Strengthening Political Institutions through Inclusive Development

By Published On: 5th October 2020

In August, the Research and Policy team hosted a webinar assessing the current state of South Africa’s democracy. The Inclusive Economies Project weighed in on the discussion with an analysis that emphasised the importance of building inclusive political and economic institutions. Our analysis affirms the link between strong institutions and inclusive development.

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) remains steadfast in its mission of fostering fair, democratic and inclusive societies. With eroding institutional trust, we recognise the necessity for the state to muster the political will that is needed to renew confidence in the institutions through which it serves its people. One way of renewing trust requires an uncompromising effort to get South Africa on a path of inclusive development.

As the country grapples with the economic downturn brought on by Covid-19, we ought to broaden our understanding of economic growth. Using indicators such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) gives us an idea of how much (or how little) the country is growing year by year, but it does not tell us how equitable that growth is. The high GDP growth of the 2000s did little to restructure the country’s inequality crisis, with the country’s top 10% of income earners consistently capturing around 70% of the economy’s income.

This is important because growth that is as this uneven does little to materially and sustainably improve the quality of life for South Africans living near or under the poverty line. It does little to decrease dependence on the state, and when the economy experiences a shock, the government reduces spending on services and consequently erodes the quality of life for millions. In South Africa, the slowed growth over the last ten years has simultaneously seen a consistent decrease in social cohesion, as visible through increased protests and riots. It is a focus on inclusive growth that will see sustainable improvements to people’s lives and the state of cohesion.

On an individual level, inclusive development hinges on how well the state can eliminate barriers to economic participation. The 2019 South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB), a public opinion survey run by the IJR, found that approximately a third of South Africans do not believe they have access to the right places (35%), the right people (34%), the financial resources (34%) and the right education (28%) to achieve their goals. Renewing trust in our institutions means removing barriers for South Africans to achieve their human potential.

Moreover, the Afrobarometer found a drop between 2013 and 2018 in South Africans’ satisfaction with the government’s handling of aspects related to inclusive development. Where satisfaction was already low, such as in managing income inequality or creating jobs, the decrease in satisfaction was smaller (from 22% to 20% and 23% to 22% respectively). Where satisfaction was higher in 2013, plunges in satisfaction of health services and education are much larger at 18% each (from 59% to 41% and 67% to 49% respectively). The data goes on to suggest that those who are happy with their economic circumstances are also satisfied with the state of democracy.

Finally, South Africa’s democracy would benefit from more pluralism and less elitism. Inclusive development is more likely to take hold where institutions are pluralistic. Within our democracy, we see over and over again a selective consultation on behalf of the state. Our government sees society through the eyes of the elite that it consults, and in doing so does not understand the society in which its policies are meant to take hold.

This has been exposed quite recently and quite clearly in how the lockdown was planned and implemented – with absolutely no consideration for the informal sector (which makes up 30% of our country’s labour force). The lack of pluralistic consultations showed as food systems collapsed without informal traders being able to operate under the initial lockdown regulations.

Rebuilding faith in South Africa’s democracy hinges on the government’s ability to understand society from the viewpoint of the informal trader or the unemployed. In essence, a broader representation of economically marginalised groups. Only with real, representative consultations can we get on a pathway of inclusive development and one where citizens do not feel unheard or disengaged from our democracy.

This analysis shared in IJR’s State of Democracy Webinar is the beginning of a longer research initiative and discussion. As the IJR moves into 2021, The Inclusive Economies Project will diligently continue to investigate the relationships between democracy, inclusive development, and social cohesion across the continent.

Jaynisha Patel, Project Officer of the Inclusive Economies Project at IJR

Image Source: Network Movements

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