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Measuring Social Cohesion in South Africa

Copyright © 2022

Inclusive Society Institute

50 Long Street

Cape Town, 8000

South Africa

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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form

or by any means without the permission in writing from the Inclusive Society Institute.


Views expressed in this report do not necessarily represent the views of the

Inclusive Society Institute or those of their respective Board or Council members.

Author: Daryl Swanepoel

April 2022


1. Introduction, background on social cohesion and motivation for survey

1.1. What is social cohesion and why it matters?

1.2. What are the elements of social cohesion?

1.3. What drives social cohesion?

1.4. Obstacles to social cohesion

1.5. Systems to achieve social cohesion

1.6. Conclusion and motivation for study

2. Survey methodology

2.1. Desktop review

2.2. Survey

2.3. Assessment tools

2.4. Limitations of the study

3. Findings

3.1. South Africans remain committed to ‘unity in diversity’

3.2. South Africa has worrying trust issues

3.3. Emigration could reduce South Africa’s skilled workers by 11 percent

3.4. South Africans don’t sufficiently trust immigrants

3.5. South Africans deeply distrust their compatriots from other parties

3.6. High sense of community provides solid foundation on which to build social cohesion

4. Further discussion, assessment, and conclusions


List of tables

Table 3.1.: Reconciliation moving in the right or wrong direction indicated by race

Table 3.2.: Level of everyday life integration indicated by race

Table 3.3.: Trust differentiation between persons known and met for the 1st time

Table 3.4.: Top five emigration destinations

Table 3.5.: Trust in people from other parties – based on gender

Table 3.6.: Comparative chart on giving patterns of the different race groups

Table 4.1.: Assessment of conditions that promote social cohesion

Table 4.2.: Evaluating social cohesion in terms of demographic integration,

connectedness, and community

List of figures

Figure 1.1.: Social Cohesion Triangle

Figure 3.1.: Percentage of South Africans who are doubtful one nation can emerge

Figure 3.2.: Percentage of South Africans wanting the country to unite

Figure 3.3.: Percentage of South Africans against association with other racial


Figure 3.4.: Differentiation based on gender, education, or income considerations

Figure 3.5.: Trust of neighbours based on race, age, education, and income

Figure 3.6.: Trusting those from other religions

Figure 3.7.: Trust for black South Africans

Figure 3.8.: Trust for white South Africans

Figure 3.9.: Comparison with regard to in-group trust

Figure 3.10.: Percentage of population considering emigration – by race

Figure 3.11.: Top 5 reasons for emigrating

Figure 3.12.: Percentage of population considering emigrating – by age

Figure 3.13.: South Africans not trusting African immigrants – based on party


Figure 3.14.: South Africans not trusting African immigrants – based on provinces

Figure 3.15.: South Africans not trusting non-African immigrants – based on party

Figure 3.16.: South Africans not trusting non-African immigrants – based on


Figure 3.17.: Comparison: distrusting South Africans by race and party-political


Figure 3.18.: People willing to trust compatriots from other parties – based on age

Figure 3.19.: People willing to trust compatriots from other parties – based on


Figure 3.20.: People willing to trust compatriots from other parties – based on race

Figure 3.21.: People willing to trust compatriots from other parties – based on


Figure 3.22.: Percentage of people trusting supporters of the same party

Figure 3.23.: Percentage of people willing to trust those from other parties

Figure 3.24.: South Africans getting involved in the community – based on age

Figure 3.25.: South Africans getting involved in the community – based on education

Figure 3.26.: South Africans getting involved in the community – based on income

Figure 3.27.: South Africans getting involved in the community – based on race

Figure 3.28.: South Africans getting involved in the community – based on party support

1. Introduction, background on social cohesion and

motivation for survey

South Africa is emerging from a divided past. The obvious division being that of race, where separation between the various race groups was ferociously enforced during the apartheid years.

Apartheid was a system of segregation in South Africa that enforced racial separation. After the National Party took power in 1948, the government enforced segregation policies by separating non-white citizens into separate areas with separate public facilities. Contact in everyday life was limited (History, N.d.).

The general election in 1994 ushered in a new democratic order in which all citizens were to be considered free and equal, regardless of race, language, religion, and/or sexual orientation. The democratic order that was established in South Africa was the result of a political settlement between the African National Congress, the broader liberation movement, and the then National Party government. The objective of this settlement was to put an end to apartheid and establish a new democracy based on values aimed at removing social and racial discrimination which permeated general society (The Presidency, N.d.).

