Commonwealth Day Message from the Government of South Africa

Today, Monday, 14 March 2016, Commonwealth countries as a symbol of their solidarity, are celebrating Commonwealth Day under the theme "An Inclusive Commonwealth."

The theme provides members with the opportunity to consider the significance of community; the importance of diversity and difference; the question of belonging; the values of tolerance, respect and understanding; and the sense of shared responsibility that exists within the Commonwealth today.

Numerous events and activities around the theme will take to commemorate Commonwealth Day in Commonwealth member countries. This will include HM Queen Elizabeth II, as Head of the Commonwealth, delivering her Commonwealth Day message and leading a multi-faith observance at Westminster Abbey in London.

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states bound together by a shared language, culture, history and tradition as well as shared values and principles outlined in The Commonwealth Charter. A very strong characteristic and strength of the Commonwealth, is its rich diversity.

This "family" of nations is home to 2, 2 billion citizens, including 18 African, 8 Asian, 13 Caribbean and Americas (Canada), 3 European and 11 Pacific members. The Commonwealth provides a voice to the world's largest and richest countries as well as to the smallest and poorest countries that for part of its membership. The richness of experiences and backgrounds unite the organisation to address current and future challenges.

South Africa fully appreciates the strength of diversity and this is reflected in our national motto: "!ke e:xarra//ke" meaning "diverse people unite" or "people who are different joining together".

The Constitution of South Africa makes reference to social cohesion and nation-building in the preamble. The Preamble declares that: "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity". This embraces every inhabitant of the country, both citizen and non-citizen who resides in it.

It remains a major task in our country to reconstruct our fractured and divided past to a more socially and economically inclusive society that is proud of all its cultural expressions. This entails, among other things, mobilising people to act together to enable the birth of a new culture around national symbols and values and create new forms of engagement towards greater unity.

We must actively work toward achieving a more cohesive society. In fulfilling this objective, South Africa, through the Department of Arts and Culture, has developed and implemented a social cohesion programme that ensures ongoing dialogues about social cohesion and which uses prominent members of society, known as Social Cohesion Advocates, to promote the national agenda. These dialogues and discussions are aimed at promoting tolerance and understanding between people of different ages, races and genders.

Heritage remains an essential part of the social cohesion and nation-building agenda. The strategic objective is therefore aimed at implementing heritage programmes for socio-economic development, to promote previously marginalised heritage and to strengthen strategic partnerships internally and externally to preserve and promote South African heritage and therefore developing a common heritage for all its citizens.

Language is an important part of the culture of the country, and multilingualism is enshrined as a right in our Constitution. The linguistic diversity of the country must be enhanced through policy development, programmes that develop human language technologies and new terminologies in all official languages.

On Commonwealth Day, South Africa commemorates the action taken by the organisation to link this family together and to promote Commonwealth values and principles. Members of this family must ensure that these links are strengthened to have a positive influence on Commonwealth structures. This will enhance the global profile of the Commonwealth, bring its citizens more closely together and advance the goals of democracy and development.