Social cohesion and nation-building have formed most of the national discourse during the post-apartheid dispensation. More exploration is still ongoing to ensure social cohesion among her citizens. It is expedient to know that, to build a nation, all citizens must learn to live together with all their differences. Social cohesion involves interconnectivity between different groups within the society. It is an essential factor of prosperous societies. When social cohesion is in place, it will enhance a just and equal society devoid of violence, xenophobic attacks and inter-ethnic animosity. It is, however, disheartening to note that more than twenty years into post-apartheid administration, South Africans are still geographically apart except for few groups that have common identities. This fragmentation may be due to racial discrimination, unemployment, racism, denial of socio-economic & civil rights, corruption, bias administrative justice, poverty, inequality and lack of cooperation between ethnic and cultural groups. Through the Department of Arts and Culture, the South African government, in conjunction with key stakeholders, is strategising on successfully developing Social Cohesion and Nation Building compact. The purpose of the social compact, as documented by the South African government, is to enhance national unity and nation-building through:
Advancing constitutional democracy, human rights and equality;
Promoting non-racialism, non-sexism, equality and human solidarity;
Building unity amongst South Africans, as well as with the region, continent and the international community; and
Encouraging healing of individuals and communities.
This compact, when fully developed, will ensure that all South Africans have a common front in addressing significant issues in the country.
SOME FACTORS THAT UPSET SOCIAL COHESION AND NATION-BUILDING
Inequality in the distribution of resources: Inequality in the distribution of resources has inflicted more harm leading to the nation’s disintegration. Inadequate resources are often distributed unevenly among the various ethnic group in favour of the ethnic group in power. When this happens, the gap between the rich and the poor is further widened, and there is also the denial of some ethnic groups to access certain economic benefits. This has elicited a lot of unrest among the citizens, particularly those at the receiving end, resulting in lots of agitations during electioneering processes to ensure the elected candidates can attract development and provide even distributions of even distributions resources. According to Agence Française de Developpement, inequality has continued to aggravate tension between former homelands and urban metropoles, among racial groups, between farm owners and their workers. Elected officers should deploy a more discreet approach in government to minimise any form of policy that can work against social cohesion and nation-building.
Unemployment: Unemployment in South Africa has been on the increase since the advent of COVID-19. Statistics put the unemployment rate at the beginning of this year to 32%. When there is an increase in the unemployment rate, poverty and income inequality persist, crime rate and social unrest persist. Unemployment has a devastating effect on social stability and, by extension, have a negative impact on nation-building—high unemployment rate results in the breakdown of social organisation culminating in the collapse of family and marriages and violence. If the increase in the unemployment rate is left unchecked, it can destabilise social stability.
Racism/ Denial of socio-economic benefits: South Africa has 11 official languages associated with various races and ethnic groups. Communication is an important way to ensure social connections needed for nation-building and cohesion among the people. People may find it difficult to interact with people who do not speak their mother tongue with diverse languages. Racism has taken centre stage in recent years due to inequality and poverty. In some instances, it involves xenophobic attacks when it “appears” the foreign migrants are competing for the available resources with the citizens. When certain socio-economic opportunities are unevenly distributed, it elicits social unrest among the populace. Government should make sure there is no marginalisation or exclusion of any race from socio-economic benefits. This will ensure harmonious co-existence among the various communities.
Corruption: Corruption has become one of the endemic factors that have mitigated social cohesion and nation-building in South Africa. Most South African citizens can no longer trust the government in power as a result of corrupt practices which characterised the tenure of some of the past political leaders. The electorate is no longer keen to demonstrate its franchise during elections. Some ethnic groups now see another ethnic group as being more corrupt. This has led to series of violence and animosity among different ethnic groups that exist in South Africa. Social cohesion and nation-building may be challenging to attain if unethical practices continue unabated among government officials.
Political witch-hunting: After elections have been won and lost, political gladiators should bury the hatchet and concentrate more on how to deliver the dividend of democracy to the electorates rather than the political party in power witch-hunting the supposed political rival or opponents. When political witch-hunting occurs, it may elicit social unrest from the followers of the “supposed enemy of the government”, resulting in protest or demonstration in sympathy to their political leaders being “persecuted”. This may further lead to social fragmentation.
Government policies: Nepotism has been perceived to be one of the fundamental reasons for disintegration in the country. When highly skilled and efficient personnel are put aside in favour of friends and relatives of the elected government officials who are less competent to handle critical sectors in the society, there is bound to be a problem among citizens who perceive unfairness in the running of the government. Social unrest by people who feel marginalised and unduly treated is capable of plunging the nation into
Cultural differences: There are diverse cultural and racial groups in South Africa. The ideology of rainbonism was adopted to depict South Africa as a member nation with different ethnic groups. The diverse sub-cultures in South Africa coupled with different values and beliefs make it tougher to achieve a socially cohesive nation. Having multi-racial schools may help diffuse the racial tensions. However, it must be noted that there are still differences in cultural background, which may serve as an impediment to a truly socially cohesive society.
INFLUENCE OF LEGISLATION ON SOCIAL COHESION AND NATION-BUILDING
Although there appear not to be an express constitutional mandate to inspire nation-building, the preamble and some provisions of the constitution with a statement such as ‘non-racialism and ‘non-sexism in Section 1 and Section 3(1) have an influence on nation-building and social cohesion.
The following are ways by which legislation may assist in ensuring social cohesion and nation-building:
Elimination of inequality: Every citizen has the constitutional right to be treated well without any prejudice. There can be more legislation to ensure women and children (the most vulnerable in the society) enjoys the same privileged as their male counterpart. Also, the distribution of socio-economic benefits should be without bias. Discrimination is another action that requires a legislative role. There are diverse forms of discrimination such as gender discrimination, xenophobia, discrimination against refugees, racism and racial discrimination. Legislation and policies that help eliminate inequality and discrimination will go a long way in strengthening the social cohesion and stability of the nation.
Legislation against corruption: Corrupt practices have eaten deep into the fabric of the entire system. Most elected officials now see their political position as an invitation to defraud the system and not to serve. Various sections of the South African constitution provide for openness, accountability and responsiveness in governance. For instance, section 32 contains the right to access information; section 33 provides the right to ‘just’ administrative action, while sections 59 and 72 give the right to participate in some parliament activities. Corrupt practices have, however, challenged the reality of these values. More stringent legislation is urgently needed to curtail this menace called corruption and serve as a deterrent to others. Some of the punitive measures/legislation for corrupt government officials may include but are not limited to outright ban from holding public office in life and, in some cases, life imprisonment.
Role of the parliament: The parliament has a role in ensuring public hearings on most issues related to social cohesion and nation-building. The parliament should adopt a more democratic approach in resolving any socio-cultural issues. There should be regular national discuss and hearing that can bring about unity among the citizens. Where necessary, the legislatures should ensure quick passage of any bill to enhance social cohesion among the citizens.
In conclusion, legislation has a vital role in ensuring a socially cohesive nation and strengthening the unity among its citizens.
Dr. Nneka Akwu is a postdoctoral researcher. She writes in her capacity