Social cohesion in Gauteng

Increasing attacks on foreigners, including in April 2015, along with a succession of widely publicised incidents of racism, have triggered a new round of soul-searching in South Africa. Why, after the comprehensive defeat of apartheid and its ideology, does prejudice seem so intractable? What kinds of interventions could help reduce these troubling events? How can society be made more ‘cohesive’?

Suggestions about what to do in the face of these challenges are sometimes speculative and wishful. They consist of appeals to the better nature of ordinary people, or an assumption that the feel good moments of the democratic transition can be re-enacted to bind everyone together. Calls for social cohesion and tolerance seem often to dodge the complex vicious cycles that lead to the instances of intolerance that erupt in the media or in communities.

This Research Report centres on better understanding the current dynamics of social cohesion in Gauteng. It tackles five guiding questions, each of which corresponds to a chapter:

  1. How has social cohesion become a goal in post-apartheid South Africa, and what are the key limitations resulting from this understanding of social progress?
  2. In a global context, how is social cohesion defined and what are the main contestations about this ideal of social change?
  3. How do the respondents in the GCRO's Quality of Life IV (2015/16) survey respond to questions on levels of trust, claims to belonging by different race groups, and the place of migrants and gays and lesbians in Gauteng?
  4. How have past and present initiatives to improve social cohesion conceived of the problem they are attempting to address, and what is their scale of intervention?
  5. What are the various methodologies that have been used in past and present initiatives to improve social cohesion?

A key premise of this research was that our society has an enormous accumulation of experience in trying to tackle anti-social interactions and to address social injustices that are, in various ways, shaped by race, class, nationality, gender, sexuality and other identities. The last two chapters of this report are based on a review of more than 60 social cohesion initiatives. They analyse the wide variety of actors involved in such work, the different ways in which they conceive of their objectives, and the different scales at which they operate. These actors pursue dozens of different methodologies including sports and dialogue, arts, psychology, urban design, and public campaigns. This dispersed capacity through society is important because it represents experience-based responses to the ways in which anti-social behaviour and social injustice are reproduced. In attempting to determine a programme of action, we argue that we should learn from and extend existing and past attempts to tackle these difficulties.


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