News in South Africa

News in South Africa

What holds us together?

Grnadmothers together in the fight against HIV/AIDS




What is social capital? How does it affect me as an individual?

Do I really need this concept as a community development worker?

Is it just another buzz word!


By Melissa Johannes

What is social capital?

Social capital refers to organizations, relationships, norms and networks that shape the quality and quantity of community’s social interactions and enables collective action. Simply put, it is known as “the glue that holds society together”[1].

How does it affect me as an individual?

The most important asset of any community is its people. As a member of your community, you too have a role to play by linking up with the members of your street to tackle a problem facing your community. Together, so much more can be achieved.

In society people have established informal support networks to help them survive poverty, hunger and disease. In our own communities there are many neighbourhood savings groups, stokvels and umanayos illustrating a rich history of social capital formation.

Social Capital formation is about strengthening and expanding these community assets as well as forming partnerships to tackle clear-cut or complex problems. There is a shift to form stronger bonds within the neighbourhood and to break down divisions as to improve standards of living[2].

Do I really need this concept as a community development worker?

The Western Cape, regardless of its serene beauty, diversity and growing economy, is faced with many social challenges. Of those who are unemployed, 46% constitute the youth of the province. The arrest rate of youth in criminal activities stands at 3000 per month. Nearly 50% of youth who enter the formal education system drop out of school before reaching grade 12. In Mitchell’s Plain, Manenberg, Guguletu, Khayelitsha and Nyanga 47 gangs (negative social capital) operate. Of everyone in the age group 25 to 29 years, 12.4% lives with HIV/AIDS[3].

These are among the few social challenges that have a direct impact on where you live, work, shop or send your kids to school. Therefore, positive social capital does affect me at an individual level and I need to drive this concept as a community development worker.

“Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to properties of individuals (such as skills), social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense, social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue” (community good quality). The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a dense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many good but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital” -Putnam

beneficiaries. It is also necessary to build rapport with other organizations in the field to avoid duplication of services. In addition, links with private sector and government for economic capital (funding) are essential for the sustainability of programs.

According to the above statement, reciprocal social relations are an ingredient for building social capital. Reciprocal social relations are relationships whereby people will help others with the trust that they will be helped in return. Similarly, to the concept of “Ubuntu” –‘conquering more things together’, a principle of social capital says that ‘mankind operate better when they are together’.

It is the responsibility of community development workers to facilitate the process of building healthy communities. Social capital will assist to build truly civil societies[4].


Department of Social Services & Poverty Alleviation 2005; World Bank definition


Department of Health 2006


Department of Social Services and Poverty Alleviation 2006


Jane Jacobs 1960

News in South Africa

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