Southern Africa enjoys vast mineral wealth and established democracies. The region has nurtured leaders whose impact on social justice has been felt around the world. But the legacy of apartheid and colonialism continues to sow division when it comes to race, class, and gender, while contributing to high rates of inequality across the region.
Poor communities living on lands abundant in mineral wealth are deprived of their right to participate in decisions about development, and so reap few benefits from the region’s abundant natural resources. Many people feel let down by national governments, and are disillusioned about their ability to meaningfully engage with official bodies and improve their lives. For women, these challenges are compounded by harmful cultural norms, discriminatory laws, and high rates of violence that inhibit and constrain the public and private aspects of their lives.
Across the region, progressive laws and policies have great potential to advance social justice—if they are implemented equitably and effectively. South Africa’s Constitution, in particular, upholds individual and socioeconomic rights and underscores government’s responsibility to ensure the welfare of all its people. Laws and other efforts aimed at empowering women and girls, youth, black people, and the poor have the capacity to deliver greater autonomy and increase people’s ability to participate fully in decisions that affect their social, political, and economic lives. To realize this promise, all people must play a key role in advancing progress, and governments and the private sector must be accountable for their actions.