“The extent of inequality in contemporary South Africa is immoral.”
Inequality can be simply be defined as the condition of being unequal. In contemporary South Africa today there is no doubt that, the population is faced with a high level of inequality. Throughout the world, particularly South Africa, there is a small minority of people who have the monopoly of wealth, while the majority are just getting by. Morality questions the unequal distribution of wealth by judging behaviour and people in terms of whether they meet the moral standard. In this essay, I will look at the egalitarian and utilitarian perspectives on distributive justice (focusing mainly on income distribution) to show that inequality in contemporary South Africa is immoral.
Inequality in South Africa
Firstly, a distinction needs to be made. People should be equal but this does not mean they should be the identical. Underneath the differences is a set of fundamental rules, which encourage the treatment of individuals as equal - who deserve the same concern and respect. (Gosepath, 2011). The question of equality is difficult because it concerned both prescriptive and descriptive concepts. Prescriptive equality in politics refers to a norm or a rule. Descriptive equality is necessary to identify whom the norms and rules apply to. When it comes to business ethics, we are concerned with: ‘what kind of equality, if any, should be offered, and to whom and when? (Gosepath, 2011) It is difficult in a situation like South Africa where history and particular circumstances have created a country that is asymmetrical, to identify when inequality is strictly and purposefully immoral. The apartheid system forced the majority of South Africa to be disadvantaged by law. People were unequal to one another based purely on their race. A black man and a white man with the same experience and qualifications would be compensated differently. The government ultimately resulted in the intensification of inequality. ‘State policies played and continue to play a major role in the reproduction of inequality’ (Seekings and Nattrass. 2005: 4). The government intervenes in the economy through taxation, social grants, educational grants, labour market relations and economic development. ‘The distributional regime in South Africa has long served to privilege one section of the population while excluding others’ (Seekings and Nattrass. 2005: 6). This fact has however changed over time. During Apartheid, inequality was due to race. The disadvantaged were separate from the advantaged by law. Post Apartheid data collection showed that inequality actually increased during the periods 1994 – 2000. Today I believe inequality is produced through opportunities such as being fortunate enough to attend the best school. A lot of money is infact spent on education in South African but there is still a very high level of poor performance. There are two reasons for this: 1) it is out of the educational departments control ‘ ‘poor educational background and poverty at home’ ( Seekings and Natrass, 2005: 297). 2) The educational department lack of responsibility in raiseing levels of education thus the result is ‘poor conditions for teaching and learning, inappropriate methods, lack of access to reading and other educational materials and libraries, poor school management, lack of order and discipline among teachers and pupils...and a low morale for teachers and principals’ (Seekinsg And Natrass, 2005: 397). The distributions of taxes of the wealthy to help the poor are not being utilised efficiently or equally. A look at distributive justice in practice may help clarify the understanding of inequality in South Africa.
‘Principles of distributive justice are normative principles designed to guide the allocation of the benefits and burdens of economic activity’ (Lamont, 2008). Historically people are stuck into the economic and social situation that they are born...
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