Press "Enter" to skip to content

The cohesion campaign: Quo vadis?

Last Friday, Pallo Jordan launched what is called a social cohesion campaign. The aim of this is to afford South Africans the chance to air their views on suggestions to change names of geographical places — in aide of creating a sense of belonging among citizenry across the country. This is a good step to take, but it lacks the strategic and policy framework best provided by embedding it within an equalities and cohesion agenda.

Consultation does help stimulate debate and making people feel that their views are important to the government. No doubt, Jordan will be thinking of a forward plan as I write this. Since we’re thinking of the same thing, perhaps the following points are worth pondering:

Any sense of belonging coming from the hard work put into a campaign like this will dissipate if it is not accompanied by a plethora of measures aimed at addressing pertinent equalities matters.

The first and obvious is to establish key policy and strategic strands to codify the equalities agenda in South Africa. Some provincial governments and local authorities are leaders in aspects of this: the provincial government of the Western Cape in particular with the gender-equality focus placed within the corporate arm of that institution; incredibly worthwhile work done in North West province on youth development; still inchoate attempts to deal with homophobic abuse and violence — sadly, without any policy framework — in places like the East Rand.

More needs to be done and the tone must be set by national tiers of public-sector organisations. I suggest the minister sets the following equality strands to be followed by provincial and local tiers of government (these things are in the country’s Constitution, but in an utterly unenforceable form; strategic and policy development in these will make them enforceable):

  • race equality;
  • disability;
  • sexual orientation; and
  • gender.
  • Setting these strands must be accompanied by a duty on all public institutions to implement them. This is where things might go awry. What to do if some simply don’t do it? It is time for organisations that deliver services to local people to be called to account. The government should fund the implementation of these plans. (A reduction in salaries for all ministers, including the president, will be the first sign of the government taking cohesion seriously. That money will form part of the funding stream to enable the equality strands to be implemented.) There are many other options available, but the point is, without funding, the equalities agenda will remain a pipe dream and cohesion just a concept bandied about.

    Non-compliance with the duty will result in funding being withheld and the particular local authority being placed under a host of corrective measures to help it get on board. One such measure is that any spending must be approved by a ministerial function or perhaps even an arm of Salga. This could go on for years until there is satisfaction about the direction of travel.

    The cohesion agenda is more complex. The first thing to do is to establish a workable definition of what this woolly concept means. We must ask ourselves what a cohesive community would look like. I’d suggest the first element is already implied in the minister’s statement on Friday last week: a sense of belonging. Building on that, therefore, we can set the following vision for a cohesive community:

  • there’s a common vision and a sense of belonging for all communities;
  • the diversity of people’s backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and positively valued;
  • people from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities; and
  • strong and positive relationships are fostered between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and in neighbourhoods.
  • This is fairly rough, but on the basis of it, a sound strategic orientation and policy framework can be set up. No doubt, the work done in the cohesion field will significantly overlap with that of the equalities agenda. In carrying out work within the equalities agenda, practitioners ought to ask themselves: What are the cohesion implications of this? Not doing so will dislodge the natural social link between these two complementary parts of the same coin. A few themes to form the bedrock of cohesion work post the campaign:

  • Young people and intergenerational work: It is an open secret that young people are viewed in many communities as the wayward section of society. Do we have projects that aim to foster a better understanding between young and old? Start with simple stuff such as the views of these two generations of each other, their expectations and so forth.
  • Race equality and integration: The integration aspect is specifically aimed at those from other parts of the world being integrated into South African society. Race-equality work should be tackled in cooperation with equality practitioners, with this distinction: the vision must direct all work in this theme.
  • Sexual orientation: Whatever our personal beliefs, public services are about all people accessing them without fear of intimidation or abuse as a result of prejudice. Work in this theme must be guided by local peculiarities, but it must be carried out by all public services.
  • There might be other themes to add. Significant for cohesion to be meaningful, the minister must conceive of it as a strategic outlook of the government to be undergirded by clarity in policy. A campaign focusing on matters of heritage and renaming of geographical places cannot be the end of it. Any gains made here will evaporate without this broader policy and strategic framework.


    • Steven Lamini

      Steven Lamini is a specialist adviser in one of the key policy fields troubling modern-day Europe and works across a range of equality fields, advising on policy and strategic approaches to cohesion. His interests are wide and varied, and he writes on world politics, economic issues, current events, mediocrities and lame-duck presidents of countries. He believes that heads should be enlightened, but somehow regrets having such a stubborn principle, for some heads are rather best chopped off. He lives in York.