Opinion

We need a new social contract to bridge divisions of labour and living

Percy Makholwa

The Marikana case is a major indicator of the challenge facing South Africa in the area of socioeconomic rights.

The state is responsible for viable settlement creation, but housing delivery requires multisector co-operation. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

We are failing to meeting this challenge, and will continue to fail until there is a social contract involving government and all spheres of civil society, including business, opposition parties, civic organisations and trade unions.

Our history of spatial segregation could perhaps be the starting point. There has been very little social involvement in ensuring that spatial segregation of the races and the classes ends. There is an elite-driven approach to rights and political priorities, which drove the process that started in the 1980s, when both sides of South Africa's conflict realised the importance of dialogue, and has since been used to create the post-apartheid nation.

The subsequent negotiations meant that we ended the bloodshed and ushered in a democratic dispensation. The primary right secured through these processes was the right to life. The State vs Makwanyane case was testament to the thinking of the time: the right to life was a limitless right. Restorative justice prevailed over retribution.

But there remains the even greater task of creating a "developmental social contract". Such a contract would ensure adequate housing and secure tenure for all citizens. It would involve finding better ways of implementing a national health insurance scheme, proposing a better use of the education budget, and would have to lead to practical thinking about rural development.

It is my belief that housing, as a socioeconomic right, is not the sole responsibility of the state. There are simply too many people to cater for. This is where a social contract could assist the burdened provinces. These burdens result from massive urbanisation, which leads in turn to greater vulnerability to TB and HIV/Aids, crime and unemployment.  

Legacy of cheap labour
These vulnerabilities are part of apartheid's legacy of cheap labour systems, as elaborated by Harold Wolpe: men from labour reserves were not adequately housed, educated or provided with medical care. This historical legacy is still claiming lives and inspiring workers to wield weapons, as they did in Marikana.

Poverty can be dealt with by economic, social and cultural rights, and these can only be realised through a social contract and partnership. Human settlement, for example, as driven by the state, takes on the obligation to redress historic spatial segregation. It is necessary to create settlements close to places of employment, say, but this cannot be solely a government initiative. All South Africans need to get involved.

The Grootboom case, where it was found that the state is obliged to provide shelter, should have spurred South Africa to develop a social contract on the delivery of housing rights. The Constitution provides citizens with socioeconomic entitlements, and this case made sense in the resolution of such claims. This is the route to go. Other demands in terms of such rights have been arbitrary, with the affected persons damaging property and inhibiting the rights of others in the pursuit of theirs. 

If all citizens of an informal settlement protest and prohibit schooling of children, it is an inexcusable violation of children's right to a primary education and the right of assembly. This becomes a "tyranny of the majority".  

South Africans will need to do some serious soul-searching, especially in the aftermath of Marikana. We have to be thinking about rights, nation-building and a new social contract.  

Percy Makholwa works in the department of local government and housing

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