2017 Annual DSL Colloquium

2017 Annual DSL Colloquium

Colloquium on a Decent Standard of Living.


Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute

Parktonian Hotel, Braamfontein

26-27 September 2017


In 2016, the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute held a conference: Towards a Decent Standard of Living on the 10th of November. The aim of the conference was advancing social dialogue around the concept of a decent standard of living, to combine both reflections on social justice, the right to dignity, realising basic needs through the Constitutional socio-economic rights and international jurisprudential obligations on the right to an adequate standard of life under the UN ICESCR.  The outcome of the conference was reflected in a policy brief published in the beginning of 2017, with recommendations inclusive of the discussions held.

Expanding on the policy brief, the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute with the support of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) held a follow up two day colloquium on the 26th and 27th of September 2017 for 30 participants to catapult the discussions on:

  • whether knowledge on the concept of a decent standard of living has advanced,
  • progress on attempts to ascertain what constitutes a decent standard of living, and
  • the progressive realisation of socioeconomic rights that contribute a an adequate quality of life.


SPII sought to host the colloquium in pursuit of advancing our understanding what is required to live a decent and dignified life.  This is in light of the right to dignity in the South African Constitution, the commitment of the National Development Plan (the NDP) in its vision to the attainment of a decent standard of living for all and the guarantee of the right to an adequate standard of living contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by South Africa in 2015). SPII undertook to host this colloquium on a decent standard of living to through dialogue and engagement, unpack the components of a DSL in a democratic society (with an awareness of the various inequalities that obstruct this in South African society).



Day One- 26th September.

Welcome Address

The colloquium began with a welcome address by SPII’s board chair, Mr Langa Zita.

Langa Zita highlighted the limits of democracy and the link to poverty.  He referred to the ANC’s Ready to Govern document, which was essentially a blueprint/guideline for what the ANC, after it was unbanned knew had to be done to attain a dignified life for all South African’s in a democratic society .

In addressing the issue of development which he claims has been stagnant in South Africa even after democracy, Zita proposed that society must develop its own capacity for development. He placed an emphasis on a concern of creative thinking and urged that we question which policies need rethinking and that we must seek alternative ways of doing things.

In achieving socioeconomic development he through creative strategies he used the following initiatives as examples, Illustrations of achieving socioeconomic development through creative strategies, Zita named the following initiatives as prime examples,

  • Tseheppho 1 Million Project

The original program, known as Tshepo 500 000, is a tool meant to give young people work opportunities.  It has been grown into the bigger 1 million initiative after it reached over 300 000 opportunities within just two years. The program aims to help facilitate breaking down barriers that young people face in entering the labour market - the biggest being work experience - by partnering with business and other stakeholders to provide employment opportunities in the Gauteng province.

  • Township economy

The Township Economy refers to various initiatives such as boosting of SMEs in townships, and government investment in economic activities based in the township.

In closing, ZiIta raised the issue of social security and how a lack of adequate social protection poses a threat to a decent standard of living. As a critical concern for persistent poverty and development, social protection mechanisms such as a basic income grant need to be part of the dialogue of a decent standard of living and solutions for new age challenges such as the fourth industrial revolution.

The second welcome address was provided by SPII’s partner, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung who was represented by Nompumelelo Runji.

On discussing a decent standard of living, Runji highlighted the route of the social democratic approach, where economic and social rights are both placed as pinnacles of achieving development, based on the principle that development is the pathway to freedom.

According to Runji, inequality is intersectional and it must be addressed from a variety of angles.  She concluded that political education is key and that young people in particular must be engaged with, and given the platforms to seek solutions for change through knowledge empowerment.

The Keynote address then followed and was presented by Mr Zwelinzima Vavi. Mr VaviZwelizima is an experienced trade union leader, the former general secretary of COSATU and current SAFTU general secretary. SAFTU a newly formed South African trade union federation, is founded on the central values of dignity for all, equality for all and opportunity for all, and these central values are what Vavi spoke to in his address.

The transcript of the address is set out below.  

Transcript of address to the conference on ‘Decent Standard of Living’ by Zwelinzima Vavi, General secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this important conference, which is confronting what, is without any doubt the biggest problem we face in South Africa today – the crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

It is a massive crisis, which threatens to roll back all the gains we have struggled for over many years and could plunge the country into a maelstrom of violence and disunity. The starting point in such discussions is often the fact that South Africa is now the most unequal society in the world. Some dispute this claim, and try to get into pedantic quibbles over how reliable the statistics are, but the evidence is indisputable.

