The promise and limit of freedom: South Africa and the pursuit of racial justice

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to discuss South Africa’s trajectory of socio-economic development since the advent of democracy a quarter century ago. This is done through a critical discussion and review of major policy interventions that have been implemented to achieve the goal of racial justice. The author argues that while the advent of democracy brought about significant opportunities for social justice, socio-economic development in South Africa has been characterised by increasing wealth and income inequality, which has undermined the cause of racial justice. The key argument the author advances in the paper is that the decline in the power resources of the working class and the poor accounts for the neoliberal turn in economic policy in South Africa. Design/methodology/approach: The paper relies on primary policy documents of the government and on primary political and policy documents of the African National Congress and its political allies such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party. The author also reviews the extensive literature on the subject of development policymaking in the new South Africa. Findings: The main finding is that the advent of democracy a quarter century ago and the policy interventions by the government have brought about social progress in some areas. However, the colonial and apartheid domination still shapes access to social-economic opportunities in South Africa. In anything, income and wealth inequality has increased since 1994. The goal of racial justice appears far from being achieved. Research limitations/implications: The key implication arising from the research is that strengthening political organisations of the working class and the poor is critical to attaining the goal of social equity. This is particularly true in a context where elite interests in the state and the corporate sector have been ascendant for the past two decades. Originality/value: What is original about the paper is that it is one of the first papers that assess the progress that has made in bringing about racial justice 25 years after the advent of democracy in South Africa. Furthermore, the paper uses the power resources theory to explain the dearth of pro-poor social reform in South Africa. This is a departure from the dominant approach, which explains the adoption of neoliberalism in South Africa as either inevitable due to poor economic performance or an outcome of the sell-out by the ANC political elite.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1335-1347
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Social Economics
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2019


  • Apartheid
  • Colonialism
  • Inequality
  • Power resources theory
  • Racial justice
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • General Social Sciences


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