The nation has since been on a journey of reconciliation. Under President Mandela much progress was made in bringing the various racial groups in the country together, but, some argue, reconciliation has stagnated, and fragmentation remains embedded, driven largely by a divisive [social and] political narrative (Tau, 2021).

But racism is fuelled by more than just the pigment of one’s skin. There are a myriad of factors that drive wedges between communities – inequality being one. 64% of black South Africans remain poor, 40% of coloured people remain poor and then, on the other hand, 6% of Indians and Asians are poor and only 1% of whites are poor (SAHRC, 2021). Inequality, for example, manifests along racial lines in the health sector, where only 16% of the population is covered by medical aid, 72% of whom are white, 17% coloured, and 10% black Africans (Pikoli, 2021). There are numerous other such socio-economic divisions which could be cited to equal effect.

Regional economic instability also exacerbated fragile relations in the country, as millions of migrants, some legal, many illegal, have been driven to South Africa. This has led to many charging these immigrants of “stealing our jobs”, serving to promote xenophobia, often with violent consequences (Matema, 2021).

Over the years there have been numerous attempts to assess the state of racial relations in South Africa, as well as attempts to measure socio-economic conditions, including the level of xenophobia in the country. There however seems to be a dearth of measuring instruments, bringing all the elements together with specific intent to promote social cohesion, reconciliation, and nation-building.

As discussed in the sections that follow, social cohesion is dependent on all these factors being addressed simultaneously. To this end, the Inclusive Society Institute has resolved to develop a comprehensive Social Cohesion Index or Radar, which will enable policymakers to track progress annually as to headway being made on social cohesion. This report serves as a precursor to such an index.

1.1. What is social cohesion and why it matters

“At [the] heart [of social cohesion] is the notion that relationships among members and groups in society are sufficiently good and that all feel a sense of belonging, that they perceive the whole society as greater than the parts, and when differences develop, they can be dealt with peacefully” (Langer et al., 2017).

In socially cohesive societies there is generally an “absence of latent social conflict”, for example conflict based on wealth, ethnicity, race, and gender; and “presence of strong social bonds”, for example civic society, responsive democracy, and impartial law enforcement (SFRI, N.d.).

“Social cohesion involves building shared values and communities of interpretation, reducing disparities in wealth and income, and generally enabling people to have a sense that they are engaged in a common enterprise, facing shared challenges, and that they are members of the same community” (Maxwell in SFRI, N.d.).

The OECD defines a cohesive society as one that works towards the well-being of all in society, “fights [all forms] of exclusion and marginalisation, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers its people the opportunity of upward mobility” (SFRI, N.d.).

Thus, social cohesion drives long-term prosperity and competitiveness because cohesive societies are politically stable and focus on economic growth. It allows everybody in society to share equitably in its prosperity (Bris, 2014).

1.2. What are the elements of social cohesion?

There are a number of dimensions to social cohesion, namely inequality, trust, and identity.

  • Inequality – that is the extent of perceived inequalities within and across groups, which can manifest itself in various forms, such as economic, social, political, or cultural disparities. Social cohesion is threatened when there are high levels of inequalities within a society, because it erodes the relationships within that society, which, in turn, may cause conflict.

  • Trust in others – societal trust is the “glue” that holds societies together. When trust is missing between members of society, it weakens the ability of individuals and groups to cooperate peacefully and to collaborate in order to achieve inclusive economic growth. Mistrust towards state institutions may, for example, fuel violent protests, and similarly, mistrust between individuals and/or groups may cause aggressive behaviour towards each other.

  • Identity – this relates to whether people have a stronger adherence to their national identity vis-à-vis their group or ethnic identity. This is particularly applicable in multi-ethnic communities, more so in countries with a colonial history, such as South Africa.

(Langer et al., 2017).

Figure 1.1.: Social Cohesion Triangle (Source: Langer et al., 2017)

1.3. What drives social cohesion?

The main determinants that drive social cohesion in society are racial diversity, economic inequality, education, historical events, GDP, subjective well-being, and health.

1.3.1. Racial diversity

Racial diversity offers a very strong group demarcation. Divisions across ethnic and racial lines is often considered as the main obstacle to social cohesion, as it offers a very strong group demarcation, even more so than gender and/or age. It has a tendency of categorising people into groups, to identify with one group and to draw comparisons across groups (Tänzler & Grimalda, 2018).