The Gini index, published by the World Bank and the most widely used measure of inequality, looks at the distribution of a nation’s income or wealth. According to the most recent figures, the five most unequal countries in terms of income distribution are South Africa, Namibia, Haiti, Botswana and the Central African Republic.

The Palma ratio is an alternative to the Gini index, which focuses on the differences between those in the top and bottom income brackets. The ratio takes the richest 10% of the population’s share of gross national income (GNI) and divides it by the poorest 40% of the population’s share. This measure has become popular among researchers, yet it puts exactly the same five countries in the most unequal positions, with South Africa at the very worst in both indexes.

Most of the other four are much poorer countries than South Africa. The Central Africa Republic is the poorest in the world, 175th out of a total of 175, whereas South Africa is ranked at 82nd. As a relatively rich country it is even more damning that South Africa shares its abundant wealth in the most unequal way and leaves so many m millions in poverty.

Figures from StatsSA’s report on “Poverty trends in South Africa: An examination of absolute poverty between 2006 and 2015” show that in 2015 30.4 million of South Africa’s 55-million citizens lived below the upper poverty line of R992 per person per month – three million more than in 2011. One in three South Africans lived on less than R797 per month, or half of the country’s 2015 mean annual household income of R19, 120, with more women affected than men, and children and the elderly hardest hit, while racial inequalities continue to define poverty as largely a black African problem.

For one in seven South Africans (13.4%) this meant extreme food poverty, or survival on R441 or less per person per month in 2015. “The last five years, “says the report, “notably between 2011 and 2015, have been a rough economic roller coaster for South Africa, driven by a combination of international and domestic factors such as low and anaemic economic growth, continuing unemployment levels, low commodity prices, higher consumer prices, lower investment levels, greater household dependency on credit and policy uncertainty”.

The report also shows that the same period saw an increase of extreme food poverty to 25.2% in 2015, up from 21.4% in 2011. The National Development Plan (NDP) goal to reduce the percentage of citizens in the lowest poverty category from 39% to zero has failed abysmally, as there was no reduction at all but one percentage point increase to 40%. The report also gave us the shocking figure that levels of household indebtedness rose to 76.9% in 2015, up from 54.1% in 2000.

At the other extreme of inequality, we saw the report by Deloitte accountants that the average pay of executives in the country’s top 100 companies is now R17.97 million a year, which amounts to R69 000 a day! If that is the average, there must be many who receive even more! Executives’ salaries have risen from 50 times to 500 times bigger than workers’ wages.

Many of the companies who are paying these grotesque amounts to their executives are the very ones, which are demanding that the unions should agree to lower wages for their workers. Others are outsourcing labour, using labour brokers and retrenching staff in order to increase their profits and throw more workers into poverty. They are the companies, in alliance with government, and scandalously some trade union leaders, who have legitimized poverty by agreeing to a poverty national minimum wage of R3500 a month.

Inequality and poverty is obviously also linked to shocking rate of unemployment. As Statistician – General Pali Lehohla said when introducing his report “The key driver of poverty is unemployment.”

There was a net loss of 113,000 jobs between the first and second quarters of this year. The rate of unemployment remained at 27.7%, at the highest level for 14 years. And the more realistic expanded definition of unemployment, which includes an extra 3.1 million people who were available to work, but did not look for work during the reference period rose slightly to 36.6%.

These unemployment figures relate directly to the levels of poverty because on average, earners living in poor households support not just themselves but both people in their household and others to whom they send money. 10% of wage earners in poor households support themselves and four other people, 6% support five others, 4% support six others and some poor wage earners support up to 10 dependents.

Unemployment, inequality and poverty must not only be measured in income and wealth but in the social wage. Employment, or employability, depends on education levels. The StatsSA report that shows 79.2% of those without formal education were poor in 2015 – down from 86.4% in 2006, but up by four percentage points from 2011 – compared to 8.4% of those with a post-matric qualification in 2015.

In education, health-care, sanitation and public transport, the appalling levels of service in a country where the rich minority elite enjoy world-class service provision make conditions for the poor majority even worse.

