“Ours is an unequal society and the [South African] constitution recognises that positive action is necessary to establish conditions in which there is not only equality of rights but also equality of dignity…
Nowhere is the role of dignity in informing the content of all concrete rights more apparent than in the application of social and economic rights entrenched in the constitution. These are rooted in respect for human dignity, for how can there be dignity in a life lived without access to housing, health care, food, water or in the case of people unable to support themselves, without appropriate assistance? …
The constitution offers a vision of the future: a society in which there will be social justice and respect for human rights, in which the basic needs of all our people will be met, in which we will live together in harmony, showing respect and concern for one another.”
Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, President of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture, May 2000
A single definition for something as broad as Social Justice is difficult. The Social Justice system ranges from the unequal treatment of the poor to the mis-use of a person’s basic human rights.
Generally there are certain key issues that social justice must deal with.
- Issues of respect for human dignity
- Issues surrounding access to human rights
- Issues surrounding the exploitation of those rights
In most cases these will affect either the poor or a marginalised community who have neither the resources nor the financial backing to demand what has been unjustly taken from them.
Barry Smith, a former Regional Director of Southern Africa of The Synergos Institute, provides a number of key issues surrounding the relevance of social justice.
“All members of society should be treated with dignity and respect. The poor and marginalized must have a significant role in determining their future development.”
In a world of distorted perceptions and “gated communities,” a social justice sensibility helps to surface realities in ways that may alarm us but that may also have the potential to transform us.
Social justice is about naming the difficult issues we face, like poverty and inequity in the large, or the specific weathervane issues that are the symptoms of structural injustice like racism, gender inequality, the situation of migrants, and so forth.”
Social justice is all about “systems change” and transformation.”
What I take from this is the following. Social Justice involves highlighting issues that surround dislocation. People who have lost access to their rights because of the way they are represented.
Thus when dealing with social justice one needs to look at issues that surround unfair exclusion, and those people who are looking to change that perspective.
These issues are particularly relevant in South Africa according to Smith
“South Africa, where I am based, is in many ways a reflection of our divided world. It remains a polarized society in which the fault lines of race, class and sector run deep.
Citizens’ organizations, including community-based organizations, NGOs and social movements, play a vital role in giving voice to the poor, mobilizing resources and collective action, and taking forward agendas for pro-poor change. government and business performance in relation to poverty and social justice objectives.
Dignity, human rights and legitimate entitlements can only realized if citizens have the means…and a voice that is heard in the realm of public discourse.”
All excerpts are taken from Barry Smith’ s written piece Social Justice and Inclusive Partnerships