1.3.2. Economic inequality

Economic inequality generally has the negative impact of income inequality and horizontal trust. This is due to lack of confidence that one will profit from societal progress. As a side note, given the South African environment, there is evidence that immigration has a negative effect on social cohesion in countries with high levels of economic inequality (Tänzler & Grimalda, 2018).

1.3.3. Education

It has been found that there is a positive correlation between education and social cohesion. This is because mutual identity and societal cooperation is one of the principle purposes of public education (Tänzler & Grimalda, 2018).

1.3.4 Historical events

In line with the idea that cultural values may be lasting, there is evidence that historical events have a long-term impact on social cohesion. Trust is, for example, still lower among ethnic groups in Africa which were most affected by slave trade and colonialism in the past. (Tänzler & Grimalda, 2018). The lasting legacy of apartheid being particularly relevant to South Africa and this study.

1.3.5. GDP

Social cohesion has both a direct positive effect on GDP, as well an indirect effect, through the facilitation of better institutions, systems, or the ability to express and live out one’s freedoms. One may consider huge economic costs of inter-racial conflict and war. Similarly, countries whose GDP was more strongly affected during economic crises, typically do not have cohesive societies (Tänzler & Grimalda, 2018).

1.3.6. Subjective well-being

There exists a positive connection between well-being and overall social cohesion. Increased trust has, for example, the same impact on life satisfaction as a two-thirds increase in household income (Hellwell & Wang, 2011 in Tänzler & Grimalda, 2018).

1.3.7. Health

To illustrate the correlation between social cohesion and health, data from 39 US states show that social cohesion fosters both mental and physical health. It has also been demonstrated that a disinvestment in social capital leads to the rise of mortality rates (Kawachi & Berkman, 2001 in Tänzler & Grimalda, 2018).

1.3.8. Religion

On the one hand there is evidence that religious groups and institutions build social cohesion within communities by fostering integration and societal interaction. On the other hand, religious denominations often differ greatly in terms of doctrine, and come into conflict with those in the community beyond their own belief. Often, bonding efforts may have “the opposite effect by increasing group insularity and, in turn, social fragmentation” (Andrews, 2011).

1.3.9. Culture

Here too there are two sides to the coin. On the one hand, “acceptance of diversity and the interaction between cultures foster harmonious relations between people [and] enrich their lives. It is not the denial, but rather, the recognition of differences that keeps a community together”. On the other hand, there needs to be mutual respect for the differences, because without such, “communities may turn in on themselves, ultimately leading to their disintegration, decline or disappearance” (Jensen, 2002).

1.4. Obstacles to social cohesion

In a study of twenty disadvantaged neighbourhoods in London, the researchers found that, across all the areas studied, “lack of community” emerged as a strong theme. A number of key barriers to building communities emerged from the study.

  • Young people. The participants expressed strong anxieties about young people in their communities, many of whom seemed attracted to gangsterism, disrespect for and destructive crevices between them and older persons. The behaviour was driven by young people that “had nothing to do”, that were bored, and who lacked self-respect, needed self-protection, and did not have sufficient community activities to participate in. The breakdown of the family unit was also problematic in that they wanted to feel connected, which need was not satisfied within the family, driving many to gangsterism and untoward behaviour.

  • Lack of safety. Crime emerged as a strong barrier to the development of solid communities. This is because when crime is rampant in society, people are afraid to go out and interact with one another.

  • High levels of transience. Participants identified the high level of community turnover as a barrier, in that people found it difficult to “get to know their neighbours”. In turn, this affects safety and security, as the ability and willingness to “look out for one another” is diminished. So too, as neighbourhoods became increasingly ethnically and culturally diverse, and in areas of high numbers of immigrants, sensitivity as to the safeguarding of their rights emerged.

  • Racism. Tension between ‘cultures’ is a strong force to divide the community along ethnic lines, which often results in racist incidents and behaviour that contributes to ethnic segregation.

  • Language. Being unable to communicate with one another was felt to be a significant barrier to achieving more cohesive communities, since it contributed to mutual suspicion, feelings of isolation, and lack of interaction between different groups.

  • Lack of activities and information about activities. Activities and events are opportunities to get out of the house and interact with one’s local community. The lack of such activities weakens opportunities to build community spirit.

