10 things about … Social cohesion

1. The department of arts and culture convened the National Social Cohesion Summit held last week in Kliptown, Soweto. The department said the government had “identified social cohesion as one of its key priorities” and the summit would “provide South Africans with the opportunity to help to define the society they want to live in”.

2. Ahead of the summit, the department said social cohesion was “based on four key pillars – diversity, inclusiveness, access and values” and it was “about celebrating diversity in an inclusive manner, working with common values and making sure that all have equal access to basic services, education, healthcare, justice and housing. It is about ensuring that South Africans relate better to one another, be it as friends, neighbours, family, colleagues or even strangers.”

3. The department also launched its South African @ Heart campaign, “aimed at strengthening social cohesion through instigating a national conversation about what value system should govern every South African’s thinking and behaviour”.

4. Social cohesion might be a new term for “nation-building”. It might also be descended from Nelson Mandela’s reconciliation project, dumped by later administrations.

5 The notion of social cohesion (“mechanical” versus “organic”) was first explored by sociologist Émile Durkheim in The Division of Labour in Society (1893). Social cohesion became a buzz term in the early 2000s after riots and clashes between white racist rightwingers and marginalised Asian youth in a few northern cities of the United Kingdom. About 2000 people were involved, excluding police. The riots lasted a few days. (South Africans at the Kliptown summit could be forgiven for thinking “We should be so lucky”.)

6. The summit project manager and the department’s director for social cohesion, Sandile Memela, said the summit should not be mistaken for a “reaction” to the controversial painting The Spear.

7. In his opening speech at the summit, President Jacob Zuma said the 2010 Fifa World Cup, held in South Africa, was an example of social cohesion. “Every citizen became an ambassador of our beautiful country,” he said. “It was a wonderful moment and it showed us what is possible if we put our country first above all else.”

8. Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said: “There are no short cuts to social cohesion … [It] isn’t something that the state can impose on society.”

9. Speakers agreed that, as Lumko Mtimde, chief executive of the Media Development and Diversity Agency put it, South Africa’s “triple challenge” of “unemployment, ­poverty and inequality” were the causes of the lack of social cohesion in South Africa.

10.  The Unemployed People’s Movement was not invited to the summit.

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