Opinion: What would social cohesion look like in 2030?

What would social cohesion look like in 2030? Dr Y Abba Omar of the Indlulamithi Scenarios project contributes.

Indlulamithi will be a name rolling off people’s tongue easily in a few weeks’ time. It’s an ambitious scenarios project launched on 21 June 2018 to encourage a national conversation on South Africa’s future.

Named after the Nguni word for giraffe, Indlulamithi means to look above the trees. The project was initiated in June 2017, by among others political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni. It is supported by a leadership group including Andile Sangqu of Anglo American and Joel Netshitenzhe of the Mapungubwe Institute (MISTRA).

When Indlulamithi ’s first meeting was held last year, participants agreed on the need to explore a post-Zuma South Africa – given the morass we found ourselves in. The meeting held that the project should focus on understanding what social cohesion would look like in 2030. The year was chosen to coincide with the National Development Plan (NDP’s) timelines as well as those of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This chosen focus was a surprise to the meeting hosts, who expected the gathering of leading economists, businesspeople, NGOs, retired jurists, trade unionists and public servants to coalesce around the question of the future of the economy.

However, many argued that unless social cohesion in its various dimensions is addressed – be it through reconciliation, or tackling inequality, or crafting a national identity, or bridging rural-urban divides etc – our economic development strategies will flounder.

Following a well-used scenario methodology, researchers from MISTRA then went about interviewing a range of people about social cohesion – what would its dimensions be and its long-term prospects.

The Indlulamithi project has already notched up several unique features but perhaps the most prominent is the percentage of youth and unemployed people among those interviewed.

These interviews and months of intense research yielded 25 variables impacting social cohesion. The usual suspects included the potentially divisive effect of the fourth industrial revolution leading to continued high rates of unemployment among the youth, the South African middle class remaining small and volatile, the deepening of challenges around the health system and the continued impact of high CO2 emissions. Negotiations around land, the impact of continued urbanisation, the expansion of social welfare regimes to address ongoing poverty were also important variables identified.

An interesting insight was the view that former President Zuma’s unilateral declaring of free tertiary education would have a very positive impact on economic development. However, as researchers in a 2015 study commissioned by the Department of Higher Education and Training have pointed out, geography, sectors, available skills and education systems and networks of companies must be taken into account.

Early childhood development and mother-tongue instruction were identified as trends which need to be strengthened to ensure that learners succeed in later years. But South Africa’s young remain vulnerable, exposed to all kinds of assaults, with sexual abuse generally and human trafficking being cited particularly by young, rural respondents.

Another major concern is the extent to which female-headed households are becoming entrenched, with men playing a reduced role in the upbringing of children, depriving them of role models. The notion of the South African family needs to be seriously recast – with only a third of SA’s children being brought up by two partners, a third by their single mothers, and a third being orphans most times brought up by their grandmothers.

Our ‘noisy democracy’, the Constitution and especially the Constitutional Court, civil society and the media – notwithstanding the spread of fake news – were seen as forces which hold the state accountable.

The ‘incomplete democratic transition’, accompanied by continued contestation around reconciliation, will see intensified resentment and resistance across race lines. At its core will be debates around reconciliation into what? – with many respondents rejecting the notion that blacks must simply reconcile themselves to societal structures inherited from colonial and apartheid experiences.

At the same time, respondents felt that social solidarity and sacrifice will become more central to South African values.

As far as the state and politics is concerned, state capacity remains of concern, though there was speculation that with skills improvement resulting from greater access to tertiary education, we could see a steady improvement in SA’s bureaucracy.

Corruption was deliberately separated from consideration of crime, because of the former thriving in the context of poor governance, diverting scarce resources into the pockets of a few.

While political leadership will be expressed through increased coalitions, possibly even at national government, there was much discussion around the question of youth agency. Of particular interest was the impact the ‘fallist’ generation – young activists who were at the vanguard of the ‘fees must fall’ and Rhodes must fall movements – would have on politics.

Scenarios are not meant to be predictions of the future. They are informed speculations of what South Africa could look like – uncomfortable as those futures may feel.

The conversation Indlulamithi hopes to engender is: if any of the scenarios which will be revealed on 21 June start to come to the fore, do we have the right policies and strategies to move away from undesirable scenarios and maximise the desirable ones?

To win one of 25 tickets for the event, send an email to media@sascenarios2030.co.za

Dr Y Abba Omar writes in his capacity as a member of the Indlulamithi Scenarios project. Click here for more details.


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