This descent into inequality has been taking place under the watch of a government and ruling party which for 23 years have been talking about the need for ‘radical economic transformation’, while carrying out economic policies based on a capitalist free market and neoliberal policies like GEAR and the NDP which have led to the exact opposite – soaring levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty. It has allowed resources to be shipped out of the country and reduced tariffs, which enabled the products manufactured from those raw materials to be imported back into South Africa, causing local manufacturing jobs to be lost.

The economic crisis is now made even worse by the explosion of corruption, looting and the capture of state institutions by crooked politicians and public officials, head of state-owned enterprises and a widening layer of international companies, -not only the Guptas – who have been shifting money from the public purse into the pockets of this new class of billionaires. This has robbed the country of billions of rands, bankrupted state-owned enterprises, sabotaged public institutions, undermined democratic accountability and led to the rating agencies down-grading the country to junk status, and a looming economic and social catastrophe.

So what is to be done?

I welcome the fact that handful of business leaders and organizations have now admitted that things have to change and are talking about the idea of “inclusive growth” and some sort of social compact between government, business and labour, as the solution to the problem of inequality and the anger it is stoking among the workers and the poor.

Yet the Deloitte report proves that this message has totally failed to reach most business leaders who blindly pursue policies that exclude millions of the poorest South Africans, the workers and the unemployed while making themselves richer and richer.

It is further shown by all those companies in the cement, food, dairy, bread, construction, pharmaceutical, fire-control and other sectors which the Competition Tribunal has found guilty of price-fixing, collusion over tenders and other forms of anti-competitive practices.

But inequality is not some sort of unfortunate mistake that can be solved by well-meaning individuals and companies tinkering with the way the economy is managed and trying to enforce higher ethical standards. Even if more business leaders join this call, it cannot change the basis of a system, which is driven solely by the need to maximize profits. Important decisions on investments and disinvestments are increasingly taken by asset managers and investment brokers, which use IT programs to track all sorts of statistics to calculate which investments will yield the biggest and quickest return to shareholders.

They never stop to look at the impact on workers’ jobs, communities’ livelihoods, the environment or the long-term future of the economy.

This is why the NDP is fatally flawed. It promises to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality by 2030, and reduce poverty-induced hunger to zero. But is can achieve none of these targets because its vision for the economy is rooted firmly in the belief that wealth and power must remain in the hands of unaccountable capitalist monopolies, still overwhelmingly white-owned, operating under a neoliberal capitalism economic system, enforced by rating agencies. This is the main reason why we have this economic crisis in the first place.

That is why SAFTU and a growing number of people around the world are now demanding a fundamentally different, socialist economic structure. We are determined to reinstate the real program for radical economic transformation, which has unfortunately been hijacked by corrupt faction, and to mobilise mass support for it, based on the call of the Freedom Charter that “there shall be jobs and security” for all. We have already submitted a Section 77 notice at Nedlac to demand a new growth path to change the structure of the economy and ensure redistribution of wealth, land, and opportunity for all. We have demanded that the crisis in the education system be fully addressed and are mobilising for a full-blown strike in November in support of these demands.

We are embarking in the process of consultation with leaders of civil society formations to ensure that the strike is not just a workers strike but also a demonstration against the status quo. The mobilisation should involve the unemployed, workers in the informal sector, communities struggling against poor service delivery in such things as housing, infrastructure, access to land. We want to unite with students fighting for free, compulsory, high quality public education system, etc.

SAFTU agrees that there must be a much deeper engagement with business, labour and civil society but we have only condition, such an engagement should be how we remove the foundation of the status quo and replace with a genuinely thorough going transformation of the economy to serve our people not the small elites who are the beneficiary of the status quo.

Only by the nationalization of the mines, banks (including the Reserve Bank) and monopoly industries can we end the job-loss bloodbath, create jobs and security for all and liberate the workers and the poor from the exploitation of the white monopoly capitalist elite.

Vavi in his address urged that we take on a new struggle in the country, one that challenges the status quo and socioeconomic inequality in all forms.

He urged that the people of South Africa must be:

  • Mobilized to demand freedom
  • Resources must be nationalized and wealth redistributed.
  • The poor and the working class must be liberated from white monopoly capital and the elite.

In doing so a decent standard of living for all can be achieved.

Presentation by Honorable Minister Gugile Nkwinti

Minister Nkwinti is currently serving on the South African cabinet as the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform.

The minster’s presentation titled “Turning South Africa into a construction site: Focusing on township and rural communities”, spoke to the heart of South Africa’s poverty and developmental challenge, the stark inequality that exists in the country.

