In search of the good society - Human Sciences Research Council

In search of the good society: Social
policy in South Africa after twenty
years of democracy
Ndangwa Noyoo
Presented at the Human Sciences Research Council
(HSRC) Symposium, Pretoria, 15 May, 2014.
 Last year, the Minister in the Presidency
Commission, Trevor Manuel, noted at a function:
“We (government) should no longer say it is
apartheid’s fault…in 1994, 1995, and 1996,
government could perhaps have said we do not
have the experience, but as the country
approached two decades of democracy this was
no longer an excuse.”
 At another public gathering, president Jacob
Zuma, responded to Manuel’s assertions in the
following manner: “The legacy of apartheid runs
too deep and too far back for the democratic
administration to reverse it in so short a period.”
 Both Manuel’s and Zuma’s sentiments were made
in reference to the pace of transformation in the
 This presentation takes both views as having
some merit.
 Indeed, a lot of work has been done in order
to transform the lives of ordinary South
Africans since 1994.
 Nevertheless, the majority of citizens still
wallow in abject poverty; are mostly
unemployed, destitute and living in squalid
Key questions
 Could things have been done any better?
 Were there any missed opportunities? If so,
could they have significantly blunted the
transformation process?
Point of departure
 There were some missed opportunities that
emanated from the manner in which social policy
was developed and implemented since 1994.
 Arguably, social policy was more of a technocratic
and bureaucratic task as opposed to being a
vehicle for the creation of the good society.
 If social policy was couched in the discourse of
the good society, most probably, a much
deepened and expansive social and human
development process would have ensued.
 This would also have allowed for the “reengineering” of the South African society.
 Notably, true and profound transformation
must be underpinned by concerted efforts, by
the state, to “socially re-engineer” the South
African society, given the fact that apartheid
was in itself a pernicious form of “social
engineering” and whose outcomes we are still
grappling with 20 years after its demise.
 The best tool, to effect the aforementioned, is
social policy, which is philosophically tilted
towards the creation of the good society and not
one that is just a technocratic and bureaucratic
task or one that is meant to stave off economic
and labour-market failure.
 This approach to social policy also resonates with
the ANC’s historical mission of liberating the mass
of the people from colonialism and apartheid.
 Crucially, the proposed approach to social
policy is in line with the tenets of the National
Development Plan (NDP) and its thrust of
building the capabilities of both the state and
 It is also one that endorses the NDP’s quest for
active citizenry as opposed to passive
Historical backdrop and conceptual
 The key concepts in this presentation are: (i)
Social policy and (ii) the good society.
 The development of social policy is linked to
Britain, especially to the rise of the Fabian
Society and the influence of Fabian politics on
policy development in Britain. The Fabian
Society was established in 1884, and was
strongly influenced by the work of Sidney
 Early Fabian social policy thinking also drew on new
research evidence emerging from some of the earliest
empirical studies of social problems in the country by
Charles Booth and B. Seebohm Rowntree, whose
research revealed that the extent and depth of poverty
in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century were
both serious and widespread.
 This challenged conservative political assumptions that
economic markets could meet the welfare needs of all;
and the Fabians used it to argue that policy
intervention through the state was needed to provide
those forms of support and protection which markets
could not (Alcock, 2008).
 Subsequently, the London School of Economics
(LSE) established a new Department of Social
Sciences and Administration, in 1912, to pursue
social policy as an academic discipline (Alcock,
 In many respects the discipline of social policy is
also strongly linked to the rise of the Welfare
State in Western Europe, especially in the
aftermath of the Second World War. Since then
there have been changes and alterations in these
societies and their systems in significant ways.
 Due to its imperial past, Britain bequeathed its
institutions, social mores, forms of governance
and so forth, to most of the developing world
and Africa, in particular.
 Social policy initiatives in Africa, at least of a
formal type, emerged during the colonial
period and were later on, wittingly or
unwittingly, reinforced by various African
countries after they became independent.
 In South Africa, the development of social policy is
deeply rooted in the history of colonial conquest and
occupation. In this sense, its genesis is directly linked to
the initial annexation of the Cape peninsula and
eventual subjugation of indigenous peoples by a
European Dutch settler population.
 The rise of the so-called poor “white problem” as firstly
noted at a Dutch Reformed Church Synod in 1886,
would pave the way for religious and state-led
interventions aimed at mitigating white poverty.