  • Provision of accessible and affordable/free community spaces. Easily accessible and affordable, even free, community spaces are important for promoting community cohesion and inter-cultural communication. In providing these spaces it is important to ensure that they are not hogged by one ethnic or age group to the exclusion of others.

  • Empowerment and community capacity. Community apathy and over-consultation, with no results, leads many to avoid community consultation or engagement. When people feel that they have no influence over the processes, they feel disempowered and then don’t get involved. Efforts therefore need to be made to build local capacity and devolve power to the community to make decisions about their neighbourhood. Similarly, volunteering is important for the development of communities, but a lack of encouragement, resources, and capacity weakens the ability of local organisations to participate in activities that promote community cohesion.

(Bertotti, Adams-Eaton, Sheridan & Renton, 2016).

1.5. Systems to achieve social cohesion

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission there are five elements for achieving social cohesion within a country.

1.5.1. Government needs to be ready

A socially cohesive society is not achieved overnight. It takes time, and therefore requires from government a long-term commitment to build social cohesion and then to sustain its implementation. Key steps include:

  • Establishing a measure or benchmark capable of measuring progress towards social cohesion on a regular basis.

  • Placing social cohesion at the forefront of government priorities by using strategic planning to align the country’s policies and actions therewith.

  • Assessing the country’s readiness and capacity to build social cohesion.

  • Embedding social cohesion objectives in all policies and processes.

(Australian Human Rights Commission, 2015).

1.5.2. Communities need to be regularly engaged in order to understand the issues

Government needs to understand their communities and where there is potential for tensions to arise between different groups. They need to:

  • Know their community in order to understand the characteristics of society and how it may change over time.

  • Engage the community in order to identify the existing or potential areas that can strengthen and build social cohesion.

  • Ensure that all voices are heard.

  • Continually identify issues and tensions that could undermine social cohesion.

(Australian Human Rights Commission, 2015).

1.5.3. Long-term partnerships need to be established

Building social cohesion requires strong partnerships with business, community groups, the police, all spheres of government, and agencies, such as the Constitution’s Chapter 9 institutions. In doing this, government needs to:

  • Identify and understand which partners, across the range of sectors, could help build social cohesion.

  • Develop strategies to make contact and build and engage with the broadest possible range of social cohesion partners.

  • Work collaboratively with partners to identify issues of concern that need to be responded to and demonstrate that they are willing to lead and take action.

  • Ensure sustainable partnerships capable of existing for the long term by keeping in contact with the social cohesion partners and nurturing those relationships.

(Australian Human Rights Commission, 2015).

1.5.4. Take place-based, targeted action

Building social cohesion requires actions that meet the specific needs of the community. This means that:

  • Communities need to be empowered and capacitated to meaningfully participate in both the planning and implementation activities.

  • Government and their partners need to be prepared and ready to respond quickly to situations as they develop.

  • They need to target programmes that meet specific needs.

  • They need to engage and provide safe spaces for young people in order for them to feel connected to their community.

  • They need to support bystanders to effectively respond to racism.

  • Government needs to develop an effective media and communications strategy, with targeted messages to build social cohesion.

(Australian Human Rights Commission, 2015).

1.5.5. Evaluate and share outcomes

Government needs to continually evaluate their social cohesion efforts so as to ensure that resources are allocated efficiently and effectively, and that sufficient progress is being made in their social cohesion-building efforts. This requires them to:

  • Work with the community to develop an evaluation framework to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their actions.

  • Collect appropriate data that will support the evaluation.

  • Regularly review the outcomes achieved in order to draw conclusions as to whether, and how, social cohesion has been influenced through their efforts.

  • Constantly share experiences so as to help others and to learn from the outcomes and processes deployed to achieve their results.

(Australian Human Rights Commission, 2015).

1.6. Conclusion and motivation for study

Measured against the backdrop of the aforementioned desktop review, it is manifestly clear that there is still a material social cohesion deficit in South Africa, and that the country’s reconciliation and nation-building aspirations remain unfulfilled.

1.6.1. In terms of definition of social cohesion

In terms of the definition, there is still substantial social conflict, in terms of wealth, ethnicity, race, and gender. For example, in the recent rioting and looting in KwaZulu-Natal, racial tension between the Indian and black communities in Phoenix raised its ugly head (Naidoo & Nkosi, 2021). There are also regular xenophobic incidents, such as the murder of more than 200 foreign truck drivers in recent years (Ryan, 2021). And there has been a significant rise in gender-based violence (Bosch, 2021).

