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Social Cohesion Workshops

Promoting social cohesion in an unequal society: findings from South Africa

In February 2018, the findings of a collaborative research project on social cohesion and inequality in South Africa were shared at this workshop with key stakeholders. The project was a partnership between the Agence Française de Développement (French Development Agency - AFD), the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IAJ), and UCT’s Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII). The workshop included working groups that explored the six dimensions that are key to the social cohesion index, which is one of the outcomes of the study: 1. belonging, 2. cooperation/civic participation, 3. institutional trust, 4. social relationships, 5. identity, and 6. perceptions of inequality. The workshop also facilitated a panel discussion on building social cohesion in a highly unequal society like South Africa.

Read the research findings, which were published in several working papers and policy briefs.


‘Building a cohesive society’– inception workshop

In March 2014, a workshop on ‘Building a Cohesive Society in South Africa’ was held at the University of Cape Town. The workshop brought together academics from South Africa and abroad, local practitioners and activists to share ideas and research and was co-hosted by SALDRU, the Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice (GSDPP - which was renamed to The Nelson Mandela School for Public Governance) at UCT, and the Research Institute for Economics and Business Administration (RIEB) at Kobe Universities, and funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The workshop was the starting point for develop a social cohesion index (SCI), and it began with a case study of Kenya in this context. The focus then shifted to South Africa, in a session on the implications of post-apartheid policy making on social cohesion. Subsequent sessions heard input from academics and activists on thematic and cross-cutting issues in the South African context. This led to lively discussion on the need for – and complexities involved in – defining, measuring and promoting social cohesion. Participants agreed in principle on the desirability of establishing a network to promote and enhance the visibility – and impact – of existing work on social cohesion in South Africa and to encourage interdisciplinary communication, debate and collaboration. A key goal was the translation of evidence on effective interventions into useful policy proposals and effective engagement with policymakers. 

Read the workshop report.

'Exploring the key strands in promoting a more cohesive society'

In November and December 2014, the PII hosted workshops for practitioners, researchers and academics from civil society and government to share their knowledge, experience and ideas about: 

  • Identity and social cohesion
  • Rebuilding trust in a segmented society
  • Youth, safety and social cohesion
  • Designing a socially cohesive society.

While there was lively debate on the definition, meaning, desirability and usefulness of the term ‘social cohesion’, there was consensus that any useful agenda for social cohesion would require a collaborative approach involving state, non-governmental organisations, business and the research community – a challenging, but imperative, task for South Africa’s development agenda. Participants at the four workshops identified the following gaps and opportunities for future collaboration and research:

  • Clarify and define social cohesion in way that promotes a ‘human’ identity and celebrates diversity and difference beyond national symbols
  • Explore redistribution/address economic inequality as a critical element of promoting social cohesion
  • Focus on families – and the roles of both parents – as building blocks of social cohesion
  • Explore the human capital dimensions – education and health – as pathways to inclusive development
  • Explore agency and the roles of the state, universities, communities, civil society organisations and the media in promoting a more cohesive society.

Read the consolidated workshop report.