 The industrialisation of South Africa, which immediately
came on the back of the discovery of vast mineral deposits
of diamonds and gold (and also led to the dismantling of
the indigenous economies and erosion of the Afrikaners’
livelihoods) culminated in government social policy
interventions - especially after General Hertzog came into
power in 1924.
 The Carnegie Corporation of New York, which was
persuaded to fund a new approach to white indigence: a
scientific investigation into the causes of white poverty, its
extent, and the means by which it could be reduced - at the
instigation of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1928 - also
played a key role here (McKendrick, 1987).
 However, social policy was expressed tangibly as
social assistance and to a lesser extent, social
insurance on the one hand, and residual social
welfare, on the other. This legacy still influences
present-day social policy discourse.
 However, the situation was not so different to
areas under British rule in Africa where social
policy was defined by social welfare and
community development programmes.
 However, the racial dimension was more
pronounced in South Africa.
Social policy and the post-colonial
 The post-colonial state would be created
against a backdrop of dispossession,
oppression and socio-economic exclusion of
the indigenous peoples.
 After independence, several African leaders
attempted to redeem some of the positive
features of pre-colonial state formation.
 The genesis of post-colonial African social policy
must be located in the post-Second World War
anti-colonial struggles which were spearheaded
by various nationalist movements on the
 Once these countries had attained independence,
some of them tried to redesign colonial social
policies so that they responded to the majority
who were poor, vulnerable and residing mostly in
the rural areas.
 Hence, most African states were, not surprisingly,
invested with broad-ranging social responsibilities
which were integral to the anti-colonial social contract
on the basis of which the nationalist politicians
mobilised the populace for the independence struggle.
 Central to the contract was the promise of the
expansion of social policy in a direction which would
significantly improve the health and nutritional status
of the populace, expand access to education and offer
greater opportunities for employment (Olukoshi,
2004:2-3). A radical redress of the inherited colonial
structural impediments in the political economy was
sought after.
 In Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, for example, a
pan-African and African socialist ideology had
paved the development paths of these countries
and ultimately defined their social policy choices.
 Social policy was not only seen as a nationbuilding vehicle but it was extended to the
liberation struggle, and in the case of Zambia, the
emancipation of Southern African countries from
white minority rule (Noyoo, 2010).
 Therefore, the term social policy involves two
aspects: First, it refers to the actual policies and
programmes of governments that affect people’s
 Second, it connotes an academic field of inquiry
concerned with the description, explanation and
evaluation of policies.
 Of the different ways of influencing human wellbeing through social policy, the direct method is
the most common (Midgley, et al., 2000).
 There are three direct mechanisms by which governments
seek to promote the welfare of human beings:
 (a) through the introduction of social services such as
education, housing, income security and family, and
community welfare;
 (b) through the use of statutory regulation, for instance,
enacting of legislation that mandates employers, homeowners, educational institutions, commercials firms, and
many others to adopt measures that have a direct impact
on human well-being; and
 (c) through the tax system (Midgley, et al., 2000).
 Social policy is only meaningful if we (society, a
group, or an organisation) believe we can affect
change in some form or other. The word “policy”
is used here in an action-oriented and problemsolving sense (Titmuss, 1974).
 In this regard social policy should not be deemed
as inherently “good” as it can be perverted by
illegitimate and uncaring regimes, for purposes of
only shoring up the interests of certain classes at
the expense of the whole society.
 For this discussion, social policy fulfils three main
functions in any society namely: social, political
and economic. The social function lies in reducing
the impact of life cycle risks through social
insurance and alleviating poverty through social
assistance. It helps people to stabilise their lives
and support their families.
 The political function lies in its stabilising effect.
Social justice and greater equality are vital factors
for building trust and social cohesion, and
contribute to political stability.
 Finally, the economic function of social policy
lies primarily in widening the productive
capacity of a society through the inclusion of
marginalised areas and social groups in the
growth process, and through investment in
improved health and education. (Economic
and Social Commission for Western Asia,
 It is clear, especially in this millennium, that there is a
need for comprehensive and transformative social
policies which address a multiplicity of objectives that
include equity, social inclusion, and human capital
 In order to achieve the foregoing, a multidisciplinary
approach, which incorporates social, economic,
cultural and environmental aspects of development is
crucial. Hence, a broad framework for formulating
social policy, namely (a) reducing disparities and (b)
managing risks and challenges, is recommended.
