SPEECH - FLIP BUYS: THE FUTURE OF MULTICULTURALISM IN SOUTH AFRICA

160202 BUYSMister De Klerk, Dr Eloff and other distinguished guests,

US Nobel Prize economist Milton Friedman said a policy should not be measured by its intentions but by its outcomes. For this reason, this summit is very timely as it has become necessary to reflect on the multicultural outcomes of the constitutional dispensation to prevent us from ending up in an irreversible slide towards monoculturalism.

The importance of multiculturalism

Political thinker Andrew Heywood expressed the view of a growing number of political scientists that multiculturalism may become the ideology of the 21st century the reason being that countries and communities are becoming increasingly multicultural as a result of migration and global mobility. Heywood thus argues that the main political issue present and future generations are facing is the quest to find ways in which people from different cultural and religious traditions can live together in peace. This reality has forced a growing number of Western states, including almost all the member states of the European Union, to officially adopt multiculturalism and to incorporate it in public policy. The question is how the growing cultural diversity in most countries can be reconciled with national unity. The answer is to be found in “unity in diversity” as key theme of multiculturalism and the foundation of the South African Constitution. 

Multiculturalism presupposes a positive acceptance of diversity based on the right to recognition of and respect for different cultural groups. The resulting policy is characterised by the formal recognition of the particular needs of specific groups and a desire to ensure equal opportunities for all. The aim is not to merely “tolerate” cultural communities but to actively promote their interests.

A simple majoritarian democracy is too simplistic to regulate the complexities of a multicultural society. In monocultural systems the individual rights and freedoms of majorities automatically prevail over the individual rights of minorities. In such systems, minorities will always have to fight for that which majorities accept as a given, for example to decide on the language policy of their nearest school. However, a monocultural system also easily leads to conflict because political competition degenerates into competition between communities on the grounds of identity, instead of being between individuals on the grounds of policy. 

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