One of the recurring themes of the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa is his emphasis on a ‘social contract’ to get South Africa on a new trajectory model. 

In political philosophy, a number of authors have written on the concept of a social contract. The concept entails an agreement between members of society with the view to collaborate and work towards a relationship of mutual social benefits. For example, citizens surrender certain rights to representatives who make laws on their behalf. In return, these citizens would trust that the representatives make laws favourable towards them as citizens. 

President Ramaphosa was emphatic in his SONA address as well as his first question and answer session in the National Assembly. He highlighted the need for business, labour and civil society to work with government in achieving the goal of creating inclusive economic growth in South Africa.

In order for South Africa to achieve radical socio-economic transformation, it is important that we all work together in achieving this. For example, in the Q&A session, he pointed out how Afrikaner farmers were approaching him to talk about and work on the question of land. Good leadership requires critical engagement with various groups, individuals and stakeholders  as well as ensuring inclusivity. 

One of the primary aims of a social contract is to ensure social cohesion. To achieve social cohesion, it is important to involve as many different members of society in agreeing on a social contract. A social contract is meaningless if it excludes members. People play a critical role in not only forming the social contract but also when it comes to ensuring social cohesion. 

A typical example of a social contract is our bargaining system in South Africa. While many frown upon unions, they remain integral for the collective bargaining process of a particular sector within the economy. Businesses and government need to know that workers will not go rogue and therefore when they, as workers, are represented as a collective, it is easier to facilitate such cohesion for the production of goods and services.

In order to create such cohesion in the national economy, the ANC administration finds it important that all partners, in the economy, work together in order to facilitate an environment where the production of goods and services can occur. Thus, it is necessary to work with labour, civil society and business, as social partners in order to create an environment where the economy can grow.

At the same time, while the social cohesion is created on the one hand, the ANC government has found it necessary to advance the idea of a developmental state, on the other. Even though it had declared South Africa one before the global economic recession of 2008/09, governments, around the globe, were almost forced to take a Keynesian approach to national economies and the global economy as a whole.

It is further necessary to advance the idea of a developmental state. Even though South Africa was previously declared as a developmental state before the global economic recession of 2008/2009, governments, around the globe, were almost forced to take a Keynesian approach to national economies and the global economy as a whole.

What this meant was that in order to save industries such as the banking industry from collapsing, the government in the United States had to intervene and bail those industries out. Governments were therefore directly becoming involved in the economy because it was choosing which industries to bail-out and which to collapse. 

At the same time, in a developmental state, this involvement in the economy, by the government, is deliberate. With an economy that is sluggish in promoting industrialisation, the South African government is somewhat forced to intervene and assist in the process of industrialisation. Left solely to the vagaries of the (global) market, as pure capitalism promotes, industrialisation will simply not happen in South Africa. 

With government’s direct intervention in the economy, it becomes important that all role-players are involved in ensuring the maturation of this intervention. At times issues are hard to resolve, among the social partners, yet at other times it is important that they work together in order to address pertinent matters that may arise.

Put differently, this social contract for social cohesion must not only be pursued by the social partners on a national level but within communities particularly those working for government in the community, those in labour, businesses in the community as well as community organisations, such as sport clubs, churches, mosques, stokvel, and school governing bodies. These groups or organisations must come together in order to address community concerns and explore community opportunities. Thus, social contracts should ideally take place at a grassroots level.

In developmental literature, current research has gone into a local level exploration of the developmental state. The research focused on the model of the city of Medellin in Colombia. First, the municipality used its assets to prioritise and invest in infrastructure thereby modernising the public transport system in the city. Poorer communities could therefore have easier access to the city’s central business district. 

Secondly, the municipality developed a program similar to that of Brazil where cash grants were paid to the poor but often these grants were conditional. Finally, when the city built industrial areas, it would build them in areas that needed the investment most, in the poorer parts of the city.

While all of these may sound like your usual government programs, the success of the Medellin story comes in the social contract that the city’s administration had to enter with the necessary role players. In order to make programmes and projects successful, the municipality had to work with communities, labour and business. The projects would prove redundant if they had not been supported by all social partners.

In developmental discourse the emphasis has somewhat shifted from economic growth to developmental growth. In recent years, at least since the fall of Thatcherism and Reaganomics, development experts have been more interested in other indicators of development than simply looking at economic growth. Indicators such as the openness to opportunity, exploring capabilities, human development, among others.

One of these examples has certainly been the happiness index which measures how nations achieve long-term, happy and sustainable lives. Are people “satisfied”? As “satisfaction” leads to social cohesion.

South Africa did not score well in the recent index release. Out of 140 countries it ranked 128, scoring less than countries such as Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Namibia even countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Algeria, Iraq and Afghanistan. This raised questions related to some of the contributing factors as to why South Africa had a low score. 

In life expectancy we were are ranked 130 out of 140 countries, with life expectancy being set at 56 years. Well-being, another indicator in the index, was pitched at 80th out of 140 countries. In ecological foot-print we came 85th out of 1140 whilst in inequality we achieved a ranking of 106 out of 140 countries.

In sum, we could suggest, based on the research of the index, that vast majority South Africans are not happy or satisfied. They are not happy not because of the government they have but because of their living conditions. 

In this instance, it is important that we pay attention to our people’s health so that life expectancy can increase and their so that their well-being can improve. In addition, there must a real focus on improving the environment as it plays a vital role in beating persisting inequalities. 

Our social contract must fight the many ills that is facing our country. However, before we can reach a social contract, we will all, every single South African, first need to recognise that these are our fundamental challenges and it is these challenges that need our attention.

Sisi Ntombela is the Premier of the Free State Provincial Government & Deputy President of the ANC Women’s League 

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