 However, a country’s social policy should be a
natural product of its markets, communities and
households and should be formulated in the
context of that country’s traditions, institutions,
culture and values as well as the availability of
financial resources.
 National efforts must also be complemented by
various forms of regional, cross-border cooperation that could serve as a stepping stone to
a socially just globalisation.
Unpacking the notion of the good
 The question to ask here is: what kind of state would
be amenable to establishing the good society?
 Indeed, the state has the responsibility to advance the
common good rather than the good of some or a few.
 The nature of the state may however be determined by
its other characteristics e.g. whether it will be a
negative state responsible only for maintaining law and
order or a positive one which removes those obstacles
such as poverty, illiteracy and poor working conditions
that stand in the way of the full (social and moral)
development of the individual within society (Olowu,
 This presentation takes a leaf from Ancient
Greek Philosophers, such as Aristotle, who
posited the unity of politics and ethics, i.e.,
political actions must help to sculpt the good
 Also, citizens of the good society must have a
lifestyle that is consistent with and conducive
to virtue and that allows for the expression of
 Twentieth century scholars such as Lippmann
(1937) point out that when we delve into debates
of the good society, we (that is those who accept
that the good society is indeed attainable) have
to first and foremost accept that freedom is a
cornerstone of the good society.
 What this means is that a prosperous and
peaceful society must be free. If it is not free, it
cannot be prosperous and peaceful.
 Modern scholars such as Galbraith (1996) take
the view that the good society is the
achievable society and also accept that some
barriers to achievement are immobile,
decisive and must be accepted. But there are
goals that cannot be compromised.
 In the good society all of its citizens must have
personal liberty, basic well-being, racial and
ethnic equality, and the opportunity for a
rewarding life.
 Moreover, a good society must have a good
economy. An evident purpose of a good economy
is to produce goods and services effectively and
to dispense the revenues therefrom in a socially
acceptable manner. It must have substantial and
reliable increase in production and employment
from year to year.
Deconstructing and redefining the post-1994
transformation agenda
 It is a fact that the pillars of colonial-apartheid
capitalism are still intact and the economic
base is still attuned to the past dispensation as
opposed to the present one – of a liberated
South Africa.
 For example, recruitment of labour, especially
in the mining sector, is still predicated on an
outmoded migrant labour system.
 Critically, policy instruments and services
thereof mostly lacked emancipatory and
capability-building properties that could have
“re-engineered” SA .
 Probably, the assumption was that once
services were “delivered” then all would be
well. But the various service delivery protests
seem to have dispelled this notion.
 Also, South Africa’s political economy is influenced by
the heavy presence of the mineral-extractive industry.
Despite concerted efforts to expand the production
base after 1994, economic activity continues to be
locked into either extraction of minerals or other raw
materials – just like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
 Thus, the Minerals Energy Complex (MEC) is centrally
located at the core of the South African economy, not
only by virtue of its weight in economic activity, but
also through its determining role throughout the rest
of the economy (Fine and Rustomjee, 1996).
Paradox or reality?
 The paradox here is that the South African government has
deployed a lot financial resources into the social sector in
order to raise the quality of life of the citizens.
 E.g. the country’s elaborate social assistance programme,
with slightly over 16 million beneficiaries disburses: the old
age grant, war veterans’ grant, disability grant, foster care
grant, care dependency grant and the child support grant
(CSG). The largest numbers of beneficiaries are on the child
support grant.
 The number of child support grant beneficiaries has risen
from 5.7 million in 2004/05 to about 11.4 million as a result
of the increase in the eligibility age to a child’s 18thbirthday
(National Treasury, 2013).
 Furthermore, the government contributes to
reducing the cost of living in three ways:
i. Investment in the social wage, comprising
education, health services;
ii. social development, public transport, housing
and local amenities; and
iii. Contributory
unemployment insurance, injury compensation
and death or disability benefits.
Agenda-setting: re-engineering South
Africa via social policy
 Given the foregoing why are the vestiges of
apartheid still firmly in place in certain respects?
For instance high inequality and poverty levels,
apartheid spatial development patterns, extreme
wealth in the hands of the white population, high
unemployment levels, among others.
