Unity isn't the kind of strength SA needs

It may feel nice, but it is dangerous - and especially when the wrong people decide what we must be unified about

12 June 2018 - 13:00
By Tom Eaton
Image: 123RF/rawpixel

Siya Kolisi's Springboks have united us. The ANC is battling for unity. The United States of America have threatened the unity of the Western world, and Europe must unite or fade. Will North and South Korea unite?

Unity. It's everywhere, presented in a thousand speeches and news reports and films and television shows as something to strive for. Unity, we are told, is our collective shield against anarchy. Unity is a home in which all are welcome. Unity is a serene state of being in a scary and fractured world.

It all seems to make a certain sense. Unity has many real advantages. For starters, it feels fantastic. Roaring in unison with a legion of fellow roarers ignites the blood and explodes the brain. It allows one a taste of primal bliss, when we all sat in the forest canopy and whooped our gratitude at the euphoric dawn.

There are also practical benefits, like concentrated human settlement, which gave us division of labour, which gave us specialisation, which gave us the greatest invention of the last four billion years: dentistry. (Future generations of anthropologists will prove that we invented the idea of God was because we invented the idea of hell, and we invented hell because toothache had to come from somewhere, right?)

Which is why, on balance, I would prefer to live in a society that is more unified than it is splintered, or at least have the freedom to live as close to the city wall as I can stomach. I remain, however, very, very cautious of fetishising unity and accepting it, uncritically, as a universal good.

Read Eaton's full column on Times Select.