In problematizing inequality, the minister stated that South Africa is a two world country, and this is visible in the close proximity of affluent and disadvantaged communities such as Sandton and Alexandra, Hout Bay and Imizamo Yethu, Kaya Sands and Bloubostrand.

Despite the progress made by various efforts of democratic governance under black majority rule, the class stratifications in South Africa have persisted. The current existing situation of inequality is unsustainable. To highlight the unsustainability of inequality. Minster Nkwinti ironically uses a quote from Anton Rupert, “if they don’t eat, we won’t sleep”

The minister questioned how we talk about democracy and freedom in the spectre of South Africa’s widespread poverty. Despite the death of colonial rule and rule of oppression such as apartheid, our geo-economic policies have lived on with the spatial economic segregation that exists today.

The majority of the poor live in rural and township communities.  They remain lacking in basic human needs and their existence is marked by deprivation and want. In these communities, women, youth and the disabled are the most vulnerable. The minister raised the issue of the black/political elite, posing the question of how the leaders manage to live a life totally different from the people who put them there.

In the attainment of a decent standard of living for all, according to the Minister, the most pressing task is reducing the racial asset poverty and geo-spatial inequality gaps and to focus on developing rural and township communities which are the furthest from opportunities and access.

Panel discussions.

The right to an adequate standard of living is also a right contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that South Africa ratified in 2015.  The UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights includes the rights to Housing, Food, Water, Health Care, Education and the rights to Work and to Decent Working Conditions as necessary elements of the right to an adequate standard of living. The presentations on the panel sessions were tasked to explore what a Decent Standards of Living entails.

Panel One: Right to Housing

Hopolang Selebalo is a senior Researcher at SPII for the Socio-Economic Rights Programme

Right to Housing- Budget analysis of right to housing

The Right to Housing is one of the most litigated and contested right. Selebalo’s presentation focused on resource allocation and access to adequate housing. She used examples of Human Settlement Development Grant (HSDG) and Urban Settlement Development Grant (USDG) as illustrations of resource allocation that has not been adequately used to realise the right they provide for.

Selebalo asserted that “Housing goes beyond the provision of bricks and mortar, it is a place that one should be able to access economic opportunities and quality social amenities”. In closing she highlighted the interrelatedness of socioeconomic rights and the attainment of a decent standard of living.

Zandile Nsibande –Abahlali baseMjondolo

Abahlali baseMjondolo is a shack-dwellers' movement in South Africa well known for its campaigning against evictions and for public housing. The movement grew out of a road blockade organised from the Kenny Road shack settlement in the city of Durban in early 2005 and now also operates in the cities of Pietermaritzburg and in Cape Town. It is the largest shack dweller's organisation in South Africa and campaigns to improve the living conditions of poor people and to democratise society from below.

Zandile explained how the Right to Housing is constantly being violated in South Africa and said that their movement is based on three pillars: Land+Housing+Dignity. Abahlali has started an initiative for women to save R1 a day.  In any given month that would translate to R31 which they wanted to use to buy a bricklaying machine which costs millions. This was an attempt by the poor disproving the old rhetoric that the poor do not take initiative in changing their circumstances.

It is not simply a matter of laziness of the poor or a lack of active initiative.  The involvement from all stakeholders in society is needed in order for the full realisation of the right to housing and the state as custodian of rights is accountable for the enjoyment of rights.

In 2009, Abahlali won The Slums Act  caseCase CCT 12/09 [2009] ZACC 31. . This Slums Act is a highly controversial Act supported by the Provincial Government of KwaZulu-Natal as a response to housing conditions. Its purpose was to eliminate substandard housing conditions by giving the provincial Housing MEC authority to prescribe a time in which it would be compulsory for municipalities to evict unlawful occupiers of slums when landowners failed to do so. It also forced private landowners to evict shack dwellers. It was meant to be replicated in all other South African provinces. Many Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and academics were very critical about this Act as they said it was opposing the South African Constitution.

Nsibande explained how the problem with these slums is that it’s a one size fits all and since the case has been won nothing has changed, indicating the disrespectfulness of the government. The state is not held accountable to respect the dignity of people and upholding their socioeconomic rights as they should.  

Land rights are crucial to the right to housing and people must be provided with title deed for the land so they can build their own houses.

In summation, Nsibande states that “land must be given to people to preserve the prospects of future generations”.

