Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Jackson Mthembu, says there is a need for all sectors of the economy to commit to a social pact to ensure that social justice is achieved to benefit even the poorest of the poor.
Mthembu said this when he addressed the Inaugural Social Justice Summit and International Conference at the Hazendal Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, on Thursday.
The summit, hosted by Stellenbosch University Law Chair Professor Thuli Madonsela, is aimed at unpacking the nature of social justice in South Africa through its various dimensions, the pathways available to address social injustice and to leverage the opportunities presented by the Sustainable Development Goals, the National Development Plan and the Constitution.
He said one of the far-reaching flaws during the constitutional negotiations, as reflected upon by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, was that there was no pact on how to achieve the equality and social justice the Constitution promised, which left the state the sole responsibility to oversee this mammoth challenge.
“A pact so envisaged would require trade-offs from all parties to ensure that social justice is advanced. It would require tangible investment in this project as a genuine gesture of sustainable redress and conciliation rather than just window-dressing and pontification.
“The absence of this pact highlights a democratic deficit arising out of the scarcity of robust national dialogue about social justice in the country, as well as the reluctance of the privileged classes to pledge their own commitment and support towards social justice in our country,” he said.
Mthembu said the current public discourse around the National Health Insurance and the subsequent NHI Bill as introduced in Parliament was testament to this.
He said some privileged quarters of the society have sought to paint the NHI as a government scheme which seeks to “suck the rich dry” instead of a necessity for universal health coverage for all as a means towards social solidarity.
“The discourse on the NHI is one example which has proven that at best most have been comfortable as arm-chair critics, and at worst some have even been spokes on the very wheel of transformation in this country – leaving government as the sole proprietor of the social justice project, which is also rather limiting.”
He also said that many of the organisations that are striving for social justice are usually unidirectional – they conceive of their role as to persistently press sectional claims against government.
“Therefore, a social compact on the issue of social justice as in many areas that we advocate in the Sixth Administration is an absolute necessity as well.
“The first critical question that therefore arise against this background relate to the measure of the tangible input of all parties into the social contract we have had as a nation since 1994.
“We have to reflect whether we made genuine commitments or just partisan and therefore fragmented contribution to this social contract,” he said.
Opening the summit earlier in the day, Professor Madonsela said the summit convenes to assess progress that the country has made in fighting poverty.
She says if everyone worked together, poverty can become history and be alleviated.
“We are here to decide as the summit where we are as South Africa with regards to achieving social justice,” she said.
She said if the country is to achieve its goals of putting a dent on poverty by 2030, then drastic changes need to be made.