There are two obstacles, says JP Landman in The Long View, standing between South Africa and the fulfilment of its potential as a modern nation, namely the lack of social capital and inequality (which is a visible and measureable reality). Social capital is subtle and relational, referring to the glue that binds a society. Solving inequality, and other challenges, demands from SA a high level of social capital, something that the country seems to be lacking.
Social capital underpins a society’s economic success, because, as Landman states, “it is about the ability to work together and solve mutual problems.” What is achieved or neglected will show up on the economic development side of the national balance sheet. SA’s NDP says “social cohesion needs to anchor the strategy,” the relevance of which becomes clear in the plan’s ten focus areas. Why is there reason for concern? Despite the 1994 transition, the rainbow nation dream, the Mandela legacy and some achievements of global relevance to be rightfully proud of, there are the shadows casted by Marikana, De Doorns and Nkandla, service delivery, labour and e-tolling protests, an increase in corruption and collusion, and growing inequality and racial intolerance. These conditions tell a story of social capital in decline and a sustainable and prosperous future at risk.
South African businesses should play their part. Accept accountability for social capital development and understand that caring for the profitability of a business goes hand in hand with caring for the societal conditions within which the business is conducted. Invest in a social capital safety net and build networks of significant relationships with convening spaces where leaders from different sectors and layers of society can engage in robust dialogue and collaborative problem-solving. Build integrity and trust with customers, suppliers, government authorities, communities and investors and root out all forms of unacceptable and corruptive behaviour.
Provide for a social capital development skills plan and make managers capable of building a resilient organisation with high public integrity and strong stakeholder relationships.
Social capital is different from and goes beyond the money (R8bn in 2013) that is annually spent in SA on corporate social investment. Without the former the latter will also be in short supply or inevitably go to waste.
This article was written for, and published in BusinessBrief February/March (page 16)