Panel Two: Right of Access to Food and Water

The Right to Food

Vishwas Satgar – Food Sovereignty Campaign

The South Africa Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC) emerges out of a need to unite organisations, social movements, small scale farmers, farmworkers and NGOs championing food sovereignty into a national platform in advancing food sovereignty strategically in South Africa. This led to the Food Sovereignty Campaign Assembly that took place in late February 2015. At this Assembly, the campaign was further developed, a programme of action agreed to and a national coordinating committee elected, representing the Socio-Ecological Model  SEM, community organisations, agrarian, small scale farmer, environmental justice and food price sectors.

The food crisis is extreme since the drought and food inflation and it is a systematic crisis. The deep and extent of the food crisis is underrepresented by existing stats. An example, of the increasing food crisis is evident in the PACSA food basket 2016 v 2017 increases.

The Food Sovereignty entails constructing the right to food and it took the initiative to drafting their own Peoples’ Food Sovereignty Act in 2016.

“Food sovereignty principals are underpinned by the right to dignity and ending hunger as a way to affirm this right”.

Satgar explained the access to right of food, but pointed out the technical aspects of how the right could be obtained, stating that in upholding dignity it is required that we end hunger.

Nazeer Sonday – Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign

Nazeer Sonday is an farmer who leads the activist group Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign which is comprised of small scale farmers and concerned citizens .

The Philippi Horticultural Area in Cape Town is made up of a group of small scale farmers are able to make a living through agricultural activities in the city. Due to city autonomy over planning processes, the area is under threat to city development and this in turn has disempowered citizens over the right to land and its use thereof. The contestation of land use is one that is directly affected by city polices and plans which do not focus on marginalised communities.

The Right to Water

Matshidiso Motsoeneng is a researcher who authored the paper on The Right to Water and Sanitation.

In addressing the right to water Mostsoenengatshid iso started by explaining that there is a need to interrogate what a Decent Standard of Living (DSL) mean in South African terms, and what the right to a decent standard of living means.

The irony is that despite the fact that large amounts of the population still lack access to clean water and sanitation facilities, government is still underspending. The challenge is that there is a lack of integration between government departments. Government’s maladministration is epidemic, the back-log is due to under-expenditure, the lack of accountability, and the lack of cohesiveness between national, provincial and local departments.

The question we should ask is how in real terms does the concept of a decent standard of living translate into lived experiences?

Hassen Lorgat - Benchmark Foundation

Bench Marks Foundation is a non-profit, faith-based organisation owned by the churches in South Africa. It is a unique organisation in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and monitors corporate performance against an international measuring instrument, the Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility; Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance. Also known as the Bench Marks Principles, this document is shared by a number of churches and church agencies across four continents.

There are a number of scenarios regarding the water crisis such as scarce re water being wasted, insufficient distribution, and climate changes affecting water availability.  Poor people are highly policed compared to the rich/multi-corporations despite usage disparities. The poor continue to carry the load for water loss, which is indicative in the new policy passed by Herman Mashaba from 60 kl to 15kl water per household, this changed accountability.

Lorgat Hassan also interrogated SPULMA, the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act, 2013 and that we critically analyse the various policies that government adopts.

Hassan recommends integration of government departments, and said that there is a need for political economic development in rural areas and that government needs to stop prioritizing electricity and housing only, water and food are also essential.

Panel three: Right to Healthcare and Education

The Right to Healthcare

Dennis Webster is a researcher at SPII working on the Socio-Economic Rights Programme

Webster Dennis explained the Socio-Economic Rights (SER) tool of methodology which has three steps; policy analysis- assess the policy effort, budget analysis- assess resource allocation and expenditure, and indicators- monitor and evaluate attainment of the right.

Through a discussion of the various indicators, WebsterDennis illustrated the right can be measured and the observation of the realisation and enjoyment of the right.

He unpacked a tracking of austerity measures, which resulted in an increase in maternal mortality rates, high TB deaths in South Africa.  He concluded that this indicates a shortfall in the progressive realisation of these rights.

Marije Versteeg – Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP)

The Rural Health Advocacy Project is a leading health advocacy organisation based in Johannesburg, advocating for equitable access to quality health care for rural communities in the whole of South Africa. Informed by the voices of rural healthcare workers and communities on the ground, partner organisations, stakeholders and research, RHAP conducts advocacy, generates debate, monitors implementation of health policies in rural areas, supports pro-equity government interventions, and rural-proofs policies to ensure that they are in tune with rural realities. RHAP’s vision is a health system where rural communities access equitable, quality health care services.

