Social Cohesion Hangs in the Balance as South Africans Feel Economically Insecure: Reflections from the South African Reconciliation Barometer

This paper is comprised of three sections and a conclusion. Section 1 provides an overview of the SARB survey methodology. The SARB survey is a nationally representative opinion survey run by the IJR. The survey interviews 2 400 South Africans, generating a margin error of ± 2%, at a 95% confidence level. Survey findings can be disaggregated by key demographic indicators. Importantly for this paper is disaggregation by historically determined race groups. Section 2 shares insights from SARB’s 2019 public opinion survey. The analysed data reveal the extent to which South Africans felt economically insecure even before the onset of Covid-19. Their lived experiences of economic exclusion and material scarcity fuel these feelings, as people perceive structural constraints as barriers to personal prosperity. Through the SARB, South Africans have a voice, and that voice points to the economically insecure position that people find themselves in, often attributing it to the unrelenting legacy of racial discrimination. Section 2 concludes with reflections on how economic marginalisation can impact the country’s state of social cohesion. Section 3 explores four significant reasons underpinning people’s growing feelings of economic insecurity. Firstly, historical and psychological discrimination fuel racialised inequality that in turn creates feelings of marginalisation, victimisation and exclusion. Secondly, macroeconomic policy – through inconsistency and incompetence – has failed to address mass unemployment, poverty and inequality. Thirdly, waning trust in the state as public servants diminishes the integrity of government through pervasive corruption and abuse of power. Fourthly, a failure of the state, the private sector and labour unions to unify under a shared vision for the country has resulted in restless partnerships that do not deliver meaningful change. Together these forces leave people feeling economically insecure, undermining the cohesiveness of society, sowing seeds of discontent and division that open the door for civil unrest and the mainstreaming of radical narratives. The conclusion reflects on a way forward for South Africa, emphasising the importance of growth that is equitable and development that is closely tied to human development. Political will and meaningful partnerships are necessary to set the country on a path of inclusive development, one that protects the most marginalised, and in turn, unifies a fractured society.