The idea of social justice is epitomised by South Africa’s constitution – which calls for human dignity, equality, and freedom to participate in all of the political, socio-economic and cultural spheres of society. But is it actually being achieved?
Two decades into democracy, the country’s economy has grown, but ordinary people are not richer. What has also grown is unemployment, service delivery backlogs and corruption – and, of course, the population.
Social justice is not just a concern in South Africa. In an attempt to view the bigger picture, BRICS Sociology (the acronym referring to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), a working group of sociologists from universities in the BRICS countries, is conducting a large-scale empirical study into the state of social justice in these five major developing countries – where 40% of the world’s youth reside.
“The study has currency globally, but particularly in the BRICS countries. We need to understand social justice within the frameworks of a country’s historical context, political formation and its growth and development globally,” says Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Dr Jay Govender, a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, who is leading the South African leg of this study.
It is the third BRICS Sociology projects – the first two being “Social stratification in BRIC countries” (conducted prior to South Africa’s 2011 inclusion in BRICS) and the “Sociology of the youth in BRICS countries” (the results of which were published in December 2015). They are being carried out to create a comprehensive, comparative picture about society and the social problems faced in the BRICS countries, and will feed into the group’s greater goal, which is to establish a knowledge base termed “the Sociology of BRICS”.
“The Sociology of BRICS will bring together shared knowledge and strengthen regional interventions for human development,” said Govender.
The social justice project is combining empirical findings with theoretical frameworks, backed up with available statistical data from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Statistics South Africa and elsewhere. “We want to use this project to say to government: this is the direction we think we should be going.”
The South African report is being compiled by researchers from NMMU, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and North-West University. The empirical research aspect of the project will focus on five areas, namely the country’s politics, where people live, their income (also addressing whether BBBEE has worked), education (focusing on access to education and the success of the education system) and social problems (including inequality, poverty, and unemployment).
“The idea of political trust is essential to the idea of social justice. Are people trusting of the government? What is the perception around government policies and programmes?”
In July, Govender will be leading a session on social justice and “the Sociology of BRICS” at the International Sociology Association’s (ISA) Education Forum. “I’m excited by this idea. It brings together academics from BRICS countries.”
He is particularly hoping that it will raise young researchers from the BRICS countries,to continue research on the “sociology of youth” in these countries.
“We have similar problems: How do we charge programmatically towards addressing areas around the youth?” He said youth formed 74% of the global unemployed – a problem created and exacerbated by global inequality and capitalism, where a high concentration of the world’s wealth was owned by a very few.
“Wealth is produced not through activity but though investment instruments … There is no job creation. The very nature of work itself is at stake, with more and more young people finding themselves unemployed.”
South African statistics estimate that 28% of economically-active people are unemployed, with 43% of graduates unable to find work. “There are an estimated 14 to 17 million economically-active people in South Africa. Yet, a third of them are unemployed and 25% have HIV/Aids, which means there are less than six million people supporting over 50 million people … Too few young people are working for too few people.”
Govender said the BRICS studies were very current. “They look at the real problems that mature states, BRICS countries and the developing world are experiencing.”