Human and Social Capabilities

A central concern for this division is to focus on human beings and their development in the face of the social realities of poverty and unemployment, and inequalities of class, race and gender. In particular, this work will actively explore the ways in which agency, attitudes, aspirations, capabilities and other psychosocial factors reinforce or liberate people from the constraints imposed by their social environments.

Programmatic approach: Health and Wellbeing

The basic and intermediate needs for humans to flourish are physical health, nutrition (food and water), healthcare, safe birth control and child-bearing, a safe physical environment and mental health. The key dimensions of wellbeing encompass bodily wellbeing, mental health, access to quality health services and a good physical environment. Given South Africa’s history and ever-changing landscape, understanding is needed of how cultural and social dynamics influence health behaviours and wellbeing to inform tailored health promotion interventions. The performance of South Africa’s health system has been poor, despite good policies and relatively high spending as a proportion of the GDP. The research should seek to understand the ways in which people navigate their health and wellbeing for the purpose of developing policies and practices that will lead to a health system that is patient focused and managed on the basis of principles of universal healthcare and provision.

The key constraints facing health systems include inequitable and fragmented allocation; slow gains in life expectancy and reduction of child mortality; gross inequality; the growing complex of the burden of diseases; and poor governance, management and accountability. Addressing these constraints requires reorientation of health systems towards comprehensive primary healthcare and institutional reforms for implementation of National Health Insurance to create one health system that will translate into improved human and social capabilities through improved health and wellbeing.

Social protection is an important component of health and wellbeing. It refers to policies, programmes and measures designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability by diminishing people’s exposure to risks, and enhancing their capacity to manage social risks, such as poor health, disability, social exclusion, old age, food security, social relief programmes and access to services. By 2030 the NDP aims to have achieved an inclusive social protection system that addresses all areas of vulnerability and is responsive to the needs, realities, conditions and livelihoods of those, including women and children, who are most at risk.

Programmatic approach: Identity and Belonging

Identity is individual, social and political. Who people are is shaped by social categories such as race, gender, sexuality, class, ability and age. The social categories people inhabit can exacerbate or ease their differences and the extent to which they feel they belong. Identity and belonging have been shaped in very particular ways in South Africa. The apartheid system constructed racial categories that denied or afforded access, resources and privilege to persons belonging to specific groups. The formal systems of apartheid have been abolished, but for many, the ways in which they see themselves and their sense of belonging, are still tied to ‘race’ constructions.

While black South Africans suffered discrimination because of their racial classification, women were subjected to both racial and gender discrimination. It is only through better understanding the complexity and interrelatedness that research will be able to offer explanations for why these problems continue to find expression in families, institutions and communities, and offer possible solutions to address them.

Addressing the intersections of gender, race and class with poverty and inequality requires working at the socio-psychological levels where identity and belonging are experienced and its impact on everyday life is keenly felt. Transformative research should focus, for example, on schools and higher educational spaces that are confronted by continued cultures of privilege that create a sense of alienation and disconnection.

To foster greater inclusion of all its citizens as well as the dismantling of systemic inequalities, methodologically this work must be participatory and collaborative, transdisciplinary and intersectional and will prioritise cross-stakeholder dialogue and conversation with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) as well as corporate and academic institutions in the country and across the region. This strategy of engagement, in partnership with government, CSOs and others, would produce outputs that draw on not only longitudinal and large-scale data sets but also smaller focused qualitative studies. 

The work in this thematic area will address identity, belonging and health from the perspectives of gender and race and the impacts these continue to have on various aspects of human and social life.