SPII Talk II: Director’s note

SPII Talk II: Director’s note

Isobel Frye, Director of the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute


It seems ironic that the global status of isolating and social and economic lockdowns caused by the Coronavirus Covid-19 has led to a intensification of communication in new ways never considered possible before. Global webinars and meetings can catapult people into levels of immediacy of access that would have been unimaginable 18 months ago.


The severity of the challenges and needs for real time adaptation I have found has also removed previous rules and protocols in much day to day work. This is particularly true of the hours of NEDLAC involvement of SPII in the National Rapid Response Task Team that was established to assist national decision making on issues pertaining to the impact of Covid-`19 on all socio-economic aspects of life.


And yet the inescapable presence of inequality in South Africa, and globally, shapes this inclusion and exclusion too of course. One of the critical calls SPII made with other CSOs at the inception of the first lockdown was for free data to be embraced as a national emergency measure. Some initiatives arising from the Competition Tribunal’s ruling of December 2019 about data free public interest sites have come through, but this was a moment, a crisis that with greater commitment might have led to a differently shaped society just months later.


The huge inequalities between state and private education that widens daily might well have been arrested



with creative partnerships between resourced and under resourced schools had the possibility of sharing platforms and teachers been carried forward on free to access sites.

In this edition of SPII Talk, staff members were tasked with writing a piece that resonated with their understanding of the value and principles fo public participation. Common to each piece is the emergent take home that our Constitution was built on the premise of an actively engaged citizenship and that participation should be central to the formulation, the implementation and the evaluation of core state functions.


This has sometimes worked, but frequently not. The early architects of our democratic state perhaps overlooked the many ingredients demanded for effective and consistently executed participation.

Did we expect too much in the crafting of our participative democracy? Should we slip back into a more representative democracy and focus more on holding our elected representatives to account? What is the optimal mix for us in this moment and moving forward?

We trust that these freely conceptualised pieces deepen thinking in this regard, and lead to constructive social responses in turn.