Jobs don’t create equality, Thuli Madonsela tells Social Justice Summit

Jobs don’t create equality, Thuli Madonsela tells Social Justice Summit

  • Professor Thuli Madonsela says jobs don’t create equality or end poverty.
  • Speaking at the third annual Social Justice Summit, she said “supporting work instead of business and jobs” should be explored by governments across the continent.
  • Judge Dennis Davis agrees that jobs alone are not sufficient, and adds that it is unsustainable for people to live on social grants.

Jobs don’t create equality, Professor Thuli Madonsela has argued, maintaining that achieving economic parity requires thinking outside the box.

“I don’t even think that [jobs] end poverty, because my domestic worker is my domestic worker and me giving her domestic work does not create equality for her,” Madonsela said.

“[The Western Cape] has a lot of people who are farmworkers. They are seasonal workers. For a period, they are employed. For most of the time, they have no food. But they had a job, at least some of the time.

“I disagree that jobs create equality or end poverty. I am not suggesting that they don’t make a difference. I’m just saying, let’s get out of that box.”

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Madonsela, the Law Trust Chair in Social Justice at Stellenbosch University, was speaking at the third annual Social Justice Summit, where she recounted the advice of a woman who attended the Women Ready To Lead platform that told young people to “stop looking for jobs”.

“There are no jobs. And even if there are, there will never be enough jobs – ever. Look for work,” she said.

“I think governments in Africa should start thinking about how we support work, instead of business and jobs. Something in between, there is work, which includes being self-employed.”

Earlier in the summit, participants heard that there wasn’t enough uptake of the fiscal support package, owing to a lack of market analysis which showed that the majority of people work for themselves and don’t have jobs, Madonsela pointed out.


“They don’t have businesses as classified under South African law because they are not registered under anything. But the lady who was arrested for selling atchar [without a permit in Soweto last year], works [for] herself. She is not able to claim that package because that package now says you have to prove that you’re paying tax, but she’s far below the tax threshold.

“That’s one person who works for herself who can’t work for herself now because we stopped her from selling atchar, and then she ate the capital. And now she can’t proceed to work.”

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Madonsela was differing from the stance of Haroon Bhorat, professor of economics and director of the Development Policy Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, who said that the only route to reducing poverty and inequality in the context, such as South Africa and most other developing countries, is to create jobs.

He said:

So you have got to ask the question where the jobs come [ from]. Ninety percent of jobs come from firms, from the private sector, and that includes micro enterprises and the informal sector. I must emphasise that I’m not talking about listed entities, and we have what I think is a dearth of design thinking around that part of the economy that can create a large number of jobs.

Judge Dennis Davis, Judge President of the Competition Appeal Court of Cape Town, agreed that jobs alone were not sufficient.

“[But] it’s a fact that the vast majority of people eke out nothing. It’s unsustainable that people can live on R350 or R800 [grants] … One needs to think about a reconstruction of the economy as a whole,” he said.

“It’s a question of holistic examination of how one actually addresses the question of inequality.”

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He said he readily accepted that the state should not be “blamed for everything”.

“But the reality is that we have a state that has perpetrated a kind of … capture of an extraordinary kind. We lose fortunes of money, fortunes, on state capture. We don’t need, as it were, to increase taxes, if we were able to actually use the money where it’s supposed to go.

“That would, in fact, contribute enormously towards the questions of not just jobs, employment creation and work seeking, but it would basically be able to re-renovate a whole range of stuff.”

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