threat to peace no longer comes from of wars between countries: it comes from the growing threat of conflict within countries between ethnic, cultural and religious communities. 

Nearly all the world’s conflicts have their roots in the inability of countries to manage diversity. Examples include the recent civil war in Sri Lanka between Tamils and Sri Lankans; the ongoing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians; conflicts involving the Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran; continuing ethnic warfare in South Sudan and Darfur; recent conflicts in the Ivory Coast and Mali; recurrent tensions between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Kashmir and the Philippines have recently - or are still - experiencing ethnic or religious conflicts. The current civil war in Syria is being seriously exacerbated by long-standing tensions between fundamentalists, Shi’ites, Alawites, Kurds and Christians.  

The preservation of cultural diversity is also one of the central issues in the debate on where globalisation is leading us.  Many people believe that the identity, purpose and dignity that they derive from their cultural heritage are being threatened by the global tidal wave of English-language mass culture.  The pervasive media, entertainment and communication influences that it broadcasts are brashly consumerist and often respect few boundaries or traditional values.

South Africa - which is one of the most multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic societies in the world - has plenty of experience in managing - and mismanaging - diversity.  Our population comprises:

  • 80% black South Africans with nine ethnic groups - each speaking its own language - but increasingly conversant in English;
  • 9% Coloured South Africans - most of whom still speak Afrikaans - but who also include a strong Muslim community descended from Indonesians who were brought to the Cape by the Dutch East India Company;
  • 2% Indian South Africans - including Muslims and Hindus - most of whom speak English as their home language;
  • 9% white South Africans - including my own community, the Afrikaners, who speak Afrikaans and white English-speaking South Africans.

Our population also includes anywhere between two and five million refugees from the rest of Africa - most of whom are illegally in the country.

How did all this come about?

Speech by former President FW de Klerk 
24 March 2018

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