IN SOUTH AFRICA, THE JUSTICE SYSTEM HAS IGNITED ANGER OVER COLONIAL AND STRUCTURAL INJUSTICES FOLLOWING THE JAILING OF FORMER PRESIDENT JACOB GEDLEYIHLEKISA ZUMA. What are the lessons for social work?

Anger over structural injustice Getty Images

On 8 July 2021, former South African President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was jailed for 15 months by the Constitutional Court for contempt of court after failing to appear before a commission investigating crime in the country. The jailing of the 79-year-old freedom fighter and anti-apartheid hero ignited nationwide discontent, massive ‘free Zuma’ demonstrations and looting. Sadly, over 200 deaths and over 2500 arrests were reported. The Zuma disaster has been reported extensively in the media. In this article, we focus on lessons for social work.

Former South African President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma Getty Images

What are the lessons for social work?

  1. Unresolved structural historical injustices, poverty, inequality, low prospects for socio-economic improvement and slow economic reform result in despair and anger.
  2. African legal and justice systems continue to ignore larger structural injustices caused by colonisation.
  3. African justice systems are inadequate. As African communities all know, the justice systems are founded on an unjust, foreign and western philosophy of justice. Western law is founded on individual aspirations, but for Africa, it is the community and community opinions that matter most.
  4. Democracy, especially constitutional democracy, as it is applied in Africa has failed the masses. It is important for Africa to define its own framework of running the state which does not maintain colonial injustice, breed corruption or create political polarisation.
  5. African constitutions must not neglect structural injustices created by European colonialism. The injustices continue today in land, minerals, education and many other areas.
  6. Western concepts of development, especially modernisation, urbanization and industrial employment have all failed to address poverty and improve people’s lives.
  7. Structural injustices are not only in South Africa but most African countries. They are not only as a result of European colonisation but also marginalisation of Black communities in North African states. There is also marginalisation of minority communities in most countries, who more often get dispossessed of their lands and livelihoods.
  8. Justice is far more than apologies, forgiveness and reconciliation as happened with the post-apartheid process in South Africa. Justice is about deterrence (socially, physically, economically or spiritually); restoring (at times returning or replacing) economic or social status; repairing relationships (apology, forgiveness and reconciliation); retribution (warnings and punishments from other human beings or spiritual beings). This is the kind of justice that brings healing.

In summary, social injustice is not only about the actions of our present governments and administrations, it is also about historical injustices. Social justice can not be realised on the current framework of law which neglects historical injustices. Historical injustices must be addressed and colonial law systems must not replace or form the background of African jurisprudence. An African proverb says a crime or injustice can not be washed or wished away, meaning unless they are corrected, historical injustices will haunt African states for ever.

You can read about South African social work here: https://africasocialwork.net/south-africa/