August and September 2019 are likely to be remembered as two historic months that both strengthened and weakened South Africa’s levels of social cohesion. Thousands of men and women united in protest against gender-based violence, a spirit reminiscent of 2010 was ignited as South Africans watched the Ndlovu Youth Choir perform on a global stage, and an #ImStaying Facebook page rekindled feelings of shared culture and heritage among some 200,000 members.

On the other hand, feelings of inequality emerged through impending banking strikes, increased levels of femicide, and what some termed xenophobic attacks.

The concept of social cohesion is critical to South Africa, and is at the heart of Indlulamithi South Africa Scenarios 2030’s work. Indlulamithi defines social cohesion as a process of social integration and inclusion that promotes mutual solidarity and acceptance. It emerged as a focal point in the research somewhat surprisingly, as the Indlulamithi leadership team expected the project to focus on the future of the economy alone. It soon became clear, however, that unless social cohesion in its various dimensions is addressed – be it through reconciliation, addressing inequality, or crafting a national identity – our economic development strategies will flounder, and social and political unrest will grow.

And so the research, which began in 2017 when social cohesion was arguably at its lowest since 1994, focused on the long-term prospects of achieving more social cohesion in South Africa.  As a result, the entire Indlulamithi project is built around these key questions:

  • What are the elements of a common vision for our country?
  • What does it mean to have a people-centred state, economy and society broadly?
  • What would a peaceful, caring South Africa look like?
  • What skills should SA develop to position our country for 2030?
  • What would a growing trajectory of inequality look like in 2030 in South Africa?

In exploring these questions, Indlulamithi hopes to help South Africans envision a future where equality and acceptance override years of division, distrust and conflict – and make decisions with this future in mind.

This is not a new call, when Nelson Mandela declared 24 September as Heritage Day in 1996, he did so urging South Africans to unite in building a national identity. When our first democratically elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation. We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture,” pronounced Mandela.

However, 23 years later, South Africa is still on a journey towards nation-building. The 2018/2019 Indlulamithi barometer reading shows that with the current status quo, social cohesion in the country will be in its lowest by 2030. But, armed with this early warning, it is our hope that governments, businesses and citizens are empowered and motivated to unite and change the grim course of the nation to one that is united and socially cohesive.