Long-term social cohesion: What will it take?

In 2019, South Africans have seen the question of racial unity and social cohesion intensifying as the country battles with finding a common vision. Though the country has a national motto which states: Diverse people unite or Unity in Diversity; the country finds itself between a rock and hard place when it comes to unity and inequality.

Occasions such as the win of the Rugby World Cup by Amabhokobhoko and social media groups such as the #ImStaying Facebook page, where we see people unite may seem to contradict the above statement. However, for many others, these occasions have been only superficial promises of social cohesion.

The #ImStaying group has been criticized for catering only to a privileged minority and avoiding dialogue on socio-economic issues faced by many South Africans, and questions were asked about why South Africans needed a rugby match to feel united, when everyday there is an opportunity to promote solidarity.

During the development of the Indlulamithi scenarios in 2017, research participants imagined a country where everyone ‘gets along’, but on highly unequal terms. The participants showed concern over this kind of superficial view. It was then agreed that social cohesion to be meaningful and sustainable, inequality must be addressed at its core – starting with unemployment and poverty.

Indlulamithi emphasises that though it states that Social Cohesion includes integration and inclusion in communities and society at large, participation in social organisations or institutions, social solidarity and collaboration, shared values and a sense of nationhood, and Greater equality and justice. It however, does NOT mean that there should be Ideological homogeneity or assimilation, Conflict avoidance and ‘Getting along’ on highly unequal terms.

In a recent radio segment, political analyst Eusebius McKaiser echoed these sentiments. “You cannot have meaningful or sustainable social cohesion without millions of black South Africans being economically active and being authors of their own lives.” Sporting victories help us feel good for seconds or weeks, he said, however “after the last champagne bottle has been downed, black people remain on the whole excluded from the economy… We talk about social cohesion as if it can be achieved without reference to economic justice.”

The message is clear: Social Cohesion cannot be achieved through feel-good efforts alone. Euphoria ends and the troubles remain. Only through when the majority of the country have an equal footing in the economy will South Africans begin to reach equality. This is where efforts need to start, or else they will be short-lived. What are your thoughts on social cohesion in South Africa? Can it be achieved by 2030? Let us know in the comments section below.