1.6.2. In terms of the elements of social cohesion

With regard to the elements of social cohesion – inequality, trust, and identity:

  • With a Gini coefficient of 63, according to the World Bank, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world (Warah, 2021).

  • A 2019 South African Reserve Bank report suggests “South Africans have relatively low levels of trust in the state” (Moosa, N.d.).

  • The dominance of a racial identity has prevented the forging of a truly common identity (Allie, 2021).

1.6.3. In terms of the determinants for social cohesion

South African society is negatively driven by all the determinants required for social cohesion:

  • Racial diversity: The racial segregation caused by apartheid is well-documented.

  • Economic inequality: As previously mentioned, the World Bank has found South Africa to be the most unequal in terms of income inequality.

  • Education: The school drop-out rate is between 37 and 42 percent (BusinessTech, 2020).

  • Historical events: Once again, the history of apartheid and colonialism and its devastating impact on South African society, is well-documented.

  • GDP: The South African economy has been stagnating for a prolonged period, and fails to deliver jobs (RSA, N.d.).

  • Subjective well-being: There is a stark contrast in the subjective well-being of the minority communities, especially the white and Indian communities, versus the black majority. There are also deep intra-community well-being outcomes (Neff, 2005).

  • Health: The disparity in health cover between the various race groups has already been alluded to.

1.6.4. In terms of the obstacles to social cohesion

All the defined obstacles to social cohesion remain in present-day South Africa:

  • Lack of community: A relatively recent study into community participation in Khayelitsha, found a lack of community participation due to impediments such as poverty among the community residents, and ineffective police response to crimes (Manaliyo, 2016).

  • Young people: Youth unemployment currently stands at 66,50 percent (Trading Economics, N.d.).

  • Lack of safety: Crime in South Africa remains at very high levels, with crime statistics showing that South Africa remains a “very violent country” (Gifford, 2021).

  • High levels of transience: Informal settlements have increased from around 300 in 2002 to 3200 in 2020 (Mbanga, 2020) and there are around four million migrant workers in South Africa (Stats SA, 2021).

  • Racism: For example, more than a quarter of a century into the new South Africa and the country has still not been able to shed race-based politics (Cilliers, 2021).

  • Language barriers: Since the post-apartheid desegregation of schools, for example, language continues to create learning challenges in the classroom. Many scholars now struggle with language as a learning barrier in the classroom (Friedman, 2019).

  • Lack of activities and information about activities: The South African president has himself lamented that poor communication between government and communities prevails. Using local government as an example, he said that the refraining complaint from citizens was their inability to make contact with their councillors (Ramaphosa, 2021).

  • Under-utilisation of community space: Shackleton and Gwedla (2021), attached to the Department of Environmental Science at Rhodes University, in their analysis of public green spaces in South Africa, found marked inequalities in its distribution and quality between neighbourhoods designated for different race groups during the colonial and apartheid periods, and that it “continues to be reproduced by the post-colonial (and post-apartheid) state”.

  • Empowerment and community capacity: One point to illustrate this is youth empowerment, which “has long been identified as a catalytic tool for tackling youth unemployment and other youth challenges”. But many factors hinder the expansion of such empowerment (DBSA, 2022). This is further illustrated in a master’s thesis by Phendu (2019), where he assessed the state of public participation in the Western Cape. He found, for example, that most ward committee members do not understand their roles and responsibilities. He proposed that the municipalities facilitated regular capacity building programmes with the view to increase ward committee awareness and understanding of municipal functions, systems, and procedures.

1.6.5. Motivation for undertaking the survey

To this end, the Inclusive Society Institute has embarked on the project to develop the Social Cohesion Index or Radar for South Africa, as previously mentioned. The survey covered in this report is a precursor to that index/radar, which will be designed around three main themes:

  • Demographic integration

Questions in the survey were designed to test the various demographic groups’ (race, religion, political party support, education, income, gender, and age) attitudes towards integration and trust in their fellow South Africans.

For all the reasons highlighted in the desktop review above, and given the historical context of the demographic segregation actively pursued by apartheid, to build a cohesive nation, the Inclusive Society Institute is of the opinion that breaking down the ‘silo effect’ is important for social cohesion.

  • Level of connectedness to the country

This part of the survey aimed at testing various demographic groups’ attitudes towards emigration.

