More than 10 years ago, when Matjididi Mokono was a primary school teacher, she looked at her community in GaMagoa, Limpopo, and saw its children struggling to live. They were not being fed well enough, many lived with their grandparents, and they were trying to get by in an environment rife with crime, alcoholism and drug abuse.
Mokono did something about it. She left her post as a teacher and started Mponogele Le Iterele Orphan Centre under a tree. The initiative was meant to feed and educate the local children. “I wanted to help the children and support their family members who feel overloaded too,” she said.
So successful was the project, Mokono started receiving support from the likes of Eskom, Brand South Africa and even overseas funders. Today, the centre has moved from the tree to a property with a small hall, a kitchen and even a computer room.
It is people like Mokono who are pushing up South Africa’s score on the active citizenship index, which currently sits at 68%.
The index forms part of Brand South Africa’s Domestic Perceptions Survey, which measures both active citizenship and social cohesion. It also contributes to developing an understanding of how South Africans perceive the nation brand based on national pride, attitudes, values and beliefs. On the whole, the survey found South Africans to be positive and optimistic about the future of the country.
“South Africans tend to speak badly about themselves,” said Brand South Africa’s research manager Judy Smith-Höhn. “There’s a general tendency to say things are terrible. But what we are able to do is tell the positive story. We’re not looking to cover up challenges.”
While the active citizenship score was considered good, Smith-Höhn said there was still a lot of work to be done to take it to a level that was considered strong.
The score implies that more than half of South Africans participate actively in their respective communities. But the study sample showed that 29% were involved community members who were always willing to contribute to their communities. The bulk of the sample, 53%, would like to be involved members but did not always have the time or money to do so.
South Africans were starting to feel they belonged to the country and that they wanted to be here, said Smith-Höhn.
The country’s social cohesion score was 73 out of 100, which was a healthy sign, she said. “We have a very high social cohesion index, which is surprising if you think of where we come from as a country.”
Based on questions posed to all respondents, research findings revealed that almost half of South African citizens had a strong feeling of cohesion (45%) while 21% had a good sense of cohesion.
Social cohesion in the Brand South Africa context refers to the degree to which people are integrated in society. Furthermore, it looks at how society’s solidarity finds expression among individuals and communities.
In a country with diverse histories, cultures and religions, people feel their living environments are improving. There are fewer feelings of inequality, exclusion and disparity. More than half the respondents felt they were always part of the bigger South African community, and only 10% felt they were always excluded. The remaining 36% said they were sometimes excluded.
Despite the good vibes South Africans were emanating, the Domestic Perceptions Survey noted that lower income earners were showing some frustration. “The slight dissatisfaction among South Africans around the feelings of inclusion are, in fact, the reason why social cohesion is ‘good’ and not ‘strong.'”
According to Brand South Africa, social cohesion improves a country’s economic performance because a more equal society and environment correlate with positive outcomes such as good health, child development and labour market adjustments.
Social cohesion forms a large part of the social sustainability element in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. Even Mo Ibrahim, the billionaire Sudanese-British mobile communications mogul, emphasised the importance of social cohesion at the 11th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in 2013.
The National Development Plan (NDP) has made social cohesion one of its priorities for the 2014-2019 electoral mandate. According to the NDP, its objectives are to reduce inequality of opportunity and enable the sharing of common space.
ACTIVE CITIZENRY LINKED TO UNITY
The Domestic Perceptions Survey linked active citizenship and social cohesion. It found that an active citizenry was a key component of a more socially cohesive society. “Citizens need to help shape the development process and hold the government to account for the quality of services it delivers.”
The report offered two recommendations: promote youth participation as a way to enhance active citizenship and promote inclusiveness among marginalised groups to enhance feelings of cohesiveness.