South Africa’s Bill of Rights enshrines a number of socioeconomic rights. These are crucial for creating a more equal society and include the rights of access to healthcare services, sufficient food and water, social assistance and adequate housing. Their aim is to help everyone lead a dignified life.
The judiciary has emerged as a significant player in addressing whether these resources are being allocated in a fair and just manner that redresses South Africa’s inherited inequalities. Individuals or organisations call on the courts when they feel that their rights are not being met.
When courts are asked to scrutinise the government’s budgets and spending priorities, difficult questions arise about whether the judiciary is interfering in the state’s work and obligations.
Research I have conducted suggests that a theory called the capability approach could go a long way to guiding and strengthening courts’ approach in carrying out this work. It could theoretically justify and practically help courts to strike a crucial balance: that between the need to realise socioeconomic rights and to recognise the importance of other areas to which government may need to allocate money.