South Africa has a severe shortage of skills and expertise. The economy can simply not afford to lose such skills and expertise on a large scale. In order to understand what social cohesion determinants are at play within the South African environment, the Inclusive Society Institute would like to establish the level of such risk and the drivers behind it.

  • Sense of community

This part of the survey aimed at testing various demographic groups’ attitudes towards socialising and working with their fellow citizens from within their communities and from across a range of demographic groups.

The Inclusive Society Institute is of the view that a sense of community is important, not only to bring about reconciliation and to promote nation-building, but equally so for purposes of security, safety, and to counteract destructive damage to community assets during times of protest and unrest.

1.6.6. Parting shot

It is hoped that this report will serve to further motivate public policymakers and civil society leaders to promote the building of social cohesion in South Africa to a greater extent, and that they move it up on their lists of priorities. This is equally important for purposes of promoting human fraternity, as it is for the sake of rejuvenating the country’s lagging economy.

2. Methodology

The research was undertaken in three parts. The research takes a pragmatic view; a concurrent mixed methods research design is employed in this study. This is an approach that involves the use of quantitative and qualitative methods within a single phase of data collection and analysis. This allows both sets of results to be interpreted together to provide a richer and more comprehensive response to the research questions (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill, 2016). Similarly, Creswell & Creswell (2018) argue that mixed methods research design yields additional insight beyond the information provided by either the quantitative or qualitative data alone. The mixed-method also counterbalances the weaknesses associated with quantitative and qualitative approaches when used separately (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004; Saunders et al., 2016) and leads to greater confidence in the findings.

2.1. Desktop review

The first part involved a desktop review aimed at building an understanding of social cohesion: To develop a framework as to what it is, why it matters, and what the elements, determinants of obstacles are. Parallel to this, the author attempted to position the current-day South African social cohesion experience within this framework.

2.2. Survey

The second part involved an extensive survey, the Inclusive Society Institute annual GovDem Poll.

2.2.1. Questionnaire

The questionnaire for this study focused on the three elements of Demographic Integration, Level of Connectedness in the Country, and the Sense of Community.

Questions on these three elements were developed by Ipsos and submitted to the Inclusive Society Institute for approval.

2.2.2. The Ipsos Khayabus

The questionnaire was included in the Ipsos Khayabus questionnaire in 2021. The Khayabus is a syndicated study, undertaken twice a year by Ipsos to provide clients with the ability to pose questions to a large sample of South Africans, without carrying all the daunting fieldwork costs themselves. While each participating client pays for the administering of their own questions and receives their own results and the results of the included demographic questions, results are not shared freely, and the findings are treated confidentially to the client and belong to the client.

This process can be summarised graphically as follows:

2.2.3. Sampling

Stratified random sampling is designed by the Marketing Science team at Ipsos – the sample is firstly stratified by province and then within province by various sizes and types of settlements.

Sampling points are chosen at random, and six interviews are conducted in the vicinity of each sampling point, following the random selection rules as determined by the process of random sampling. On each plot/erf/farm, the household to be included is chosen by applying a prescribed random process and within the selected household the individual to be interviewed is also chosen by applying a random process.

This process is well-documented and conforms to the ISO standards, which are followed at Ipsos and regularly audited. The stringent rules are designed to ensure that all interviewers follow the same process and that interviewers do not have any influence on the eventual choice of respondent.

Marketing Science also produces the maps to enable interviewers to work in the chosen areas. The next graph is a summary of this process:

2.2.4. Interviewing

All interviews for the Ipsos Khayabus are conducted by trained and experienced interviewers. Interviews are conducted face-to-face in the homes and home languages of respondents. As a result of COVID-19, interviewers have to adhere to certain procedures:

This process ensures that results are representative of the views of adult South Africans and the results are projected to this universe/population.

2.3. Assessment tools

To enable an assessment as to the state of social cohesion in South Africa, two tables were developed from the information gathered in the desktop review. The first table allows for a somewhat subjective but informed assessment as to the state of social cohesion in South Africa, as tested against the elements, determinants of, and obstacles to social cohesion within society.

The second table draws from the empirical data gathered from a set of questions in the GovDem Poll survey that were designed to test respondent perceptions with regard to the extent of demographic integration (to what extent do South Africans socialise across racial lines), their level of connectedness (their commitment to South Africa as opposed to seeking a future outside of the country), and sense of community (an important element to ensure social stability and order).

