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S.Africa's Zuma calls for dialogue to mend divisions

By AFP
By AFP

7/4/2012 4:10:08 PM -

SOWETO, South Africa (AFP) - South African President Jacob Zuma called for national dialogue at a conference on national cohesion Wednesday, after an outcry over a painting depicting his genitals showed that some of apartheid's wounds were still raw.

The "social cohesion summit", the first event of its kind since the end of white minority rule 18 years ago, aims at getting citizens of all races to confront social inequalities and challenges.

"Whilst we have made progress in institutionalising the principle of an inclusive citizenship since 1994, there are certain matters that still cause divisions and frustrations," Zuma told thousands of delegates.

Zuma called for a forum in May.

This followed outcry when an exhibition showcasing a controversial painting of Zuma with his genitals exposed highlighted racial and cultural differences that still dog Africa's powerhouse.

The infamous portrait, named "The Spear", showed Zuma in a pose resembling Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin, but with his penis hanging from his trousers.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) led protests to demand the painting be pulled down from public display, arguing it infringed on Zuma's dignity and black culture.

"As we proceed along this journey we will have to ask and answer difficult questions. We will also have to confront complex and uncomfortable realities," said Zuma.

He said it was through dialogue and reaching out to one another that South Africa was able to produce what is now fondly referred to as the "South African miracle".

But "we are under no illusion that it is going to be easy. The South African Nation is a product of many streams of history and culture, representing the origins, dispersal and re-integration of humanity over hundreds of years."

Academics, politicians, artists and ordinary citizens, are attending the talks taking place in Soweto's suburb of Kliptown, where in 1955 nearly 3,000 delegates met at an all-race conference to draft the Freedom Charter.

The Freedom Charter is an anti-apartheid document that calls for a non-racial South Africa that belongs to all who live in it.