VersteegMarije explained that a large part of the South African population lives in rural areas without access to proper healthcare services and facilities. Inequalities are visible in resourcing and access that result in poor healthcare. The use of SASPRI maps to highlight the multiple levels of deprivation in rural areas, former homelands remain the most rural and deprived, whose communities suffer from a lack of access to socioeconomic rights. .

The Right to Education

Bhavna Ramji – Section 27

SECTION27 is a public interest law centre that seeks to achieve substantive equality and social justice in South Africa. Guided by the principles and values in the Constitution, SECTION27 uses law, advocacy, legal literacy, research and community mobilisation to achieve access to healthcare services and basic education. SECTION27 aims to achieve structural change and accountability to ensure the dignity and equality of everyone.

The teachers’ curriculum has continued to change every five years and this has led to inconsistent levels to the quality of education provided. growth. RhamjiBhavna spoke about the textbooks scandal that happened during 2012 in Limpopo which she regarded as an expensive endeavour because it was pro-capitalist endeavour, it favoured awarding tenders as opposed to the provision of textbooks to further the right to education. .

Resource allocation is not an issue in terms of education in South Africa but there needs to be an effective way of budgeting.

Shaun Franklin is an independent researcher who co-authored the SPII Right to Education paper.

Performance of South African education does not meet the international minimum benchmark standards. Less than 50% of South African children who enter primary school finish matric.

Recommendations by Shaun include that the education standards should be raised in terms of international benchmark standards.

Panel four: The Right to Work and Conditions and Standards of Work

Right to Work

Gilaad Isaacs- coordinator of National Minimum Wage at Wits University

The International Covenant Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) is an important policy to understand the right to work.  

Article 6

  1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.
  2. The steps to be taken by a State Party to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include technical and vocational guidance and training programmes, policies and techniques to achieve steady economic, social and cultural development and full and productive employment under conditions safeguarding fundamental political and economic freedoms to the individual.

Article 8

  1. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure:

(a) The right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others;

(b) The right of trade unions to establish national federations or confederations and the right of the latter to form or join international trade-union organizations;

(c) The right of trade unions to function freely subject to no limitations other than those prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others;

(d) The right to strike, provided that it is exercised in conformity with the laws of the particular country.

  1. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces or of the police or of the administration of the State.
  2. Nothing in this article shall authorize States Parties to the International Labour Organisation Convention of 1948 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize to take legislative measures which would prejudice, or apply the law in such a manner as would prejudice, the guarantees provided for in that Convention.

The nature of work is being fundamentally reshaped and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. In unpacking the right to work we need to distinguish between work and decent work. Is decent work achievable in the way in which we currently think about work? Work also needs to take into account alternative forms of employment and those who fall outside formal employment.

Dawu Sibanda – Ecumenical Services for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET)

Ecumenical Service for Socio-Ecumenical Transformation (ESSET) is an independent ecumenical organisation that works against the systematic exclusion of the poor and marginalised social groups by advocating for social justice. It is registered as a non-profit organisation (section 21) founded in 1996 with a mandate to build to the capacity of local churches to work for socio-economic justice. The South African Council of Churches (SACC) and a number of other ecumenical organisations were instrumental in ESSET's formation.

ESSET partners and facilitates processes within churches and a wide range of civil society organisations such as informal trader associations; ministers' fraternal and provincial councils of the South African Council of Churches. ESSET also collaborates with other faith based organisations in South Africa and in other SADC countries including Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The nature of work as we know it is changing. The presentation was focused on explaining the conditions for vulnerable workers.

“Work” has a gendered dimension to it that impacts women more intensely, the lack of unskilled jobs in the formal labour market for women, unpaid domestic labour and the prevalence of alternative livelihood strategies for women.

How do we redefine work in the realisation of the right?

Katlego Rasebitse – Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT)

SWEAT is at the cutting edge of sex worker advocacy, human rights defence and mobilisation in Africa. SWEAT has determined the discussions on a legal adult sex work industry where sex work is acknowledged as work, and where sex workers have a strong voice, which informs and influences wider social debates. SWEAT has campaigned for the inclusion of sex workers as respected and valued members of society.

