ANC’s social cohesion project questioned
Johannesburg - The relevance of the ANC’s project of social cohesion and nation building in fostering social change came under scrutiny on Sunday as the party reflected on the state of unity in the country.
The ANC was holding a panel discussion on social cohesion, nation building and the national question, as part of the dialogues the governing party is holding to debate policy documents ahead of its national general council (NGC).
The panel included former president Jacob Zuma, who pointed out that social cohesion remained important in order to transform the country socio-economically.
“The expansion on the conversation on the policy direction with regard to social cohesion and nation building is critical because meaningful socio-economic transformation will almost be impossible to achieve if society remains polarised,” Zuma said.
Academic and political analyst Professor Steven Friedman criticised the ANC’s national cohesion project, saying it was a problematic and unrealistic objective which would achieve very little for the majority.
Friedman said while the concept of social cohesion was understandably being embraced due to South Africa’s dividedness and its divided history of colonial and apartheid oppression and exclusion, the idea was not good for the country as it would not be helpful in ensuring inclusion.
“Let us be blunt about it. The majority of white South Africa is not going to buy into the kind of nation building and social cohesion which the majority want and I think we have to be realistic about that,” he said.
Friedman said the idea of social cohesion was frequently thrown around in South Africa when people wanted to address economic exclusion and when they talk about continued racism.
“These are the burning issues which affect our society. They have nothing to do with social cohesion because if you are concerned about those issues you could simply say we are against continued economic domination and against the perpetuation of racist attitudes and behaviour,” he said.
Friedman warned against the creation of what he called an artificial situation of cohesion which would be rejected by the majority of white South Africans.
“We need a strategy about how, to be quite blunt, we deal with inherited power, racially inherited power which still dominates much of what happens in our society. That is the burning question of the moment and that strategy is about power and how you negotiate,” he said.
Friedman said a social cohesion approach would not result in necessary compromises, which he said could be achieved through people negotiating while using their power.
The ANC NGC was initially scheduled for June last year but has been postponed to later this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Historian and academic Thozama April pointed out that the ANC was wrong in claiming that people were reluctant to disrupt the status quo in their call for socio-economic transformation, as this did not reflect reality on the ground.
“Contrary to what is being said there, public protests have become the order of the day in South Africa. It shows that people have the potential to disrupt the status quo,” she said.
April said the governing party had a tendency to lack imagination and be divorced from its own history in dealing with the challenges it had set out to resolve.
She said the party was caught napping on the land reform issue when the EFF pushed for the expropriation of land without compensation in Parliament.
“As the debate unfolds, it leaves much to be desired about the ANC’s own capacity to articulate and contest the space of political debates,” she said.