Social Justice and Economic Inclusion: Where is South Africa?

By Raine St.Claire

Since 2009, February 20th has been designated as the “World Day of Social Justice” by the UN, focusing on observing and highlighting global social injustices, addressing issues such as poverty, exclusion, employment, gender equity, and access to social well-being and justice for everyone.

Upholding Social Justice: A Call For Ethical Business Practices and Inclusive Progress

While some progress has been made, South Africa still grapples with challenges related to human rights and discrimination. “From the moment of conception, social justice has been perceived as an anchor for peaceful coexistence. However, the exploration of fairness and justice has not always fully embraced the humanity of all, particularly regarding race, gender, and class diversity, and related equity — which is why we continue to grapple with it.” – Prof. Thuli Madonsela, the Law Trust Chair in Social Justice and Law Professor at the University of Stellenbosch.

In her keynote address at the Business in Society Conference, Prof. Madonsela, South Africa’s former Public Protector, cautioned against contradictory practices among companies. She criticised companies that engage in charitable acts while simultaneously underpaying workers or overcharging customers, urging businesses to view corporate social responsibility beyond scoring black empowerment points. “The generosity of strangers” displayed in CSI, often life changing, should not be linked to scoring black empowerment points, she said “It should be about creating the world you want to live in. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that no one is left behind because hungry people are angry people,” Madonsela warned.

Inaugural Social Justice Summit and International Conference

In her report on the 2019 Inaugural Social Justice Summit and International Conference, Prof. Madonsela opened with a profound truth: “As long as there is injustice somewhere, there cannot be sustainable peace anywhere.” Delegates, united in pursuing a Musa Plan for Social Justice (Social Justice M-Plan), aimed to leverage the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate structural inequality and eradicate poverty by 2030 through collaborative focus plans for 2023-4. In her closing remarks, Prof. Madonsela expressed a sincere hope that the report’s contents would contribute to accelerated progress on social justice.


About 18.2-million people in South Africa lived in extreme poverty in 2023, surviving on R34.84 per day. This marked an increase of 162 859 compared to 2022 and if this trend continues, over 19.1-million South Africans could be living in abject poverty by 2030.

Urgent Focus On Hunger: Collaborative Initiatives By Businesses and Civil Society

The 5th International Social Justice Conference and Summit in October 2023, hosted by the Centre for Social Justice at Stellenbosch University (SU) under Prof. Madonsela’s leadership showcased global and local initiatives. These ranged from addressing hunger to advocating for land redistribution and inclusive business ownership. The consensus was that businesses need to shift focus to tackle societal challenges and foster an ecosystem benefiting everyone. Prof. Madonsela stressed that businesses and society’s crucial roles extend beyond Corporate Social Responsibility, affecting core operations and practices, rooted in legal, moral, and strategic obligations, akin to Ubuntu principles.

The upcoming year’s focus will be on hunger. Collaborative efforts guided by the Musa Plan for Social Justice, aims to expedite progress towards Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in ending hunger through research, collaboration, and innovation.

Outstanding Companies Leading The Way

South African companies like Woolworths, for instance, embraced the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles as far back as 2014, promoting gender equality; and, through its advertising, Nando’s champions LGBTQ+ rights and challenges stereotypes. Anglo American prioritises environmental sustainability, labour rights, and community development. Standard Bank, Naspers, MTN, Capitec and Gold Fields have been listed as some of the best ethical companies in South Africa.

While acknowledging the positive impact of local companies, there was also a notable surge in foreign direct investment to R53.8-billion in 2023Q2, up from 0.5-billion rand in 2023Q1. This increase was attributed to the acquisition of local beverage company Distell by the non-resident Dutch brewing firm HEINEKEN (HEIN.AS) in September 2023. HEINEKEN’s entry into the South African market is significant, given its longstanding dedication to social justice and inclusion, evident since its beginning and the merging of their brands. At the heart of this dedication is their worldwide ‘Brew a Better World’ strategy, a fundamental element of the company’s strategic priorities. HEINEKEN strives to create a deep sense of belonging for its 80 000+ global employees, cultivating a network of over 100 inclusion and diversity ambassadors.

These ambassadors work closely with local leadership teams to develop action plans addressing specific local challenges, ensuring ongoing progress in areas like culture, race, gender, disability, access, and more. This comprehensive approach extends to their operations in South Africa, covering breweries, offices, and employees across the country. Such collective efforts contribute to shaping a more just and equitable South Africa for all. Nelson Mandela, in his book “A Long Walk to Freedom,” poignantly states, “The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Source: Stellenbosch University | StatsSA | AskTraders| |Grainsa

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