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'Just Deserts': Race, Class and Distributive Justice in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Year: 2008
Author: Seekings, Jeremy
Unit: SSU
Journal: Journal of Southern African Studies
Volume: 34
Issue: 1
Pages: 39-60
DOI: 10.1080/03057070701832874

This article examines how racial differences affect perceptions of distributive justice in postapartheid South Africa. In 'divided' societies, citizens might be expected to discriminate on the basis of race or culture in assessing the justice of other citizens' claims. South Africa is a prime example of a 'divided' society in which, in the past, legislation and racial elite culture combined in pervasive discrimination. Given the continued importance of race in daily life in South Africa, we might expect that attitudes about distributive justice would continue to be racialised, with people considering members of the same 'racial group' as themselves as being more deserving than members of other groups. But evidence from both national datasets and a new data-set for Cape Town in particular suggests that race has complex and often counter-intuitive effects on perceptions of distributive justice. By some criteria, and some analytic techniques, people do not discriminate on the basis of race when assessing 'just deserts'; by other criteria, and other analytic techniques, 'just deserts' appear still to be somewhat 'coloured' in post-apartheid South Africa. Overall, however, the evidence suggests that the effects of race are either weak or work in counter-intuitive directions. Rich and white Capetonians are certainly more generous in their views on redistribution than is generally assumed.

Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03057070701832874