First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Jobs alone do not create equality or end poverty, says...

Maverick Citizen

SOCIAL JUSTICE SUMMIT

Jobs alone do not create equality or end poverty, says Thuli Madonsela

Thuli Madonsela, Law Trust Chair in Social Justice, Faculty of Law, Stellenbosch University, and M-Plan Convenor, hosts the third annual Social Justice Summit. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

‘I disagree that jobs create equality or end poverty. I am not suggesting that they don’t make a difference. I’m just saying, let’s get out of that box,’ said Madonsela at the Social Justice Summit.

Thuli Madonsela, the former Public Protector, and now the Law Trust Chair in Social Justice and a law professor at Stellenbosch University, hosted the third annual Social Justice Summit on Monday and Tuesday, gathering academics, civil society activists, legal experts and business people from around the world. 

Madonsela questioned why the Equality Act had been deprioritised by the government while BEE was prioritised, particularly since the main beneficiaries seem to have been politicians and their families. 

“I disagree that jobs create equality or end poverty. I am not suggesting that they don’t make a difference. I’m just saying, let’s get out of that box,” said Madonsela. 

“I think governments in Africa should start thinking about how we support work, instead of business and jobs. Something in between, there is work, which includes being self-employed.” 

Speaking at the summit, Judge Dennis Davis said that just jobs were not enough. “It’s unsustainable that people can live on R350 or R800. One needs to think about a reconstruction of the economy as a whole. 

“The reality is that we have a state that has perpetrated a kind of… capture of an extraordinary kind. We lose fortunes of money, fortunes, on State Capture. We don’t need, as it were, to increase taxes, if we were able to actually use the money where it’s supposed to go,” Davis lamented. 

Madonsela told the summit that gross domestic product was not the sole measure of progress. 

“We’ve got to ask ourselves, what’s our new destination?” She said South Africa is built on the principles of democracy and that “inside democracy is social justice and inside social justice is human rights”, meaning that the country aspires to being a social democracy.  

“Democracy is mentioned 25 times in our Constitution,” highlighted Madonsela. 

The Constitution is like a Christmas gift — there’s just so much inside it. And a lot of people just look at the top and then they throw it away because they don’t find the gift that they want. A lot of these gifts are wrapped; you’ve got to open it and unwrap it.” 

Madonsela felt that the issue of land could be resolved through the Constitution, and said that politicians had been unable to address the land issue because they had failed to change the existing system within which they found land rights and expropriations. 

The co-founder of One Young World, Kate Robertson, asked: “Where is social justice when after getting an education as a young person we are still unable to find jobs? It feels bad when you’re poor and you don’t have money.” 

Robertson also highlighted that in most instances people don’t know what is contained in the Constitution and end up protesting for certain rights, not realising that those rights are enshrined in and guaranteed by the Constitution. She said this was evidence that more mechanisms for constitutional rights enforcement were needed and that the teaching of rights needed greater focus. 

At the parallel discussion session on land rights, Professor Juanita Pienaar said that her group felt the government needed to consider abandoning the willing buyer, willing seller notion as part of state policy on land and employ expropriation as a suitable plan. Pienaar also suggested repurposing underutilised state buildings for housing and accommodation.

Commenting on the proposed basic income grant, retired Statistician-General Dr Pali Lehohla said there was evidence globally that comprehensive social security “is obviously key to attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goals”. 

Lehohla said some of the pressing questions for people to ask were: Why is there no action, why is Parliament not making laws that would have real benefits for society and where was the Constitution being implemented? He said there was a need for action and “boots in the street”. 

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman from Gift of the Givers was named the Social Justice Champion for 2021 for his dedicated work on attaining social justice, particularly during the hardest days of the pandemic. DM/MC

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 8

  • The problem with many social activists is that their ideals are noble but their solutions most often have unintended consequences. EWC for example will simply result in asset backed finance coming to an abrupt halt with a serious impact on the economy.

    • Indeed. Another side-effect of EWC that these activists never seem to grasp is that the state would be committing the very same crime that apartheid committed by preventing (or at least undermining the surety of) intergenerational wealth. This a very important motivator for the working class to continue working. If instead they know that all they have worked for can be taken from them on a whim, why bother to work hard? EWC is just one more insidious step toward the state parasitizing it’s citizens with impunity. The entire working class should be consciously prepared to literally go to war over this issue. Because if there is no future to work towards for yourself and your progeny, then there is nothing to lose by overturning the apple cart.

  • When the poor start taking responsibility for their own situation, exacerbated and entrenched by breeding beyond their means, I will start supporting social justice.

  • In a just and fair society everyone contributes equally and everyone benefits equally. In a society where the rules are simple and acceptable to all, one can then create a architecture where one separates the primary economic and justice components or models or architecture from the political architecture. That would allow multiple political bodies to exist and function as such within the same geographic space. There would be no need for elections, it would be a far more “pure or unadulterated” democracy, not this dictatorial democracy that we are currently committed to. It could provide the ideal structure or architecture for a ideology that is not capitalism or socialism but in effect the ideal of both. Where justice and value are defined in a way that is acceptable to all conscious minds. It would create a societal model where everyone can fit in as long as they adhere to the basic principle that everyone contribute equally and everyone benefits equally. For this architecture to be created there needs to be a universal definition of value that everyone accepts. That definition appears to be time. Everyone has it and everyone values it. Fundamentally it’s what every conscious mind has and when used productively it creates value. Every time a coconut.

  • I am very often frustrated by the typical capitalist rant about EWC in these comments sections. South Africa has the highest level of social inequality in the world. This inequality was caused by nothing other than apartheid and colonialism. Of course I am speaking broadly and not being specific as there is no time for this in this short space. S A needs to build an equitable society in a place where thousands of people (mostly children) are dying of malnutrition and starvation; where millions are homeless or live in informal settlements with no basic services such as water, electricity and sanitation; and where the majority of the population have no access to a decent education or decent health services. Unfortunately, the fact that we have a Bill of Rights entrenched in our Constitution means nothing to the average South African whose children go to bed hungry every night. The capitalist world needs to understand that we have reached a desperate situation. We have been cast out into junk economic status and the majority of our population have no access to the human rights supposedly entrenched in the Constitution. Government officials and politicians have robbed the country of valuable financial resources which have created unspeakable levels of poverty. Something serious needs to be done about this. Corruption needs to be attacked at every front and the perpetrators need to be dispossessed of their wealth. We need to build wealth in this country so that our people can be provided with a proper level of social security. Desperate times call for desperate measures and I’m afraid that EWC is the only answer.

    • Theresa. Post colonial Africa’s record of taking from the rich to give to the poor instead of building on what was there is not exactly pro poor!
      For South Africa not to learn from this is just plain stupidity. A system that rewards people for innovation, hard work, risk taking and leadership, otherwise known as capitalism, is the only proven way to uplift the standard of living of people.
      EWC would simply destroy property rights and the ability for us to attract investment, provide security for credit and grow the economy. Rather focus on getting title for people in the traditional leader strongholds if empowering people to improve their lives is your objective.

      • Nonsense. Post-colonialism in Africa didn’t happen in a vacuum but in the context of mining (and other Big Capital) conglomerates pitting people against each other to divide and pillage their natural resource wealth. Let’s not be naive and revisionist. Late (stage) Capitalism has caused massive inequalities, and South Africa is a shining example of it. We are working with an immense deficit from social, racial, economic, relational, gender, generational-wealth, historical land dispossession, historical skills deprivation, and educational terrorism legally perpetrated against 80% of the people of this country. We are here because of our past, not in spite of it.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted