Cultural goods like language and the arts are fundamental, and not incidental, to what it means to be human.
“Cultural diversity is a defining characteristic of humanity.” – UNESCO Convention on the Protection & Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
We are the only hominid species capable of language – permitting the rapid communication of life’s lessons. It is language that makes the building of cumulative civilization possible.
Our aesthetic side drives our behaviour. It is our ability to imagine, create and innovate that allows us to plan, build and find the most appropriate ways of responding to changes in our environment.
Modern cultural, economic and social discourse has been dominated by the basic premise that humans are rational actors who make decisions based primarily on narrow self-interest. Popular culture reinforces messages of individualism and self-centeredness. Just do it (for yourself); work hard (for yourself); grab opportunities (for yourself).
In our thinking around, arts, culture and social unity, we must recognise that there is another powerful side to being human. Humans are social beings that are hard-wired to cooperate. Individuals derive a fundamental sense of wellbeing from their membership to groups.
Our greatest moments as a species are when we cooperate as free agents in joint projects that advance human welfare.
Arts and culture policy must rebalance the relationship between individualism and cooperation. At the core of the DA’s vision of an Open Opportunity Society is the desire to allow individuals to pursue lives that they value. Our policy around arts, culture and heritage must, however, recognise that freedom of aesthetic expression, the right to speak the language of your choice and the desire to have your culture and heritage respected and celebrated can be fundamental to this pursuit. This is consistent with the objectives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions which recognises “the distinct nature of cultural goods and services as vehicles of values, identity and meaning”.
South Africa’s efforts at building a unified nation are relatively new. We have emerged from our political transition in 1994 as groups divided by history, but united by the vision that we have for the country. A vision of a country that will “heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights”. A vision of a people that will honour their past whilst taking positive steps to build a shared future.
While striving for unity, we must be a country which celebrates and protects our diversity. Arts and culture can bring people together in new ways. Our aim should not be to use these interactions to promote sameness, but to support interaction as the celebration of differences and as opportunities to build the foundations for mutual respect and understanding.
The DA will work with the people of South Africa to build a common identity, while creating opportunities for self-expression to the many cultures and identities which enrich our nation.
Download the DA’s Policy on Arts, Culture & Heritage.