Maverick Citizen


Social justice — how does your political party rank?

Social justice — how does your political party rank?
The Usindiso building in the Johannesburg CBD on 7 September 2023 following the devastating fire. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

In a world increasingly more interested in personal interests, personal security, personal wealth and an increased distance from one another, what does World Social Justice Day mean?

The United Nations General Assembly was clear in its proclamation of the day that it “recognises that social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security within and among nations and that, in turn, social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security, or in the absence of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Recent reports such as from Human Rights Watch and former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, a great proponent of social justice, offer some insight on the day, saying that as South Africa gears up for our upcoming elections “on World Day of Social Justice: assess the manifestos and regular statements of political parties that want your vote or continued consent for them to govern. Do they embrace the UN call for social justice, understand its meaning and are prepared to advance it?

This is a question and advice we would be well advised to ask and heed as there seems to be worrying evidence that a lot of the political party offerings do not in fact have social justice at their heart. This can only be taken as evidence that the imperatives of our Constitution, which seek to “establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights, improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person”, are in marked danger.

When political parties that have clearly xenophobic agendas are allowed to exist and even make it onto the voters’ roll, one worries. When other parties threaten violence against those who will not vote or support them, while parading in military fatigues unchallenged with guns, one worries. But perhaps more insidious than that is a governing political party charged with being the custodian of the Constitution espousing social justice imperatives, flouting these responsibilities.

social justice

The deadly scene outside the Johannesburg CBD building on the corner of Delvers and Albert streets following the fire on 31 August 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Felix Dlangamandla)

All over the country we are faced with social justice crises, such as worsening hunger as evidenced in countless reports and stories we have reported, the most recent being how Daily Maverick partnered with food rescue organisation SA Harvest to distribute much-needed food parcels to curb runaway hunger in the Eastern Cape. A good effort but also one that raises the alarm about the normalisation of unnecessary hunger and the abdication of responsibility by the government to ensure that no one, especially children, goes hungry.

The current Marshalltown inquiry points to the public housing disaster in Johannesburg as thousands of people cram into dehumanising and infinitely dangerous abandoned buildings with no services in the city centre. The inquiry’s revelations have been damning and again put the spotlight on our current state of social justice where people are forced to live in a building that was condemned in 2018 and resulted in the deaths of 76 people because of a failure to have a clear social housing plan for poor people. As we watch the inquiry unfold, what should be on our minds, as well as the minds of officials, is not to find loopholes to indemnify or merely implement punitive measures, but rather how to realise the right to access safe housing for all. Here too it has been the interventions of various civil society organisations helping the displaced inhabitants of the Usindiso building with food and blankets, and advocating for decisive government intervention. 

Advocate Thuli Madonsela. (Photo: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape)

Earlier in 2024, disaster management failures following severe floods in KwaZulu-Natal left people stranded and still trying to rebuild from 2022, without the government’s help. This was evidenced by mam’ Bonisile Mbanjwa in rural KZN, where half of her house washed away. She said: “I have had to build a pit toilet outside because ours got washed away. We had to go all around the area looking for a tap that has running water. We didn’t have it for eight months… These rains bring hunger. My garden is destroyed. I can’t even sell.” She has been unable to rebuild her house because no one in her household is employed and help from the government has not been forthcoming.

Yet there seems a conspiracy to overlook these many issues in favour of privatising every part of our lives, and a growing sense of isolationism that does not live up to the values of community and collective thriving. What happened at the Usindiso building didn’t happen to my family member, so why should I care? I’m not mam’ Bonisile Mbanjwa who’s house was washed away in a flood, so why should I care? The political party I’m voting for is not inciting violence or hate speech, so why should I care about those that do? The truth is we can’t afford not to care.

Voters outside a polling station at a church in Alexandra, Johannesburg,  on 7 May 2014. (Photo: EPA / Kim Ludbrook)

What the past 30 years have shown – and longer than that because, let’s be honest, the previous regime didn’t put on a stellar social justice performance either – is that when we wholly entrust our well-being to political parties we pave the way for an abuse of power and no amount of privatising our lives will completely insulate us from the fallout from that. 

And so as we deliberate about who to give our precious votes to we need, as Madonsela implores us, to assess not only the political parties’ manifestos, but look at the consistency of their track record and their leadership record in actively championing issues of social justice. 

There seems to be worrying evidence that a lot of the political party offerings do not in fact have social justice at their heart. (Photo: iStock)

I write all of this not to set us all off on a wave of despair, but to encourage us to return to the values needed for our harmonious and peaceful existence, because actions have incremental impact. There are still those who, despite the immensity of it all, still find a way to dig deep and do meaningful work with and for their communities. Our powerful series of Actionists by photographer Thom Pierce spans activists making a difference in different spaces, from food justice and gender based violence, to waste recycling, homelessness, sexual and reproductive health rights and mental health. These are people compelled not by any oath of office but a love for their society and going against the grain of personal security. May we all use this World Social Justice Day to spur the “actionist” within us. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fernando Moreira says:

    vote DA simple

  • Johan Buys says:

    All the parties pay lip service to social justice : or more correctly their particular social justice agenda.

    I look after my social justice in how I interact with others. It is very easy for parties to plan how they will do social justice with my taxes. It’s like shopping with somebody else’s wallet. Worst of all is here, the parties mis-spend or steal 50% of the taxes because we have by far the largest public service spend as % of GDP in OECD. Maybe the ANC regards employing too many people at overpaid salaries is their form of social justice :/

  • Bennie Morani says:

    Someone got the headline wrong. The article bears almost no relation to it.

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


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