by Prof David Luka Mosoma

Chairperson of the CRL Rights Commission


Copyright © 2020

Inclusive Society Institute
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Like many other drastic events in our country’s 26-year-old democracy, the COVID-19 lockdown has uncovered the deep social divisions in our society. Different classes, races and cultures are differently affected by the crisis, facing vastly different challenges. Indeed, social cohesion remains one of the most fundamental policy challenges facing South Africa since the dawn of our democracy. This paper contextualises the work of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (or “the CRL Rights Commission”) against the backdrop of our nation’s pursuit of social cohesion. It firstly suggests that no effort aimed at creating a truly cohesive society will succeed if it disregards the enormous challenges facing the South African nation. These include gender-based violence, women and children abuse, home lessness, unemployment, and economic exclusion. Moreover, social cohesion initiatives must be responsive to the needs of those on the receiving end of the seemingly endless string of human dignity violations perpetrated of late. Anything less will merely serve to perpetuate a cosmetic social cohesion, which is empty and meaningless to most. Secondly, the contribution advances the notion of ubuntu as a vehicle to achieve a social cohesion paradigm that is meaningful to all. Finally, it calls on all South Africans to reflect on, and start breaking free from, their decades-long social “lockdown” from their compatriots.

Over the years, various scholars and policymakers have expressed the view that social cohesion is arguably one of the most fundamental policy challenges facing South Africa since the dawn of democracy. Like other drastic events in the past 26 years, the current battle against COVID-19 has again exposed the deep lines of social division in the country, with different classes, races and cultures being differently affected by the crisis. Ironically, South Africans marked Freedom Day 2020 in lockdown, each confined to their own space, their own thoughts, and their own problems. But apart from the fact that we are normally physically free to move as we wish, haven’t we perhaps been a socially locked-down nation all along, with each class, race and culture keeping to themselves? And, more importantly, is it truly possible for our society to achieve a state of true social cohesion, or are we still trying to define what this means as we struggle through our diverse interpretations of the concept?

Among the many authors who have attempted to capture the essence of social cohesion over the years was influential sociologist Emile Durkheim, whose writings have informed the thinking of scholars, development agencies, government institutions, policymakers, and ordinary people. According to Durkheim, social cohesion can be summed up as  

“as the interdependence between the members of the society, shared loyalties and solidarity. Aspects often mentioned in describing social cohesion are the strength of social relations, shared values and communities of interpretation, feelings of a common identity and a sense of belonging to the same community, trust amongst societal members as well as the extent of inequality and disparities (Berger-Schmidt, 2000:2-3)”

In implementing its programmes, the commission seeks to contribute to socio-economic development, the restoration of human dignity and the creation of national unity among cultural, religious, and linguistic communities on the basis of equality, non-dis crimination and free association. The CRL Rights Commission continues to run campaigns, initiate engagements, and conduct research in an effort to promote dialogue and mutual understanding among our communities, and thereby help advance the dis course on social cohesion.

Navigating our way out of a few months’ COVID-19 lockdown will be difficult but can be done. The tougher challenge is to cast off the shackles of our decades-long socially locked-down existence as South Africans; to move from superficial to significant social cohesion, which will make us stronger in the face of disasters. This is the challenge the CRL Rights Commission invites each and every South African to tackle as we move forward.


Berger-Schmitt, R. 2000. Social Cohesion as an Aspect of the Quality of Societies: Concept and Measurement. Mannheim: Centre for Survey Research and Methodology. Phasha, & Condy, .2016. Inclusive Education: An African Perspective. Cape Town, South Africa: Oxford University Press Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd Republic of South Africa (RSA). 1996. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108, 1996. Pretoria: Government Printers Republic of South Africa (RSA). 2002. Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, Act 19 of 2002. Pretoria: Government Printers Republic of Republic (RSA). 2012. National Development Plan 2030. [Online] Available at: utive%20Summary-NDP%202030%20-%20Our%20future%20-%20make%20it%20work.pdf [accessed: 29 May 2020].


by Renier Schoeman,
CRL Rights Commission, and Chairperson: Committee for Corporate Linkages and International Liaison

This occasional paper followed a social cohesion dialogue hosted by the Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) in Pretoria earlier this year.

The paper is important not only because of its immediate relevance to South African society, but also in light of the fact that social cohesion has been selected as a major theme of the CRL Rights Commission’s new term of office. As such, the paper sums up the commission’s agenda for the months and years ahead. Therefore, the CRL Rights Commission will be circulating it widely and strategically, both nationally and internationally, advocating for a socially cohesive society and the benefits the South African nation stands to derive from it.

This will be done in key national and sectoral structures such as Parliament, academia, business, think tanks, etc., on a wide and representative level. Internationally, the CRL Rights Commission will also share the views expressed in this paper with countries and organisations aligned with South Africa, as well as with appropriate non-governmental organisations with international linkages. Working in partnership with the ISI will no doubt add considerably to the commission’s impact and will support efforts to advance social cohesion in both a local and global context.

This report has been published by the Inclusive Society Institute.

The Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) is an autonomous and independent institution that functions separately from any other entity. It is founded for the purpose of supporting and further deepening multi-party democracy.

The ISI’s work is motivated by its desire to achieve non-racialism, non-sexism, social justice and cohesion, economic development and equality in South Africa, through a value system that embodies the social and national democratic principles associated with a developmental state. It recognises that a well-functioning democracy requires well-functioning political formations that are suitably equipped and capacitated. It further acknowledges that South Africa is inextricably linked to the ever transforming and interdependent global world, which necessitates international and multilateral cooperation. As such, the ISI also seeks to achieve its ideals at a global level through cooperation with like-minded parties and organs of civil society who share its basic values.

Whilst the institute undertakes research through the lens of social and national democratic values and principles, it is pragmatic, not dogmatic, in its approach.