Kim Wale working on the SARB revamp.

The SARB is currently in the thick of a deep and exciting rethinking process! This blog series on RETHINKING the RECONCILIATION BAROMETER aims to track the development of this process, but also to engage in an interactive discussion with the broader South African public (YOU!).

Over the next few months, I will be documenting key findings, questions, and general grappling’s with the question of what does reconciliation mean for South Africans twenty years into democracy? This offers a unique opportunity for interested followers to participate in this conversation with the SARB, but also to follow the step-by-step process of re-vamping a national survey. How do we get from the big conceptual questions to the little specific questions which we use to gather the information we need to measure reconciliation? But we will get there… For now, this introductory post provides some background into the SARB survey, the meaning (or lack thereof) of reconciliation in South Africa today, and the broad journey that SARB is in the process of.

For those of you new to the SARB survey, it is a one-of-a kind instrument for measuring reconciliation and is based on a well researched conceptualisation of reconciliation in the South African context. It was created in 2003 in response to a need to measure reconciliation and has been housed at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation for the past 10 years. It continues to be a great resource for thinkers and practitioners. Other countries facing their own reconciliation process have gained insight from the SARB methodology and findings in their own processes of reconciliation. South Africa and the SARB survey have indeed led the way in the field of reconciliation. However, various signs point to a need to pause for some reflection on the question of what does reconciliation actually mean twenty years into South African democracy?

We are a nation built on the tenets of reconciliation, yet when it comes down to it the term can seem to mean everything and nothing at the same time. We think of big figures, big metaphors, big processes, such as Nelson Mandela, the rainbow nation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but do we see reconciliation on the ground? Do we know what it looks like in our lives? It’s true that the tenets of reconciliation remain a key part of government’s mandate in the National Development Plan under chapter 15, Nation Building and Social Cohesion. In his recent State of the Nation address, President Zuma asserted the importance of reconciliation ideals stating:

‘We need to prioritise healing and nation building more than ever before… We must continue to build understanding, tolerance and reconciliation, and together fight racism, xenophobia, homophobia and all related intolerances’.

But do we even understand what ‘reconciliation’ means to most South Africans, particularly those that have been born during and after the transition period of the 1990’s? Does it still conform to the same notions that we had of it during this period, which largely also informed the content of the first SA Reconciliation Barometer Survey? IJR’s own research suggests that this cannot simply be assumed. As our 2013 SARB Survey Report, for example, shows, it appears as if we have underestimated the weight of material inequality in the greater reconciliation equation. We need to know more about this and the other shifts that have occurred over time in the minds of ordinary South Africans. South Africa remains a divided society, but it is clear that its multiple divisions have taken on different, more complex, permutations than those that we have experienced in the 1990s. Those who have the interest of a more inclusive, reconciled society at heart, need to be able to engage this question from an understanding that is rooted in the present.

To remain at the cutting edge of the field and to provide the most accurate reflection of the views that occupy the minds of South Africans, the SARB has embarked on a process of reflecting on these questions. This began in 2010 with an expert survey on reconciliation (how do the experts view reconciliation today?) and then in 2011 with a national survey (how do ordinary South Africans view reconciliation today?). This year SARB facilitated a creative workshop on rethinking reconciliation with reconciliation practitioners at the IJR. All of which have yielded interesting layers of findings and questions for consideration and which I will share with you in due course (watch this space!). Still to come is an exciting one day workshop with thought-leaders and practitioners from all over the country (August) and then we launch into the nitty-gritty of statistical psychometric analysis of previous SARB questions, and a reworking of questions in line with the findings of the conceptual process.

My hope for this series is that it may be a space to reflect and document, but also to engage with the South African public, to learn through your comments, and to share in the process of the survey revamp. To start us off, any initial thoughts on what reconciliation means twenty years into democracy in South Africa would be most welcome! Comment this post or send a tweet to the @SABarometer using #RethinkingSARB

I look forward to sharing this process with you further!

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