2.4. Limitations of the study

In terms of the elements and determinants of, and obstacles to, social cohesion, whilst in some respects credible secondary data, such as GDP and unemployment, are readily available and adequate for drawing conclusions, in other respects the data are not. Especially as it relates to the obstacles to social cohesion, empirical data collected via the survey would have been more conclusive than having to rely on a subjective conclusion to been drawn from a desktop study. To this end, however, questions were not included in the survey. This can be corrected in future surveys.

3. Findings

3.1. South Africans remain committed to ‘unity in diversity’

Whilst nearly half of the South African population doubt whether the different groups in South Africa are able to form a single nation, they do believe that they can unite, and live and work together, as fellow South Africans. This was the first principal finding of the survey commissioned by the Inclusive Society Institute.

3.1.1. Doubt as to whether one nation can be formed from amongst the different groups

47,96 percent (nearly half) of South Africans either agreed or strongly agreed with the notion that it is not possible to form one nation out of all the different groups in the country. This finding held true across all race groups, with whites being slightly more inclined to believe it possible, and coloured people being the most doubtful. 42,7 percent of white South Africans thought is not possible to form one nation, whilst 47,45 percent of black South Africans, 54,55 percent of Indian and 55,77 percent of coloured South Africans also thought so.

On the opposite side of the divide, 31,44 percent of South Africans disagreed with the notion that it was impossible to form one nation out of the different groups in the country. Stated otherwise, these respondents therefore believed that it was possible to form one nation in South Africa. 15,36 percent of South Africans did not express an opinion either way.

Figure 3.1.: Percentage of South Africans who are doubtful one nation can emerge

The more educated they were, the more optimistic they were that one nation can emerge from the different groups in the country. Indeed, there is a large differentiation between those with higher education and those without. 40,45 percent of South Africans with higher education were of the opinion that it is impossible to form one nation, whilst this hovered at around 50 percent for less educated South Africans (No schooling: 49,85%, Some high schooling: 50,95%, and those with Matric: 51,09%).

There was little differentiation between gender and age groups.

However, this did not mean that various race groups were not willing to come together within a diverse, but unified country. Indeed, a minority of South Africans were of the view that race relations in the country were getting worse. Only 29,63 percent of South Africans were of the view that the relationships between the different races in the country were getting worse. 70,37 percent were of the view that the relationships either remained the same (47,64%) or were improving (22,37%).

In this regard, 73,55 percent of whites believed that the relationships either remained the same (47,04%) or were improving (26,51%). 70,57 percent of black South Africans believed that the relationships either remained the same (47,76%) or were improving (22,81%). And amongst Indians it was 67,66 percent of the view that relationships were either remaining the same (50,77%) or improving (16,89%). 66,11 percent of coloureds said that the relationships either remained the same (46,38%) or were improving (19,73%).

Therefore, the survey seems to suggest that whilst across all races two-thirds or more did not suggest a regression in race relations, they were of the view that a South African construct would not necessarily comprise a single nation, but rather a conglomeration of groups capable of working together under a common South African identity.

3.1.2. But most agree South Africa must unite

Most were of the opinion that it was important for all South Africans to unite. 70,53 percent of South Africans either agreed or strongly agreed with this notion, whilst only 13,15 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed. 2,75 percent did not know.

In this regard it was the Indian (80,75%) and coloured (80,76%) South Africans who, in terms of agreeing or strongly agreeing, registered the highest level of concurrence, followed by whites at 75,65 percent and trailed by blacks at 68,24 percent.

Figure 3.2.: Percentage wanting South Africa to unite

3.1.3. More agree than disagree that reconciliation is moving in the right direction

Whilst the majority of South Africans do not “yet” believe that reconciliation is moving in the right direction, it is encouraging that those who do agree outnumber those who don’t by a significant margin. 44,97 percent of South Africans agree or strongly agree that it is moving in the right direction, as opposed to 27,54 percent who disagree or strongly disagree. 21,27 percent neither agreed nor disagreed, and 6,22 percent did not know how they felt about it.

In terms of racial breakdown of the responses, 43,39 percent of whites felt positive about the direction, 46,06 percent of blacks felt positive, and 40,51 percent of coloureds felt that reconciliation was moving in the right direction. At 35,62 percent, Indian South Africans trailed somewhat in this regard. One explanation could be that the survey was in the field at the time of the rioting and looting in eThekwini, during which period there was racial tension in the Indian suburb of Phoenix.

