One of the paradoxes of the democratic project in South Africa is that the combination of political empowerment, organised constituencies of poor people and increasing social sector spending has made minimal impact on increasing equality. Despite an overall macroeconomic framework that emphasises fiscal restraint, social welfare spending has increased in the past 14 years, and dramatically so since 2003. Almost one in four South Africans receives some or other form of grant, and the majority of recipients are women. Indeed, South Africa is regularly described as the developing world's largest and most generous welfare state. I address the extent to which gender inequalities are reduced through public sector spending, asking the question: what is the optimal relationship between social policy and the intrinsic democratic goals of equality, social justice and citizenship? Drawing on Amartya Sen's capabilities approach, the article argues that a focus on social sector spending alone is inadequate to address questions of social justice. Instead, I draw attention to the normative assumptions, discursive environment and institutional context in which social policy is elaborated and implemented. I argue that, in a context in which there is relatively poor infrastructural capacity in the state to ensure that service delivery takes place in fair, consistent and egalitarian ways, households and communities act as shock absorbers of state failures and women's gendered burdens increase, despite formal commitments to gender equality. While women appear to have gained from political empowerment, women politicians did not effectively leverage their position in the state to promote pro-poor policies or to build coalitions to challenge the watering down of early commitments to reducing gender inequalities.

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Social Dynamics

Hassim, S. (2008). Social justice, care and developmental welfare in South Africa: A capabilities perspective. Social Dynamics (Vol. 34, pp. 104–118). doi:10.1080/02533950802278448