 Social policy interventions can ill afford to eschew
philosophical or ideological positions, strong
planning perspectives and historical analyses –
to some extent, this has been the case in the last
20 years.
I. Bridging the divide between the
NDP and social policy forays
 Thankfully the NDP has already been in
existence since 2011 and has been adopted by
the government.
 Thus, social policy and planning needs to be
the next phase in social policy interventions.
More planning efforts are needed in the social
policy arena.
 The NDP should be the beacon for social
policy and planning endeavours.
II. Building the capabilities of
beneficiaries of social grants
 In line with the NDP’s thrust, social policy programmes
should aim at building the capabilities of the
beneficiaries of social grants. How can this transpire?
(a) Through high quality and universal Early Childhood
Development (ECD) services, beginning with the most
remote and impoverished rural areas and working up
from village levels to the urban areas.
* All children on the CSG need to be tracked and
monitored through-out the years at ECD centres. The
youths who were trained in programmes like
masupatsela can play a critical role here.
(b) High quality and universal primary and
secondary education: All children on the CSG
would again be eligible for this education
(notwithstanding the no fees schools since
2007). Social policy that is driven by planning
would bring in all the social service professionals
to track, monitor and case-manage the
development of these children – so as to deal
with issues of drop-out, emotional stability and
support, and intellectual competencies.
(c) Charting the school-to-tertiary transition by: availing
the former CSG beneficiaries to study either in Cuba,
South African universities, colleges, free of charge but
bonded to government for at least three years. In those
three years, they will be expected to work in rural
communities in hospitals, etc.
 “Ring-fencing” a population on the CSG from 0-24
years, thereabout, would allow the government to
create a whole new group of South Africans (who were
previously disadvantaged). After 24 years they would
be educated, highly skilled and contributing tax which
would again be used to invest in the foregoing – thus
becoming a virtuous cycle.
Mainstreaming the mothers or care givers of children
on the CSG into the economy
(d) Building the capabilities of mothers or caregivers of the children on the CSG through “ringfenced” government procurement mechanisms
(after ample training and start-up capital) in the
areas of: School feeding schemes, cleaning of
government offices, laundry services at
government institutions such as prisons, hospitals,
etc., or making uniforms for prisoners, etc. These
women would be the service providers and not
private companies. The conditionality here would
be that the women formed co-operatives and also
played a key role in the education of their children.
 One way of ensuring that the good society comes
to pass is by having social policy that drives a
well-mapped out process of “social reengineering” that is underpinned by judicious
planning and philosophical/ideological positions.
 The good society is achievable in South Africa
with an ANC-led government if it sticks to its
historical mission that it embarked upon in 1912.
 The presentation used practical examples relating
to how the social assistance programme could
move beyond just staving off abject poverty to
becoming more developmental by building the
capabilities of the beneficiaries.
 The examples were not exhaustive, for instance,
there are other areas such as modernising and
stabilising labour as a key social policy
imperative, among others.
Alcock, P. (2008). The subject of social policy. In P. Alcock, M. May & K. Rowlingson (Eds.), The
Student’s Companion to Social Policy. (pp. 1-10). Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, (ESCW). (2009). Social Policy and Social
(Retrieved 27 July 2011).
Fine, B., & Rustomjee, Z. (1996). The Political Economy of South Africa. London: C. Hurst & Co.
(Publishers) Ltd.
Lippmann, W. (1937). An inquiry into the principles of the good society. Boston: Little, Brown and
Galbraith, K. (1996). The Good Society: The Human Agenda. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
McKendrick, B.W. (Ed.) (1987). Introduction to Social Work in South Africa. Pretoria: HAUM.
Midgley, J., Tracy, M.B., & Livermore, M. (2000). Introduction. In J. Midgley, M.B. Tracy & M.
Livermore (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Policy. (pp.3-10). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
Noyoo, N. (2010). Social Policy and Human Development in Zambia. London: Adonis & Abbey.
Consequences., (Retrieved 15 October
Olowu, D. (1994). The nature and character of the African state. Paper presented for the African
Association for Public Administration and Management (AAPAM) 15th Roundtable, Banjul, Gambia.
Titmuss, R.M. (1974). Social Policy: An Introduction. London: Allen and Unwin.
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