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A tripartite social contract is needed for SA’s trajectory


Sisi Ntombela is the Premier of the Free State Provincial Government and ANC Women’s League Deputy President.

In order to achieve social cohesion, it is important to involve as many different members of society as possible in the social compact. A social compact becomes meaningless when it excludes.

Hitherto one of the recurring themes of the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa is his emphasis on and encouraging of a social compact. President Ramaphosa was emphatic in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) as well as his first questions and answers session in the National Assembly in highlighting the need for business, labour and civil society to work with government in achieving the goal of creating inclusive economic growth in South Africa.

In fact, one may argue, President Ramaphosa knows too well that in order for us to achieve radical socio-economic transformation it is important that we all work together in achieving this. For example, in the Q&A session, he pointed out how Afrikaner farmers were approaching him to talk about and work on the question of land. The president certainly knows that good leadership encompasses working with as many people as possible and being inclusive.

A social compact is the much more familiar term for the concept of a social contract. In political philosophy, a number of authors have written on the concept where, in general terms, an agreement is reached in society, among its members, of a relationship of mutual benefit. For example, citizens surrender certain rights to representatives who make laws on their behalf. In return, these citizens would trust that the representatives make laws favourable towards them as citizens.

One of the primary aims of a social compact is to ensure social cohesion.

In order therefore to achieve this social cohesion, it is important to involve as many different members of society in the social compact. A social compact becomes meaningless when it excludes people because those excluded might be the ones needed to create the social cohesion needed for the community to proper.

A typical example of this social compact is our bargaining system in South Africa. While many frown upon unions, they remain integral for the collective bargaining process of the particular sector within the economy. Businesses and government need to know that workers will not go rogue and therefore when they, as workers, are represented as a collective it is easier to facilitate such cohesion for the production of goods and services.

In order to create such cohesion in the national economy, the ANC administration finds it important that all partners in the economy work together in order to facilitate an environment where the production of goods and services can occur. Government finds it necessary to work with labour, civil society and business, as social partners, in order to create an environment where the economy can grow.

At the same time, while the social cohesion is created on the one hand, the ANC government has found it necessary to advance the idea of a developmental state on the other. Even though it had declared South Africa one before the global economic recession of 2008/09, governments around the globe were almost forced to take a Keynesian approach to national economies and the global economy as a whole.

What this meant was that in order to save industries, for example to prevent the banking industry from collapsing, the government in the United States had to intervene and bail those industries out. Governments were therefore becoming directly involved in the economy because it was choosing which industries to bail out and which to collapse.

At the same time, in a developmental state, this involvement in the economy by the government is deliberate. With an economy that is sluggish in promoting industrialisation, the South African government is somewhat forced to intervene in the assistance of the process of industrialisation. Left solely to the vagaries of the (global) market, as pure capitalism promotes, industrialisation will simply not happen in South Africa.

With government’s direct intervention in the economy, it becomes important that all role-players are involved in ensuring the maturation of this intervention. At times issues are hard to resolve among the social partners, yet at other times it is important that they work together in order to address pertinent matters that may arise.

Put differently, this social compact for social cohesion must not only be pursued by the social partners on a national level but within communities: those working for government in the community, those in labour, businesses in the community as well as community organisations, such as sport clubs, churches, mosques, stokvels and school governing bodies must come together in order to address community concerns and explore community opportunities. Social compacts should take place at this very grassroots level.

In developmental literature much recent research has gone into this local level exploration of the developmental state and the model of the city of Medellin in Colombia. First, the municipality used its assets in order to prioritise and invest in infrastructure, thereby modernising the public transport system in the city. Poorer communities could therefore have easier access to the city’s central business district.

Second, the municipality developed a programme similar to that of Brazil where cash grants were paid to the poor, but often these grants were conditional. Finally, when the city built industrial areas, it would build them in areas that needed the investment most, in the poorer parts of the city.

Yet while all of these may sound like your usual government programmes, the success of the Medellin story comes in the social compact that the city’s administration had to enter with the necessary role players. In order to make programmes and projects successful, the municipality had to work with communities, labour and business. The projects would prove redundant if they had not been supported by all social partners.

In developmental discourse the emphasis has somewhat shifted from economic growth to developmental growth. In recent years, at least since the fall of Thatcherism and Reaganomics, development experts have been more interested in other indicators of development than simply looking at economic growth – indicators such as the openness to opportunity, exploring capabilities, human development, among others.

One of these examples has certainly been the happiness index which measures how nations achieve long-term, happy and sustainable lives. Are people “satisfied”?

South Africa did not score well in the index released recently. Out of 140 countries it ranked 128, scoring less than countries such as Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Namibia even countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Algeria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

What are the contributing factors in determining this happiness score?

In life expectancy we were are ranked 130 out of 140 countries, with life expectancy set at 56 years. Well-being, another indicator in the index, was pitched at 80th out of 140 countries. In ecological footprint we came 85th out of 1,140, while in inequality we achieved a ranking of 106 out of 140 countries.

In sum, we could suggest, based on the research of the index, that the vast majority South Africans are not happy or satisfied. They are not happy not because of the government they have but because of their living conditions.

As we can see, in this instance, it is important that pay attention to our people’s health so that life expectancy can increase, well-being improved, we pay much more attention to the environment and we beat inequality.

Yet our social compact must fight these ills. However, before we can reach the social compact, we will, every single South African, first need to recognise that these are our fundamental challenges and it is these challenges that need our attention. DM

Sisi Ntombela is the Premier of the Free State Provincial Government and ANC Women’s League Deputy President.


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