Op-ed by Zane Dangor, COO of Soul City for The Star

I have joined Soul City as the Chief Operations Officer at an exciting time of change and renewal. The fast-changing political and socio-economic context in South Africa demands that Soul City responds with the “fierce urgency of now” by redefining the very concept of social justice.

The economic uncertainty and the fiscal ‘crunch’, impacts, as it does in every developing society, upon women and the girl child worst. This means that Soul City is destined to take an even more prominent place in the public square in the months and years ahead.  I will be working to help craft and deliver a new and broader vision for social justice at Soul City based on young women and girl’s human-rights.

We will be repositioning the organization to rise to South Africa’s deeply rooted social justice challenges. These include safeguarding women’s and children’s rights to ensure their right to bodily autonomy and integrity, their right to quality education, healthcare and all other social services they require.

As the former director-general of the National Department of Social Development and, prior to that, special adviser to the line minister, I was privileged to have been at the forefront of the formulation and delivery of the government’s social development programmes for nearly two decades. They were wonderful, exciting and, sometimes, frustrating times. During this period I came to the understanding that constitution itself does not clarify an absolute ‘pathway’ to social justice.  It requires purposeful leadership and activism. The realisation of social assistance for children was made possible through concerted advocacy by NGOs working with a sympathetic Minister in Zola Skweyiya. Ongoing activism is going to be the only way in which all rights contained in the constitution find expression in policies, laws and the budgets at all level of governments.

Soul City has, I believe, an untapped space and a legacy track-record to drive home the message that not only is it vital that women are beneficiaries’ of a growing economy, jobs, training and education to achieve the bill of rights push for social justice for all – but that helping the poorest women and girl children in our society also enhances the dignity of those who have the means to live without social grants and the assistance of the state.

Thus, while our vision is viewed through the lens of empowering women and the girl child, our mandate in fact touches upon every facet of socio-economic policy.  For too long women’s rights were consigned almost to a coda – an afterthought - to government department’s mandates and programmes. At Soul City, we believe that is only by achieving full women’s rights, and materialising the under-applied equality clause in the constitution, that South Africa can achieve her full potential.

We will be working unceasingly to continue to position ourselves as the N.G.O. best placed to deliver social justice programmes and digital communications campaigns around empowering all South African women and girl children; to ‘live a life they value.’

Yes, we understand that some women and girl children in a thriving and healthy society will grow taller than others. But even the strongest sapling in society needs to be watered and tended - irrespective of how tall she might grow. No individual, community institution or nation has ever achieved anything of great significance alone. So to take the African proverb "it takes a village to raise a child" forward, until we unlock the ambitions and resources of every woman and girl child, the state will not have the resources to do as much as it must to deliver social justice for everyone.

This is not theoretical.

Over recent months, I have been giving testimony at the Constitutional Court-mandated inquiry into the social grants payments debacle. This has encompassed corruption and state capture. There is a well-known tendency for policymakers’ and decision-makers’ to view public policy in ‘silos.’  The reality however is that public policy choices, government priorities – and the asset stripping of the people’s resources - through corruption, fruitless expenditure and state capture, has a domino effect throughout society that cascades down to the remotest homestead where a girl child studies by candlelight. An unbreakable golden thread runs through codified women’s rights and children’s rights to, for example, the provision of rights based services for women through the lens of reproductive justice so that the provision of sanitary pads, access to dual and modern means of contraception, protecting the lives of lesbians who have been attacked and murdered in townships, and to guaranteeing beneficiaries’ receive their social grants in full and on time are seen as a  continuum of access to all the human rights of women with distinction of any kind.

Finally, Soul City passionately believes that like all human rights, the human rights of women and girls are universal and indivisible, and we work to promote them globally. From South Africa to Nigeria where school girls have been abducted by religious extremists, and to Saudi Arabia where women have only just been given the right to drive unaccompanied by a male chaperone, these  human right incursions effect women living in rural communities worst.

Soul City’s work is more important than ever, and our energising vision of social justice is an ‘idea whose time has come.’

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