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Navigating the complexities of developing a responsive social compact in South Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on communities around the world, highlighting the lack of a sincere social compact in many societies. A social compact is an unwritten agreement between citizens and their government in which citizens agree to certain obligations, such as paying taxes and obeying laws, in exchange for certain inalienable rights, such as access to healthcare and education.

The pandemic exposed the truth of the absence of a functional social compact in the lived experience of an unequal distribution of resources and support to communities in need. Low-income and under-served communities have been starkly affected by the pandemic, with higher rates of infection and death along with disproportionately greater economic and social disruption. This is due in part to systemic inequalities and a lack of investment in these communities prior to the pandemic.

The Senior Certificate Matrix

2023 Matric results are expected to be impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The trends from 2018 to 2021 have shown a decline in overall pass rates due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

In 2018, the overall pass rate for the senior certificate was 78.2%, which dropped to 75.1% in 2019. The pass rate then dropped further to 72.2% in 2020, which was the first year that the pandemic affected the senior certificate results. The pass rate for 2021 was 73.9%, showing a slight improvement but still lower than pre-pandemic levels.

The disruptions caused by the pandemic, such as school closures and online learning, have greatly affected the education system in South Africa. Students have faced challenges such as a lack of access to resources and internet connectivity, making it difficult for them to complete their studies. Additionally, the mental health of students has also been negatively impacted by the pandemic, which has contributed to the decline in results.

The pandemic has exposed the lack of basic services and infrastructure in many communities, particularly in low-income areas. This has made it harder for citizens to access healthcare, education, and other essential services, and it has further exacerbated existing inequalities.

To accelerate social progress and build stronger, more equitable communities, we need to understand the constructs of a progressive social compact. This includes:

  • Prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable members of society, and ensuring that they have access to the basic services and infrastructure they need to thrive.

  • Building strong, inclusive communities that value diversity and are committed to working together for the common good.

  • Investing in education and training programs that provide people with the skills they need to succeed in the modern economy.

  • Creating policies and institutions that promote equity and fairness, rather than perpetuating existing inequalities.

In general there are two possible scenarios:

a) the crisis provides an external stimulus for partners to come closer together, as partners share the understanding that only by close collaboration will they find solutions for their communities to weather the storm

b) the crisis makes the existing and unresolved differences between partners visible, resulting in more complicated discussions, and difficulties in reaching agreements on new priorities”

The Irish Social Compact

The Irish social compact experience refers to the agreement between the government, labor, and business in Ireland to cooperate in creating economic growth and social progress. This cooperation led to a period of rapid economic growth, known as the Celtic Tiger, in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, the compact also had its downsides, as some critics argue that it led to a lack of accountability and a failure to address social inequalities.

One critique of the Irish social compact is that it prioritized economic growth over social welfare. For example, in a 1999 article, economist David Begg wrote that "the Irish model has been built on the back of low wages, low social welfare benefits and low taxes." This led to a lack of investment in public services and infrastructure, as well as a widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Another critique of the Irish social compact is that it led to a lack of accountability. For example, in a 2005 article, sociologist Michael Cronin wrote that "the compact has allowed the government to avoid taking responsibility for important policy decisions." This led to a lack of transparency and public participation in the decision-making process.

Despite these critiques, the Irish social compact is often cited as an example of how cooperation between government, labor, and business can lead to economic growth. However, it also serves as a cautionary tale on the importance of balancing economic growth with social welfare and accountability.

As for South Africa, it's a different country with a different history, culture, and political context. Therefore, the lessons that can be learned from the Irish social compact experience may not be directly applicable. However, it can serve as a valuable reference point for policymakers in South Africa who are interested in exploring ways to promote cooperation between government, labor, and business in order to drive economic growth and social progress.


David Begg. "The Irish Model: A Critique." (1999)

Michael Cronin. "The Irish Social Partnership: A Critique." (2005)

GrowZA's Think Tank team offers a range of services to development partners in South Africa. Outputs are designed to help organizations and communities identify and invest in sustainable and impactful social progress projects that improve the lives of people in real terms.

With a focus on social progress, innovation and impact, GrowZA is a partner resource for anyone looking to make a meaningful difference in South Africa.

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