Rasebitse Katlego outlined that sex work should not be criminalized and that access to the righstrights of work should also be available for sex workers. He highlighted that sex work is an alternative livelihood strategy in an increasingly unfavourable economy for black womexn. In realising the right to decent conditions of work, laws that prevent accessing socio-economic rights for those making a living from sex work must be addressed. Sex workers do not want to be treated as a sub-group of society they want to access their rights in the same manner as the rest of society.

Carmen-Joy Abrahams - Department of Public Works

The Department of Public Works is one of the ministries of the South African government. It is responsible for providing accommodation and property management services to all the other ministries of the South African government. It is also responsible for promoting the national Expanded Public Works Programme and for encouraging the transformation of the construction and property industries in South Africa

Abrahams gave an overview of Public Employment Programs (PEP) and how they are linked to the right to work. PEP are a means to advance the right to work and they play a role in the provision of decent work opportunities in economies where there are limited.

Carmen drew lessons from countries like India emphasising that PEPs can leverage and increase opportunities for work.   

Day two- 27th September

Panel one

Budgeting for Progressive Realisation for an Adequate Standard of Living – considering the constraints.  

Michael Sachs, Deputy Director General Fiscal Policy: National Treasury.

Sachs Michael spoke of the issues related to financing socioeconomic rights. The endeavour for the pProgressive realisation of constitutional rights needs to be occur within an awareness aware of fiscal constraints and that is why the maximum resources clause exists. The state cannot sustain the progressive realisation of socio-economic rights if the economy doesn’t grow and that the current instability of the economic climate plays a pivotal role in whether the state has funds to spend on public services and social welfare.

Sean Muller, economist who works at the University of Johannesburg.

Muller Sean focused on the lack of economic related research that has gone into socioeconomic rights. Economists often focus on issues that affect the GDP’s and other economic indicators of progress without considering socioeconomic rights and their realisation as indicators of development. He also highlighted that lawyers have thought about realisation of socio-economic rights from a human rights perspective but economists haven’t really considered how the right can be resourced.

(No notes) Jackie Dugard is an associate professor at Wits University and is also the director of the Socio Economic Rights Institute (SERI) which is a human rights organisation which provides professional assistance to individuals, communities and social movements seeking to protect and advance their socio-economic rights.

Panel two

Possible data tools for policy: Wage differentials in South Africa, a Living Wage and the National Minimum Wage

Trenton Elsley

Trenton Elsley is a senior researcher at the Labour Research Service (LRS), which specialises in research, dialogue-building, and developmental projects with the broad aim of strengthening civil society and a particular focus on the world of the work.

Trenton provided an overview of the wage landscape in South Africa. According to him wage determinants in South Africa are very sketchy and there exists a huge gap in incomes, in the low income bracket and CEO and executives bracket.

The gap can be seen as the decent living level deficit which is related to a decent standard of living. Another factor that affects the attainment of a decent standard of living are socially perceived necessities and these make up vital elements of an acceptable quality of life.

PACSA Basic Needs Basket, SASPRI on Socially Perceived Necessities and the introduction of a Decent Standard of Living Index

Mervyn Abrahams: Director of the Pietermaritzburg Association for Community Based Action (PACSA), a faith-based social justice and development NGO that has been in operation since 1979.

Abrahams Mervyn presented an overview of the work PACSA undertakes in monitoring food prices in Pietermaritzburg and how that presents a picture of unattainability of a decent standard of living due to food insecure.

PACSA food baskets have seen an increase annually, year on year, and nutritional baskets of food are even more unattainable for lower income households. Food is the one item in households that can be sacrificed over other necessities and often families go without food in order to pay rent or electricity.

Jabu Jele and Christine Byaruhanga are research officers at SASPRI established to promote, encourage, and undertake research, teaching and training in the areas of social policy, welfare policy, poverty, deprivation, disadvantage, labour market policy and related areas of social science in Southern Africa

ByaruhangaChristine and Jeleabu presented on the forthcoming decent standard of living index research led by SPII, together with SASPRI and LRS presented an overview of socially perceived necessities and how those can be used to monitor what constitutes a decent standard of living.


The concept of a decent standard of living is a complex one, with many interrelated rights. Without the right to housing, which should inclusive of proximity to opportunities and amenities one cannot access the right to work for example. The right to healthcare is intrinsically linked to the right to food, as nutrition affects the overall health of a person. Moreover all socio-economic rights are underpinned by the right to dignity and the attainment of a decent standard of living.