The CEO Notes

Time for a focused African perspective on inequalities and injustice

The HSRC hosts researchers from all four of our offices every second year to encourage them to discuss their work across boundaries and debate some of the issues around the reach and impact of research. These conferences are important to staff members who are dispersed across the country and aims to provide them with opportunities to interact, share views and talk about their research.

This year’s research conference theme, ‘Inequalities and justice: influences, effects, intersections and evidence’, called for multidisciplinary approaches in addressing inequalities and injustices in South Africa in preparation for the 2015 Word Social Science Forum (WSSF) in Cape Town. The HSRC Conference critically reviewed current research, ideas and policy around the WSSF theme of ‘Transforming global relations for a just world’.

To quote Wangari Maaithai:

The people are learning that you cannot leave decisions only to leaders. Local groups have to create the political will for change, rather than waiting for others to do things for them. That is where positive and sustainable change begins. It is important to nurture any new ideas and initiatives which can make a difference for Africa.

There is already much that we know about the idea of justice and by extension, inequality and injustice. We know that inequality and injustice are common, occur on multiple levels, and frequently intersect. There is an abundance of research on economic inequality and its effect on the quality of life and social relations within countries of the world. Many studies have shown significant relationships between economic/social inequalities and violence; crime rates; community involvement; political participation and policy making; health and life expectancy; social cohesion; trust and even human happiness.

Furthermore, we also know how inequalities and injustice, produced by the unequal distribution of wealth, low quality education, social fragmentation, unjust labour practices and accidents of birth, lead to unfair discrimination and thwarted opportunities for human development. From economic disparities where 10% of the country earns and owns 90% of its wealth, to gender differences where women do two-thirds of the world’s work, own 1% of the world’s wealth and occupy 14% of leadership positions, to where those living in poverty are also subject to exorbitant lending practices, food insecurity and frequently live in isolated and alienated communities.

Of course these inequalities are never discrete, and are compounded and intersect such that those who occupy multiple positions of inequality are most severely affected, such as poor black women.

To paraphrase Maaithai: what we need now is a focused African perspective on inequalities and how to close the gaps of status and privilege related to both moral justice and national development. We need to show this commitment.

This edition of HSRC Review covers a selection of articles based on papers delivered at the HSRC research conference. These are, however, not comprehensive as many presentations appeared in the form of articles in previous editions and are therefore not repeated here.
Professor Olive Shisana