Defend Truth


A cycle of collective violence continues to cast a long shadow over our path toward social cohesion


Nontobeko Gcabashe is manager of the Kagisano Programme at Afesis-corplan. The community-building programme, which aims to prevent collective violence, operates in 16 communities across South Africa where social cohesion is identified as being low.

Recurring eruptions of violence erode the bonds of trust in South Africa’s communities, leaving an enduring mark on our historical narrative and posing a significant threat to our future.

Nearly 30 years after the dawn of democracy, South Africa, once holding the promise of a harmonious Rainbow Nation, is overshadowed by recurring episodes of collective violence. Civil unrest, violent protests, gang and taxi wars, xenophobic attacks and political bloodshed are all manifestations of this cycle.

We face a complex web of social, political, economic, historical and cultural factors that perpetuate violence within our society. Eruptions of violence not only result in loss of life but also erode the bonds of trust and unity among the nation’s diverse communities. They leave an enduring mark on South Africa’s historical narrative and pose a significant threat to its future.

Recently, Cape Town was plunged into chaos as rival taxi operators clashed violently with authorities. This incident disrupted the lives of commuters and exposed deep-seated tensions within the taxi industry.

The widespread looting and destruction witnessed during the July 2021 riots and civil unrest was fuelled by a complex interplay of social and economic factors, including high unemployment rates, poverty and frustration among the youth. This particular upheaval had dire consequences for businesses, communities and the nation’s image.

South Africa continues to witness disturbing xenophobic attacks, with the incident involving the death by burning of Elvis Nyathi sending shockwaves throughout the world. Xenophobic tensions highlight economic competition and point to a failure to address the underlying causes of mistrust and hostility.

Internal disputes within political parties frequently erupt into violent conflicts. The assassination of political leaders in KwaZulu-Natal serves as a stark reminder of how political tensions can escalate into bloodshed.

South Africa continues to grapple with alarmingly high rates of gender-based violence, with the country ranking among the highest recorded globally. This scourge undermines the nation’s efforts to build equality and social cohesion.

These examples underscore collective violence as a serious problem that needs our attention and action on a nationwide scale. To understand why our society remains trapped in this cycle, we need to consider the complex factors at play.

First and foremost, we must acknowledge the deep scars of apartheid that continue to shape social dynamics in South Africa. Persistent socioeconomic disparities, including unequal access to education and economic opportunities, create fertile ground for collective violence.

Frustration stemming from unmet basic needs often finds an outlet in violence. Political manipulation of ethnic or racial divisions, inadequate law enforcement, corruption and a lack of accountability erode public trust in institutions. This weakens the state’s ability to address and prevent violence effectively.

Institutional structures, including government and civil society organisations, wield substantial influence in either perpetuating or mitigating collective violence. A responsive and accountable government that addresses the root causes of violence can make a substantial difference. Civil society organisations, on the other hand, often act as bridges, bringing diverse communities together through dialogue and conflict resolution initiatives.

The recurring pattern of group violence poses a significant challenge to achieving social cohesion, but it is not impossible to do. Inclusive governance, education and reconciliation efforts are essential steps towards achieving lasting peace and unity. This should not merely be a goal; it should be recognised as a necessity for the welfare and future of our country.

Comprehensive educational programmes and awareness campaigns that address historical injustices and promote reconciliation can help heal deep wounds and foster understanding among South Africans. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a notable example of where this approach had a significant impact, but more initiatives are needed.

While there are a number of valuable economic empowerment programmes in the country, countless members of society are still being left behind. Addressing socioeconomic inequality through job creation and skills development can go some way to alleviating the frustration that often leads to violence. However, more attention needs to be paid to creating inclusive opportunities and policies, such as incentives for investment in marginalised communities that can address inequalities.

Underpinning all our efforts should be a recognition that we need to strengthen governance and achieve a more equitable justice system. We need to instil trust back in our institutions, showing the political will for robust action against corruption, fostering accountability and reforming law enforcement agencies.

Community-based programmes that promote dialogue and conflict resolution at the grassroots level can contribute to reducing tensions and preventing violence.

South Africa’s journey towards social cohesion has seen some progress, but the persistent cycle of collective violence remains a formidable obstacle. To move forward, the nation must confront its historical traumas, address socioeconomic disparities and strengthen its institutions. By learning from the past and taking proactive measures, South Africa can break the cycle of collective violence and continue its path towards a more united and harmonious future. Only then can the nation fully realise the promise of the Rainbow Nation. DM


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  • Ben Harper says:

    Eish, typical, blame apartheid. I thought there might be a compelling point but alas, laying it at the feet of apartheid is nonsense. It’s been more than 30 years, the desperate state the country is in is down to one thing and one thing only – the anc

    • Sihle Sigwebela says:

      Seems to me that you read “Apartheid” and immediately stopped reading with comprehension.

      In the very next paragraph, the author mentions the factors of “Frustration stemming from unmet basic needs” and the eroding “public trust in institutions” as factors that have lead to our current societal characteristics. Such thinking is clear in the writing, yet seemingly not grasped by you.

      Additionally, to assume that Apartheid’s effects on our society are gone simply because of the passage of 1/3 of a lifetime is itself “nonsense.” Scars that deep can are only closed through continuous and active healing, which has been absent in our country (something which can be placed at the feet of the ANC).

      Yes, the ANC has fouled our government (there is only one group to blame for the state of service delivery) and they have failed in fully healing the nations wounds (admittedly, a collective responsibility) but to blame the brokenness of our society on them would be disingenuous, as articulated by the author.

      • Ben Harper says:


      • Ben Harper says:

        Nonsense, the anc has used race hate as an electioneering tool in every election since 1994, every failing of their governance is blamed on apartheid, every time their gormless voters complain about lack of service delivery apartheid and wmc is blamed, NEVER their own doing, NEVER their own greed and deliberate plundering of the state.

        The anc DO NOT want to heal the wounds of apartheid, it is in their interests to not only keep them alive, but to stoke the hate and violence amongst their voters so as to ensure they retain the votes. They threaten their voter base that other parties will bring back apartheid and take away their grant money, they threaten their voters with the removal of service and benefits if they do not vote for them.

        No Sir, the anc is solely and completely responsible for the state of violence and despair in SA.

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  • Bhekinkosi Madela says:

    “…a recognition that we need to strengthen governance and achieve a more equitable justice system…” for me implies active citizenry. The same collective violence makes it feel like a contact sport being an active citizen. Whistleblowers are fair game in a country ruled by a party that conflates state with party. One step I would suggest is a shift from identity politics. I applaud the hard work the author is engaged in and the attendant optimism.

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