Apropos reconciliation moving in the wrong direction, at 27,48 percent and 26,92 percent for white and black South Africans respectively, there was not much between them. Indian and coloured South Africans were slightly more negative, registering 33,05 percent and 31,00 percent respectively.

Table 3.1.: Reconciliation moving in the right or wrong direction indicated by race

3.1.4. High level of racial integration in everyday life

The survey suggests that there is a relatively high level of integration between the various race groups in the country when it comes to everyday life activities. Moreover, the integration appears not be forced integration, but rather of a voluntary nature, as can be deduced from the table 3.2 below, where there was a high level of enjoyment flowing from such integration and friendships being formed.

Table 3.2.: Level of everyday life integration indicated by race

Table 3.2 above shows that across the various activities, a majority of the population is integrating as it relates to everyday life activities. Even more encouraging is the trend that replicates itself across all the racial groups.

Whilst the hard statistics indicates that the black community is slightly lagging in terms of integration, this should be understood within the socio-economic context of South Africa, where the majority of the poor and jobless are black and thus not within the workplace or able to participate in extra-mural social activities to the same extent as the employed and socially mobile. This is corroborated by the results of the survey, which shows that in terms of having friends from different population groups, high-income earners (at 61,05%) are around 6 percentage points ahead of the overall results; and in terms of entertaining friends from different population groups, high-income earners (at 57,86%) are similarly nearly 4 percentage points ahead of the overall average.

What the statistics do tell us, is that the majority of South Africans have commenced the journey towards reconciliation, nation-building and social cohesion.

3.1.5. But, whilst on the decline, racial bias is still alive and kicking

Nearly a third (33,44%) of adult South Africans still do not like associating themselves with people from other population groups. This would suggest that the country has still some way to go before it can consider itself to be fully reconciled. It is a high percentage that cannot be left unchecked, lest it festers to the detriment of the vast majority who the survey statistics suggests are committed to building a united, non-racial South Africa.

When asked to indicate whether they like associating with people from other population groups, the results show that whites are quite open to it, while Indians feel very differently on the matter. Once again, it is worth mentioning that the survey was done during the period which saw racial tension in the Indian suburbs of Phoenix. This may have had some impact on the results.

28,3 percent of whites indicated that they do not like associating with people from other population groups. Similarly, 33,88 percent of blacks, 41,73 percent of Indians and 33,05 percent of coloureds indicated that they do not like to associate with people from other population groups.

Figure 3.3.: Percentage against association with other racial groups

3.1.6. Conclusion

South Africa still has a long way to go on its journey towards full reconciliation. The results from this survey show, however, that much progress has been made, with more in the country committed to uniting the country, than dividing it.

Most striking is the disconnect between the general negative political racial narrative which drives division, and the realities of everyday South Africans going about their daily business. Whilst many in the political establishment seem to be fuelling division, citizens, in turn, are finding each other at the human level. Politicians would be well advised to focus equal energy on a narrative that aims to build the nation.

What still appears unresolved is a national understanding as to the concept of Unity in Diversity and how it relates to the nation we wish to build. Can one nation with an undefined racial identity be formed out of the different population groups, or will it be a nation of cultural cooperation? This question is central to understanding the dichotomy of the survey results, which point to both doubt that one nation can be formed out of the different groups and the strong desire to unite the nation. This is a concept worthy of finding national consensus on in order to develop a unified path for all in the country.

3.2 South Africa has worrying trust issues

The trust needed to underpin social cohesion in South Africa is largely absent. South Africans do not sufficiently trust their fellow compatriots. The lack of trust runs across most dimensions, be it race, gender, age, education, or income. It is only the family unit which seems to be holding. This was the second principal finding of the Institute’s survey.

3.21. High trust in family

87,42 percent of South Africans trust other members of their family. This holds true across all racial groups, with more than 85 percent of South Africans of all racial groups indicating that they completely trust or somewhat trust members of their family. The highest level of trust within the family was recorded amongst the whites (90,68%), with the coloureds recording the lowest (85,47%). The level of trust recorded amongst blacks was 87,21 percent, and amongst Indians, 88,19 percent.

There was little differentiation based on gender, education, or income considerations.

  • 87,82 percent of men completely or somewhat trust their family members, whereas 87,04 percent of women do.

  • Those with no schooling or some schooling are slightly less trusting than those who have completed matric or who have a higher education (no education: 83,14%; some schooling: 83,97%; matric: 89,93%, higher education: 85,55% completely trusted or somewhat tru