New review report identifies crossroads for South Africa’s social justice sector

An in depth review of South Africa’s social justice sector that seeks to trace the development of the sector in the post-apartheid era has revealed some o. The report was resourced by the Raith Foundation. Here are some important findings from the report. 

What does the social justice sector even mean?

Through their research and engagement with the various responders, it was found that the notion of the social justice sector is “highly contested construct with no shared understanding”. It was critiqued that the concept assumes struggle and campaign can be sectionalised. Others argued that there did exist a social justice sector as a “sub-sector of the broader civil society.” The report has defined the Social justice sector as those organisations working towards the objective of realising a vision for a socially just society through their work. It is not defined by organisational form, and includes the full spectrum of social movements, NGOs, trade unions, local community based organisations, and more. 

Read more: Equal Education: Alternative Report Questions ‘Exoneration’ Of Doron Isaacs

What does the social justice sector actually do?

The COVID-19 pandemic was found to be one of the distinct waves that characterise the social justice sector between 1994 and 2020.

Other distinct waves included the defeat of apartheid, demobilisation and legal redrafting of South Africa’s constitution, the rise of populism and an executive-heavy state, cross-class anti-corruption front and support and anti-neoliberal struggles, and growing mistrust between state and the sector.

Strategies for social justice

The report found that the sector uses many different strategies to hold people and organisations accountable. While those strategies differ, there is a recognition that the sector had played a crucial role in holding political parties, the different arms of the state – and to a lesser extent – corporate entities, accountable. Those strategies include litigation and social justice campaigns like ARVs, #feesmustfall, #thetotalshutdown, #UniteBehind and #zumamustfall. The report notes that the “striking common feature was rolling protest action over a sustained period of time, led by black, often working-class, women.” The group of women often bear the burden of the socio-economic fallout and they accounted for the success of these campaigns.

Read more: The Total Shutdown: One Year On 

But there is a need for formal NGOs to give more support to grassroots struggles and campaigns.

Read more: Three reasons #UniteBehind is different from #ZumaMustFall and #BlackMonday 

Need for transformation

Not only do formal NGOs need to recognise and give support to grassroot organisations, there is a need for all-round transformation in the sector. Leadership continues to be dominated by white men and white women.

The respondents to the review felt there is a need to have candid conversations about the values that the sector should hold itself truly accountable to. However, that transformation should not only be limited to the optics of leadership that report found. There needs to be a conversation around “prevailing class interests and heteropatriarchal culture, and how this constrains radical transformation within the sector.” 

The full report can be found here.

(Editor’s note: Khadija Patel, co-founder of The Daily Vox is one of the respondents quoted in the report.)

Featured image