Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, JH Jeffery
Deputy Minister John Jeffery recently attended the National Association of Democratic Lawyers conference unpacking ‘Poverty Inequalities and Corruption Symptoms of a State in Gradual Collapse’.
The conference focused on bridging the gap between the two societies which exits in South Africa, the poor and the rich after 25 Years of democracy.
'There is no disagreement that poverty, inequality and unemployment remain challenges that threaten the social stability of South Africa,' said Deputy Minister. The truth, he highlighted, is that the poverty in which millions of South Africans live in today is a direct result of our long history of colonial and apartheid. Further complicating this is the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, making South Africa one of the most unequal societies in the world. The rich have become richer and the poor poorer.
Deputy Minister stressed to the conference that Government is committed to eliminating poverty. Here referred to the so-called social wage, that has been used as a redistributive mechanism of the government budget deliberately aimed at improving the lives of the poor and reducing their cost of living. This has been achieved through, among others, free primary health care, no-fee paying schools, social grants, housing opportunities and free basic services on the form of water, electricity and sanitation, to poor households.
Although these policies and interventions have resulted in notable gains in poverty reduction since 1994, the country continues to face the challenge of high poverty, high inequality and high unemployment. Deputy Minister Jeffery highlighted, the percentage of individuals benefiting from social grants has consistently increased from 12% in 2003 to 30% in 2017. But if one looks at who receives these grants, one sees that poverty and inequality run along racial lines: More than a third of black African individuals (33,8%) received a social grant, compared to 29% of coloured individuals and 14,5% of Indian individuals, he stated.
So how do we close this gap between the haves and have-nots? Asked Deputy Minister Jeffery? “The short answer is that the law and the jurisprudence of our courts have been major drivers in narrowing the gap between rich and poor.” Since 1994, a substantial body of new laws has emerged from all levels of government to fulfil the mandate presented by the Constitution. This great effort has created new institutions, repealed discriminatory laws and changed the lived experience of many South Africans.
Legal Aid South Africa has provided coverage at all criminal courts as well as provided civil legal aid and legal advice through a national footprint of 64 Justice Centre and 64 Satellite Offices. In 2017/18 Legal Aid SA assisted a total of 731 000 clients with legal assistance in criminal and civil legal matters as well as legal advice matters, by providing legal representation in over 426 000 legal matters and legal advice to more than 305 000 clients.
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development set out to with the aim of establishing a functioning Small Claims Court in each and every magisterial district in South Africa. “We have done this, and in some areas there are even more than one Small Claims Court per magisterial district. This is indeed a major step forward in improving access to justice for all in our country. As you may know, we have also recently announced that the jurisdictional amount of R15 000 has been increased to R20 000 as from next month.”
In many instances, South African society remains divided. Many schools, suburbs and places of worship are integrated, but many are not. The ideal of a so-called rainbow nation, at peace with itself, has not yet been fully realised. Deputy Minister Jeffery urges legal practitioners and members of NADEL to continue to create a legal and judicial system that realises access to justice for disadvantaged people and the rule of law. “With human rights education now forming part of the schools’ curriculum, nothing prevents legal practitioners from visiting their local school and offering to talk to learners about human rights,’ urged Jeffery.