n South African Journal on Human Rights - Relational socio-economic rights

Volume 25, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



Notwithstanding the state-centeredness of most theories on socio-economic rights, the objects of these rights are often accessed privately, within and by way of relationships. Viewing socio-economic obligations as primarily enforceable against the state ignores the significant power of parties to private relationships to control the terms of access to essential goods and services. It also fails to hold them accountable for the manner in which this power is wielded. It is therefore necessary to develop a theory of horizontal application of socio-economic rights that recognises, assigns, enforces and enables observance of socio-economic obligations within private relationships. This article investigates relational access to socio-economic rights in South Africa, with the aim of identifying public law interventions, or changes to the private law landscape, that would assist vulnerable parties in dependency-producing relationships to access the objects of their socio-economic rights. It provides an overview of the different kinds of relationships that structure private access to socio-economic goods and services and considers factors that impact on the extent and quality of access to socio-economic rights within these relationships. Thereafter, it considers ways in which vulnerabilities associated with relational access to essential goods and services may be reduced. Finally, it argues for transcending the private / public dichotomy and warns against the privatisation of public welfare responsibility.

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