South Africa’s long way toward social cohesion
By Nhlakanipho Hlengwa, 24, KwaZulu-Natal
Social cohesion is a concept that is widely disputed in literature and as such it is difficult to define or give an accepted definition. Nevertheless, it can be maintained that social cohesion speaks to the cooperativeness, shared vision and commonness of a society prevailing among people. In a socially cohesive society, people identify themselves as working towards the same version of a society and they therefore commit, irrespective of their race, gender, political affiliation, or culture, to a common goal, such as ending discrimination, and inequality. Social cohesion in South Africa is a difficult social enterprise to attain. The difficultness can be attributed to numerous issues (not limited to mentioned issues).
South Africa finds itself in a dangerous economic quagmire of unemployment. Unemployment in South Africa is a reality of many citizens and it appears that this difficult economic phenomenon is a constant upward trend in a post-apartheid South African economy. For example, in 2009, the official unemployment rate was 23.52% and a decade later (2020) it was 28.74% (Statista 2020). This exhibits a dire situation which South Africans are finding themselves in terms of employment and prospects of employment.
Inequality is another factor which is irritating the very foundation of South Africa’s post-apartheid government. The democratic elected government in 1994 promised that it will address inequality which disproportionately affects black South Africans. However, this has been an elusive task for the ANC government, for instance land is still in the hands of the few and there is also unequal access to resources.
Corruption is prevalent in South Africa, especially in public institutions. Corrupt activities can be said to include, among many, private use of state’s resources and embezzlement. In a post-apartheid ANC government several leaders have been implicated in corrupt activities, for instance the former President Jacob Zuma was accused of misusing public state funds which saw his demise in the public office. Furthermore, to illustrate the intensity of corruption in South Africa, in 2017 the country was ranked 71st out of 180 corrupt countries. This is reflected in a Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.
- Why these issues?
Unemployment and inequality damages the very fabric of social cohesion in South Africa. It is difficult for South Africans to unify or fight for a common goal in a society where there are others who feel left behind because of social and economic inequality malaise and unemployment. Similar can be said with corruption, in a sense that it divides those who benefit from it (such as through nepotism) and those who do not benefit from it. In South Africa, this is the case, where we often see those who have connections in government being hostile to those who are antagonistic towards an ANC government because of the myriad of problems.
In other words, these issues undermine social cohesion as there is a segment of South African citizens who believe in social cohesion, especially those who have seen improvement in their everyday socio-economic lives since the inception of a democratic elected government.
- How can South Africa attempt to fully achieve social cohesion?
For South Africa to be a socially cohesive country it has to address these persisting social and economic issues of inequality, unemployment, and corruption. Addressing these issues requires a concerted effort from the government, such as implementing the right macroeconomic policies and anti-corruption measures. What also needs to be highlighted is that the post-apartheid South African government cannot afford a society which is divided or not unified as South Africa still has a nascent democracy that requires consolidation. For democratic consolidation to occur, where there is trust in democratic institutions and political participation, South Africa has to promote social cohesion.
If South Africa does not take concerted measures, a socially cohesive society for many will remain a dream. And moreover it is likely that South Africa’s democratic regime will be questioned.
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